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ROME, Italy — In Italy where family is fundamental, they’re known as the "bambini" of John Travolta.
Those muscle-bound party animals from “Jersey Shore,” who wear their hair high and their bikinis low, have created a new generation of "guido" since “Grease” and “Saturday Night Fever” made the Hollywood star a household name.
“Jersey Shore” is MTV’s most popular series and recently attracted an incredible 9 million viewers. Now producers of the record-breaking series are moving the show from the Jersey boardwalk to the piazzas and pizzerias of the homeland to shoot the next season — almost a year after it began screening in Italy.
It’s not the first time American producers have merged the unpredictable moments of reality TV with the cultural assets on the other side of the Atlantic. “Joe Millionaire” seduced 40 million viewers at his French fairy castle and “America’s Top Model” and “The Bachelor” have used Rome and other European cities as a romantic backdrop to spice up their episodes.
But this will be a full frontal assault from the disco-dancing coastal shore on the land of their ancestors.
"While the stateside 'Jersey Shore' locales have become iconic for our audience it's really the constantly evolving dynamic amongst the cast that keep them coming back each season and Europe is a fresh spin on a show that continues to reach new heights for us," said Chris Linn, executive vice president of programming and head of production for MTV.
"The cast is headed to the birthplace of the culture they love and live by. We can't wait to see what erupts as a result."
Although Italian versions of “Big Brother” and Survivor” have stretched the boundaries of cultural acceptance and offended the Catholic Church, Pauly D and Snooki are about to give the mother country a different kind of jolt, and their long lost relatives are divided about whether to roll out the red carpet.
“It portrays a terrible image of American youth,” said Paolo Catalfamo, Italian vice president of the National Italian American Foundation (NIAF).
While it hasn’t attracted the same heated debate it’s had in the United States, the show is being targeted by organizations such as the Washington-based NIAF that wants to present what it calls a more positive image of Italian Americans abroad.
“If the next season is shot in Italy this will certainly create more focus and attention on the program and the actors, with a negative return for the image not only of Italian Americans but of all Americans,” Catalfamo said.
Leading TV critic Aldo Grasso disagrees. He thinks “Jersey Shore” has revolutionized Italian perceptions of American society and that’s been exciting for Italian viewers.
“The ‘guido’ phenomenon was completely new to me; I knew nothing about it," Grasso said. “It was extraordinary to see that there was a way of relating to Italianita or Italian identity that is no longer a stereotype but, if anything, has become standard.”
Grasso teaches the history of TV at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Milan and writes for the respected daily, Corriere Della Sera.
“American television series have always been very successful in Italy, and they have always shown the American world, but up to now they were full of young, cute blonde girls.”
“In this case, a slice of Italy in America is now on display. For this reason I find it educational: it allows us to discover something new in an entertaining way. I think that’s what deserves the most attention. I do not find it offensive to anyone.”