MIAMI BEACH, Fla. >> Two weeks into their monthlong stay here, the reunited roommates of MTV’s “Jersey Shore Family Vacation” had settled into a comfortable routine. On this warm February evening, Vinny, Ronnie, Pauly D and the Situation were in town buying groceries. On the upper level of their Spanish colonial waterfront home, Snooki was showering. Downstairs, JWoww and Deena were preparing a meal of chicken parmigiana and splitting a bottle of wine.
There would be dining and conversation later that night, before the seven friends went out to a burlesque nightclub. At present, though, JWoww was predicting that it would take her and Deena “about seven glasses of wine each” to finish cooking. As Deena said: “We’re trying to keep it classy. We’re older now.”
It has been just over five years since the curtain came down on “Jersey Shore,” the reality series that tracked a group of lovably loutish young men and women at their Seaside Heights, New Jersey, vacation house and in the bars, gyms and tanning salons of the world beyond. In the six seasons it ran from 2009-2012, “Jersey Shore” was a genuine phenomenon, drawing up to 9 million viewers an episode, giving MTV much-needed cachet and making unlikely cultural icons of its proudly unrefined leads.
Since then, life has changed for this bronze-hued crew. Jenni Farley (JWoww), Nicole Polizzi (Snooki) and Deena Cortese all found husbands; Farley and Polizzi are each the mother of two young children; and Paul DelVecchio (Pauly D) is the father of a young daughter. Michael Sorrentino (The Situation) got sober, and in January, he pleaded guilty to a federal charge of tax evasion, for which he faces sentencing this spring.
MTV has had its own drama, turning over executives and never finding another show to match the viewership or influence of “Jersey Shore” at its peak.
Now the network is readying the resuscitated “Jersey Shore Family Vacation” — which will make its debut April 5, and for which it has already ordered a second season — when it’s unclear if there’s still staying power in the franchise or if it was just a fun cultural fluke.
“I’m super-excited, but also I’m nervous, because what if no one cares, no one watches?” Polizzi told me. “This is our family. This is our baby.”
Did audiences still expect the housemates to behave the way they used to, and could they live up to the benchmarks their younger selves set, she wondered.
“We can party like we used to, but we can’t recover like we used to,” Polizzi said. “I would need a few days off if we do a real rager. Like, in bed, with an IV.”
SallyAnn Salsano, the creator and executive producer of the “Jersey Shore” series, stepped outside the darkened guesthouse that serves as the “Family Vacation” control room to explain that she’d been baffled by the show’s original cancellation.
“I always felt like it ended before its time,” said Salsano, who was previously responsible for MTV reality franchises like “A Shot at Love With Tila Tequila.”
In its last season, “Jersey Shore” was drawing about 2-3 million viewers an episode and the show was assumed to have run its course. The cast members were, inevitably, growing older and growing out of their party-all-the-time ethos. But, Salsano said, “I understood that their lives were changing and the show can change with it.”
MTV tried a spinoff reality series, “Snooki & JWoww,” which ran from 2012-2015, and gave Vinny Guadagnino his own offbeat talk program, “The Show With Vinny,” which ran one season in 2013.
Ronnie Ortiz-Magro and DelVecchio did stints on the E! channel’s “Famously Single,” while Cortese appeared on VH1’s “Couples Therapy.” Sorrentino was featured on the Food Network’s “Worst Cooks in America” and Polizzi was a short-lived contestant on NBC’s “The New Celebrity Apprentice” (the season Arnold Schwarzenegger hosted).
All the while, the housemates said, no other opportunity felt like the right fit. “We basically were begging MTV to bring us back,” Polizzi said. “We were begging everyone to bring us back.”
Last year, some of them participated in an E! special, “Reunion Road Trip: Return to the Jersey Shore.” “I wanted to show what I had going on in my life now,” DelVecchio said. “But I also felt like I was betraying the network and the producers.”
Salsano, who had no involvement in the E! special, was blunter. “To say I had a mini-meltdown would be the understatement of the century,” she said. But she also saw an upside: “Even before it aired, I was so invigorated and I was like, there is an appetite for this.”
