SallyAnn Salsano
Charles Eshelman/FilmMagic

FremantleMedia has acquired a majority stake in SallyAnn Salsano’s 495 Prods., home of “Jersey Shore,” “Party Down South” and other hit unscripted series.

FremantleMedia has taken a 75% stake in the company Salsano (pictured) founded in 2006 with the option to acquire the rest down the road. The deal is the latest in a recent burst of M&A activity involving prosperous unscripted production entities such as Magical Elves and Half Yard Prods.

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Financial details of the 495 pact were not disclosed but industry sources said the initial acquisition was valued in the $40 million-$50 million range, but will go higher if the remaining interest is bought out.

FremantleMedia North America CEO Thom Beers said he had long admired Salsano’s work as a producer and her drive as an entrepreneur. Beers said he wanted 495 into the fold to help fill a gap in its production portfolio of docu-soap series aimed at women — which has been Salsano’s specialty.

“It’s such a big, strong space and SallyAnn owns it,” Beers said. “She understands that younger, edgier urban world. I’ve always loved what she does and how hard she works. She’s in the trenches. This is a woman who doesn’t mail anything in.”

Salsano has had offers to sell in the past but felt Fremantle was the right fit because of her professional association with parent company CEO Cecile Frot-Coutaz. She also feels a kindred warrior-producer spirit with Beers. Beers was named FremantleMedia North America CEO in 2012, four years after the company bought his Original Prods. banner.

“Thom and I are not wallflower people,” Salsano said. “Our businesses are a lot alike — they’re based on our relationships in the industry and our work as a producers. I feel safe knowing that Fremantle will embrace the way I like to do stuff and that partnering with them will let me do what I love most, which is producing television.”

Salsano’s banner will retain its autonomy as a separate entity. (“I have no interest in interrupting that successful machine over there,” Beers said.) She recently signed a deal with Warner Bros. Telepictures Prods. to be an exec producer on the daytime syndie talkshow strip “The Real,” to bow in the fall.

“This deal will allow us to expand our share of the valuable U.S. cable market and will complement and diversify our existing portfolio of content and clients.  Together, our ambition is to continue to grow 495 Productions in the US and to broaden its global footprint even further through our extensive distribution and production network,” Frot-Coutaz said in announcing the acquisition.

Salsano has come a long way since she started the company out of her home in 2006.

“I literally had $7,000 and a printer and a fax machine. I was like ‘Come on, snake eyes.” I didn’t have investors or partners or anything but my blood, sweat and tears. We went show to show and suddenly it was ‘Oh my god, we got a pilot’ and ‘Oh my god, we got a pilot picked up.’ “

The breakthrough was the dating gameshow “A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila” which started out in development at VH1 but wound up airing on MTV in 2007. That led to a two-year development pact for 495 at MTV that spawned “Jersey Shore.” The docu-chronicle of the lives of twentysomething Jersey-ites became the highest-rated series in MTV history during its 2009-2012 run. It yielded the spinoffs “Snooki and JWOWW,” “The Show with Vinny” and “The Pauly D Project.”

More recently, “Party Down South” has emerged as a hit for cabler CMT. Other active 495 Prods. series include Oxygen’s “Tattoos After Dark” and MTV’s “Jerks with Cameras.”

The opportunity to be part of an entity with deeper pockets, a huge IP library and vast international reach was something Salsano knew she needed and could never match on her own. “This allows me to grow in such a way that won’t affect my day-to-day work,” she said. “I’m still in the control room on every show. I’m on a red-eye once a week trying to be on all of our sets.”

The deal was brokered for 495 by investment firm About Corporate Finance.

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