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Q&A with Tattoo Nightmares' Producer SallyAnn Salsano

The “tattastrophies” move to a new coast as Tattoo Nightmares Miami premieres tonight at 11 PM EST on Spike TV following Ink Master. With a new cast of characters: Clint Cummings, High Noon and Reese Hilburn trying to work their alchemy on the gnarliest ink in the magic city, we chatted with the genius producer behind the series SallyAnn Salsano. The non-tattooed woman who previously was the supervising producer of The Bachelor and conceived Jersey Shore brings an outsider’s prospective with the insider’s appreciation to the craft of tattooing. Following is insight from one of the most important people in the inked community.

Inked: How did you get into tattoo TV?
SallyAnn Salsano: I have no idea. I actually started watching all of the tattoo shows—LA Ink, Miami Ink, you name it. I don’t have a tattoo; personally when I see tattoos on other people I’ll either think, That was really stupid, or Wow I wish I had the guts to do that. But I personally have never had the guts to do it. I like to change my mind too much, I could never commit to one thing forever.

Did you grow up around a lot of tattooed people in Long Island?
No one in my family was really tattooed and I didn’t really run in the tatted-up crowd. Oh, that’s not true! I was in the whole Guido crowd. There were a lot of Italian flag tattoos. The Guido crowd loved the Jesus piece; you know, the praying hands with the rosary beads–very big in my circle. But, other than that, no.

A lot of tattoo shops in New Jersey run out of green and red ink, from all the Italian flags.
I would not doubt it.

What’s your opinion of the tattoo culture?
I’ve got to tell you, it’s really interesting. Tattooers have a blue-collar work mentality in that they earn what they get but they are also creating fine art. It’s a weird mix of people but I love it. Making it as a regular artist is really tough and I don’t think a lot of the tattoo artists get enough credit for how great of artists they are. Some tattooers taught themselves but a lot of them went to like hardcore art schools.

Thank you for recognizing that.
And those who went to hardcore art schools run their businesses— and I mean this as the biggest compliment—with a blue-collar mentality: It’s not going to get done unless we do it; we’re going to do this from the ground up. I don’t think people realize how much stress and how serious a tattoo artist takes the fact that they are actually inking up your skin. I have never worked with a tattoo artist that does not appreciate the fact that “Oh my God, this is permanent, this is serious, I have to do it!” And I have to tell you, the pressure when doing cover-ups is even crazier. These guys are like “Look, these people have had a bad experience with the tattoo industry and it’s my job to turn it all around.” They literally feel that way, and I think that is kind of an amazing and admirable way to look at it. They’re not just doing it for them, but for the industry as a whole.

SallyAnn Salsano

SallyAnn Salsano

Yeah absolutely, particularly putting them on TV makes them even larger masters in the tattoo world. How did you conceive Tattoo Nightmares?
There’s a ton of people out there with some jacked-up-ass tattoos, and it’s not always the artist’s fault. If you come in and you want to get a dick coming out of a mailbox on your arm, I mean, that’s not really the tattoo artist’s fault. If you have some crazy idea like your current girlfriend, current wife or current husband tattooed on you, we all know that’s a bad idea. It’s funny, like all the bad tattoo jokes, when a client asks for a tattoo of someone’s name the artists call it their “retirement plan.” They know that means that the client will be back again, and they like to refer to it as their 401k. As we were producing Jersey Shore, we spent a lot of time down there, and there were some pretty bad tattoos down the shore. One night we were sitting at the house and this one girl was telling a story about how she got some crazy tattoo and we were like, “Holy shit! Could you imagine what went on that night for that girl to get that?” Then we literally sat down and said that’s a show.

Is it tough to find good stories for cover-ups?
No, no. We have a plethora. It’s hard to find a lot of different stories because for a lot of people there is a similarity. There’s always a crazy ex that you no longer want on you anymore; that’s like a dime a dozen. You have to find people that get the joke. Because then as they are telling it on the show, we go out and shoot the reenactments and it becomes a comedy.

You have a great touch on reenactments; just the way it is shot and propped out. The look makes you feel like you are in on the joke and it’s not like some sort of murder scene. How did you decide on which tattoo artists to have on the show?
It’s interesting. We did a nationwide search and then we did a lot in Miami to make sure we understood the flavor. We went to like 40-something tattoo shops in Miami, we spent a couple weeks there and really tried to make sure that if we were running the shows in Miami that the people that we put in the shop actually encompass the vibe and the feel of Miami.

The cast: Clint Cummings, Reese Hilburn and High Noon

The cast: Clint Cummings, Reese Hilburn and High Noon

Why Miami this time around?
It’s a great city. First of all, I love Miami, but second of all the tattoos are a huge part of the culture in Miami. If you get a bad tattoo, you’re screwed because most of the time you’re near-naked. In New York you can cover it up; you’ve got fall and winter, so you’re not looking crazy all the time. In Miami, you’re kind of screwed 12 months out of the year.

That makes sense. You have such a diverse form of shows coming out of your production company, is that your personality?
Are you calling me ADD, like psychotic and schizophrenic?

You said that. No no no, like normally a production company, you can define their type of genre and you guys just pump out great shows.
Well, here’s the thing: other than it being my job, TV is actually my hobby. I am such a fan of reality TV and I love thinking of what would make a good show, what would people watch? And also, most of my shows I have some kind of personal attachment too. With Jersey Shore, I lived that life growing up in Long Island. With Party Down South, I went to school in the Midwest—we used to go down south for spring break. All the shows that we do really encompass the culture inside the walls of my company. When someone gets a stupid tattoo, we all make fun of it. There are people in our office getting cover-ups or breaking up or having a wild night. Our whole lives are potentially a TV show.

And we appreciate your aim to elevate the art rather than exploit the drama in tattoo shops as some tattoo shows have.
I really worship the tattoo artist. I worship how much they care and I think they don’t get enough credit for how talented they are—that is the thing that bugs me the most. These guys and girls are true pros; they work like dogs and people don’t realize what really goes into not only a regular tattoo but into a cover-up. My thought everyday when I see them is These guys are amazing.