SEASIDE HEIGHTS, N.J. • On TV these days, it may seem like it’s all Jersey, all the time.
Housewives flipping tables and yanking out hair weaves. A good-natured but hot-tempered cake baker, muttering his more choice expressions in Italian. Stylists teasing up big hair. And of course, the horny, hard-drinking, foul-mouthed crew at the Jersey shore beach house.
Be careful what you wish for: Long derided as an insignificant suburb of New York and Philadelphia, New Jersey has yearned for a national identity. Well, it has one now, at least on the television screens of America. And, Maddone! What an identity it is!
“It’s like Dirty Jersey — kind of trashy,” said Casey Maher, 18, of Islip, N.Y. “I like it!”
Maher and three friends, all from Long Island, were in Seaside Heights, standing one recent evening across the street from the now-famous, brown-shingled beach house where the cast of “Jersey Shore” was to begin filming the show’s third season.
“It’s not some place you have to be all proper,” said 17-year-old D’Anna Cervone.
“It’s casual living,” added 18-year-old Brittany Banks. “It’s cool here.”
There are four reality TV shows set in the Garden State, and they’re among the most popular of the genre: “The Real Housewives of New Jersey” on Bravo; MTV’s “Jersey Shore,” the chronicle of 20-somethings having a blast at the beach; TLC’s “Cake Boss,” about the goings on at Carlo’s Bakery in Hoboken; and Style Network’s “Jerseylicious,” about battling hair stylists in Green Brook.
But the image of New Jersey that’s going out to the rest of America is loud, brash, in-your-face, big hair, small vocabulary, Italian surnames a must.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a fanatic for the state’s most famous rocker, Bruce Springsteen, says that image is a false one.
He said the MTV show “takes a bunch of New Yorkers, drops them at the Jersey shore, and tries to make America feel like this is New Jersey.”
“I could tell people, they want to know what New Jersey really is? I welcome them to come to New Jersey any time,” he told ABC’s “This Week” TV show. “The Jersey shore is a beautiful place, and it’s a place that everybody should come on vacation this summer.”
Yet even Christie himself is part of the Jersey barrage; he had a cameo role in “Cake Boss” when baker Buddy Valastro made a cake for his inauguration.
“Forget New York City, we’ve been there before, that’s old hat,” said Francesca Gaffney of West Hills, Calif., who made a special trip to New Jersey to visit The Cake Boss bakery, and wasn’t even planning to stop in nearby Manhattan.
“We always said if we came to the East Coast we’d come here,” the 52-year-old elementary school teacher said of her visit, where she was near the end of the line and facing a two-hour wait — even though Valastro was in Italy that day.
Gaffney said she and her friends in California have become huge fans of all things Jersey in the past two years as new shows hit the airwaves.
“I’ve seen ‘Jerseylicious’ and, of course, I’ve seen ‘Jersey Shore,’ every single episode, I admit it,” Gaffney said. “I just think it’s very different; in California, they don’t dress that way, they don’t act that way, they don’t look that way. It’s extremely different, so it’s a novelty — especially to Californians. They’re like, ‘Wow!’
“Oh, and ‘Housewives of New Jersey’ — everyone I know watches that. Jersey is very popular. Good for them.”
Fiona Boyd of Edinburgh, Scotland, was waiting in line with her husband and sons, hoping to buy “Cake Boss” T-shirts and be among the few people wearing them in Scotland, where they watch the program on satellite cable. The family’s trip to America consisted of a stop in Ft. Myers, Fla., where they dedicated time in their hotel catching up on new “Cake Boss” episodes they hadn’t seen at home, and taking a day trip to Hoboken.
“We thought we must come here as well, to try the cakes. It’s quite a funny program and the cakes are beautiful,” she said.
“Jersey Shore” has helped keep cash registers ringing in Seaside Heights. The show fist-pumped nearly $3 million into the local economy during its first season, and expectations are higher this time around. (Filming just got under way here after a hiatus in Miami.)
Lifelong Hoboken resident Jim English works at United Decorating, which was once known for its beautiful theater costumes — with buttons made of fine brass or bone — and catered to Hoboken’s once-thriving vaudeville theater industry.
Today the shop sells a different kind of costume: for $12, customers can have their name printed on a T-shirt that says “Sorrentino” (as in Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino) on the back or purchase an array of “Jersey Shore” paraphernalia and Hoboken souvenirs.
But despite the pop culture high and support of tourists, many people don’t like the Jersey stereotypes dished up as reality. The Web site www.jerseydoesntstink.com has form letters people can download and mail to TV networks listing objections to their shows. It also lets people make their own pro-New Jersey videos, or parodies of shows they find offensive. Their motto: “We smell better than you think.”
Viewers recognize a lot of themselves in what they see on Jersey TV, for better or worse.
“We are more aggressive then other people,” said Edward Murray, 44, who runs a temporary tattoo stand on the Seaside Heights boardwalk. “I grew up in a real rough neighborhood in north Jersey. It’s just what you do.”
“You don’t back down,” added Prakash Ramani, 21, a senior at Rutgers University, standing in front of a T-shirt shop with slogans like, “Come at me, bro” and “Jersey: We Go Hard” among the big sellers. “In Jersey, ... you just want that attention.”
English says there’s more to New Jersey than what’s portrsayed on the tube.
“Over the years, first with ‘The Sopranos’ — which sis not a real view of the Italian-American community — and now, with ‘Jersey Shore,’ it’s a little crude. I love the attention that Hoboken is getting, but not necessarily the negativity. Hoboken is a great place to live, and to visit, and we’re not as crude as some people think we are.”
The season premiere of “Jersey Shore” airs 10 p.m. Thursday Arizona time on MTV.