How a Reality TV Show Could Change Collingswood

I'm paying attention to Jersey's proposed "Snookiville Law."

Some people might call New Jersey Assemblyman Ronald Dancer’s proposed “Snookiville Law” too little too late, but I think of another adage: Dancer does not want NJ towns to be fooled twice.

Dancer’s proposal would allow townships to restrict shooting times, to license reality show productions, and to charge fees in order to pay for additional security and police when crowds (or casts) get out of control.

I’m wondering if Collingswood Mayor Jim Maley knows about this law, and I’m hoping he’ll get behind it. The owner of one of my favorite restaurants in my hometown of Collingswood, Angelo Lutz of Kitchen Consigliere, is actively working toward having a reality TV show.

So I’m going to pay attention to the Snookiville bill. In 2011, Seaside Heights taxpayers doled out $420, 000 to Jersey Shore producers in state tax-film credits. Neighboring towns like Point Pleasant Beach aren’t trying to emulate Seaside Heights; they’re being careful to not “turn into Seaside Heights.”

Danny Merk, owner of the “Shore Store,” the boardwalk swag shop where the cast worked, loved what show did for his shop. He put up with Mike Sorrentino being “the laziest guy in the world,” and now people from around the world visit his website and buy Jersey tee’s. He also claims the pizza place and the arcade next door reaped residual benefits. Revenue for bars, security companies, beach and parking all went up. But Collingswood is a dry town; we don’t have a beach; parking is already super tight.

Everything is about perspective: Some people in Collingswood love the restaurants and the crowds on weekend nights, but some resent even having to make reservations. I’ll make the reservations; I’m glad to live in a town that others love to come visit. But I’m still not sure about how I feel about sharing Kitchen Consigliere with the rest of the world. We were there this past weekend, and when a birthday cake was carried out and the servers sang to the woman who was celebrating, pretty much everyone in the roughly 40-seat restaurant sang along, led by Angelo’s lovely baritone. Angelo didn’t let the moment end, segueing directly from “Happy Birthday” to “The Old Gray Mare” and then, yes, “Baby Face.” Most of the patrons sang and those who didn’t clapped along.

Would that have happened if we were being filmed for a reality show? I’m quite sure my energetic but awful voice would be edited out (at least I hope so), but the real point is, that kind of spontaneity would simply not be allowed. We all know about the editing and reshoots done during “reality” shows. An intimate space, one that allows spontaneous sing-alongs, would be greatly altered by cameras.

I sincerely like Angelo, and all of the employees there. I’m not even going to get in to how I feel about his meatballs or his mussels or his fryer pepper stuffed with vegetable risotto in a port wine sauce, or … oops, sorry. I’m afraid that if the restaurant gets the reality show, viewers will make fun of Lutz and the employees. I still cannot think of a reality show Americans watch because they respect and admire the “stars.” (Except for, of course, Mitt Romney, who is a Snooki fan, especially because of how thin she’s gotten—what? )

Who doesn’t love a place where the owner and several of the servers know you by name and know to put aside a piece of Patsy’s chocolate-covered banana cake? Would I still get the chocolate-covered banana cake if my eating it were being televised?

If I owned a business in Collingswood I might feel differently. And maybe, just maybe, I’d feel differently if the Snookiville bill passed, and Collingswood made so much money that my own taxes were reduced. But option A is not likely, and option B is just as doubtful. I’m thinking I’d rather sit at the counter at the restaurant itself and watch the lovely dishes be placed in the service window than watch the same thing on TV.