For her part, Salsano was busy running a new MTV reality series, “Floribama Shore,” which debuted at the end of 2017 and followed a different group of young revelers in Panama City Beach, Florida.
“Floribama Shore” was a modest hit, drawing under 1 million viewers an episode, and has been renewed for a second season. But its announcement caught the “Jersey Shore” stars off guard. “The second that show aired, my social media was on fire,” DelVecchio said. “Everybody was like, ‘Where’s the original guys?’”
Polizzi said: “We were all in shock because none of us had any idea it was coming out. We were like, ‘Oh, are we 50 years old and dying? What’s going on?’”
But in further conversations with Salsano and with MTV, the housemates were assured that their return to the network was closer than ever.
And in group texts and face-to-face meetings, the co-stars realized they had matured, ever so slightly. They said they had moved beyond the infighting that had sometimes made the show’s original run tense and uncomfortable.
“We should have been praising each other,” Farley said. “But when you’re all competing for the same tanning deal or other shows, it becomes taxing and draining. Jealousy occurs.”
“We put all that aside and said, yo, we’re in it as a team,” she said. “When you put us together, it’s a family that nobody can touch.”
Chris McCarthy, who became MTV’s president in October 2016, said that the success of “Floribama Shore” was one of several factors that encouraged the network to bring back “Jersey Shore.”
“We saw where we could really stretch what the brand meant,” said McCarthy, who also oversees the VH1 and Logo networks. “What coming-of-age looks like for a 16-, 17-, 18-year-old is one thing. What it looks like in your 20s or 30s is different, but the sentiment is a lot the same.”
If it’s assumed that MTV is only interested in a teenage audience, or that viewers who grew up on the original “Jersey Shore” were no longer welcome, McCarthy said this was not the case. “MTV at its core is an idea, not a demo,” he said. “It’s this celebration of youth and music, and as people are consuming more and more content, there’s opportunity for us.”
Coming back to the “Jersey Shore” series brought up a range of anxious and existential feelings for its cast, who wonder if viewers will still want to see them settle their differences with calm consideration and less head-butting and fisticuffs.
“I’m basically the only single one in the house,” DelVecchio said. “I’m like, how’s this going to work?” He added, “Who’s going to be my wingman?”
Polizzi said she worried about being away from her young children for long stretches of time and how her husband would feel about taking on more household duties. “He was like, ‘Go, babe, have fun,’” she said. “‘Make that money. Enjoy yourself.’”
And she did. “I had to keep telling myself, yes, you miss the kids, but you can be a bad mom for a little bit. Go drink. Go blackout. Do what you’ve got to do.”
Not everyone was as eager to relive their past exploits. Sammi Giancola, who was known as Sammi Sweetheart on “Jersey Shore,” and who dated and broke up with Ortiz-Magro, declined to be part of “Family Vacation.” (In her absence, the housemates have a sex doll that they named Sammi.)
“I am extremely happy in every aspect of my life and want to avoid potentially toxic situations,” Giancola said in a statement. Though she loved and missed her roommates, she added, “I have just decided to live my life for me these days.”
No one would discuss their salaries on “Jersey Shore Family Vacation,” but Polizzi expressed gratitude for the work. “You don’t get a second chance like this,” she said. “We definitely weren’t being greedy.”
After spending time away from “Jersey Shore” and then reimmersing herself in it, Farley said she could live with herself if it’s her only TV project that viewers truly embraced.
“I’m typecast no matter what I do,” she said. “I’m JWoww from ‘Jersey Shore.’ But I’m proud of it. There’s not one thing on that show, except my hair from Season 1, that I have any regrets doing.”
Farley felt her life as a wife and a mother of two was fully compatible with her “Jersey Shore” identity. She said she just wanted to be “the one who tells my daughter that I peed behind a bar” before one of her classmates can reveal it first.
She added, “I probably will have to tell her tomorrow so I can guarantee that.”