When shows like “Jersey Shore” begin, they are essentially just experiments, and the average Joe cast members are paid accordingly. One cable executive privately characterized the initial salaries as “bubkes.”
After the season one finale of “Jersey Shore” was watched by a startlingly high 4.8 million viewers in the dead of winter, MTV immediately promised $10,000 an episode to the cast.
They retreated to South Beach last spring to tape the second season, but when it came time to film the second half of the season back in Seaside Heights, where the series was originally set, newly appointed agents for the cast members insisted on another set of raises.
The deal-making played out in the celebrity press, with some stars reportedly saying that they could make more money by hosting parties at clubs than by showing up for the TV tapings. MTV now calls the current Seaside Heights taping Season Three.
Some cast members apparently have grand ambitions. The Situation, a. k. a. Mike Sorrentino, was quoted in The Daily Beast Web site last week as saying that he had his eye on Hollywood, mentioning “Dancing With the Stars,” meetings with movie studios and “people calling for sitcoms.”
MTV declined to comment on contractual details, and the network said the cast members were not available for interviews.
Ms. Salsano clearly feels that the cast members need the exposure the TV show provides.
“The benefit is not the money they make from being on the show,” she said. “The benefit is they’ve all got so many amazing opportunities because of the show. They come here for a month; the show’s on for four months; and when the show’s airing, that’s when they’re having their heyday, if you will.”
Bravo encourages the stars of its “Housewives” shows to talk up their side projects in interviews. “We try to do well by them, and they know that they can do well with us,” said Andy Cohen, a senior vice president at Bravo, a unit of NBC Universal .
For Mr. Cohen, the crucial word is “ensemble.” He and other executives assert that almost any reality cast member is expendable, even if the person has been on a show for multiple seasons. Some housewives have departed because of financial disputes with Bravo — “I think it’s happened a couple times,” Mr. Cohen said — and the producers have successfully replaced them.
“And we’re always casting in every city,” Mr. Cohen added.
That said, Bravo just started its first “Housewives” spin-off that features just one woman, Bethenny Frankel, getting married and having a baby. Doesn’t a show centered on one person pose more of a risk? “We’re very careful with that,” Mr. Cohen said, declining to elaborate.
After the first season of a reality show, networks tend to set salaries on a sliding scale, and some offer bonuses based on ratings. Add security and transportation costs, and production budgets can soar.
At the peak of “Jon & Kate Plus 8,” TLC was paying the supersize family $22,500 an episode, according to Jon Gosselin, who was sued by the network, which accused him of breaching his contract. The show fizzled last year when the lead characters split up.
That would seem like a cautionary tale to reality stars everywhere. Ms. Salsano said “Jersey Shore” members should not forget what a gift the show is. It will keep going, she said, “as long as the kids stay true to who they are.”