A Legitimate Hole in One

Local Guy on Par with ABC’s Extreme Miniature Golf Series Holey Moley
by Mark Casasanto
Feature photo by David Laporte on behalf of Eureka Productions. Other photos courtesy of Nick Contino.

Full disclosure, I love stupid stuff that makes me laugh. Actually, I think that I used that line once in an online dating profile… It didn’t work. Anyway, trust me here, I mean no disrespect when I say “stupid stuff.” I use it as a term of endearment even if it didn’t  exactly land me the babes.

Early last summer, a friend of mine clued me in on something he thought would interest me – a reality show involving extreme miniature golf that promised to be filled with thrills, spills and yes, even some skills. As he and I share the same sense of often warped humor – and an equally humorous golf game – I trusted him and went along for the ride.

What a pleasant surprise!

As summer television series go, Holey Moley not only putted for par but landed an invitation back into the prime time TV lineup. For a world desperately in need of fresh sports programming and an immediate injection of lightheartedness, the timing of this return could not be more perfect. The show’s second season premieres tonight on ABC.

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THE LOCAL GUY
“My dad could’ve probably bought his own miniature golf course for all the times we played,” Nick Contino laughs. As Director, Development & Programming, at Eureka Productions, he never could have expected that hitting colorful neon golf balls through crazy structures and hazards throughout Wildwood (New Jersey) as a child would actually be a reference point for a future occupation. 

Although he grew up in Washington Township, New Jersey, he has fond memories of hanging out with his dad Joe in the city on weekends. “Yeah, I used to go to work with my dad and grandfather at their hardware store (Barlow’s) in Southwest Philly,” he muses. Back in “Township,” however, is where the foundation was set for Contino’s future successes.

SCHOOL DAYS
A 2007 graduate of Washington Township High School, he is quick to credit the school with igniting the creative fire within. As a cast member of a local cable access show called Monthly Rewind, he was able to cast his line into the vast waters of journalism, writing and producing. “The show tied into a high school course,” he says. “So a lot of my time junior and senior year of high school was spent trying to craft reality style comedy content.” It was a genre that he would choose to explore deeper as he rowed along. 

Personifying hard work, determination and dedication, Contino attended Temple University’s School of Media and Communication (now the Lew Klein College of Media and Communication). It’s not so much that he successfully earned his B.A. in Film and Media Arts with a Creative Writing Certificate in tow, but how he did it.  

COUNTING THE CARS ON THE NEW JERSEY TURNPIKE 
After spending a semester interning in Los Angeles while participating in Temple’s LA Study Away Program, a return to the East Coast would soon prove to be life changing. 

Recalling the craziness than ensued during his senior year of college, he answers as if almost amazed. “I would basically turn on the lights…”

The lights you ask?

Frontloading his classes to a manageable Monday and Tuesday schedule, Contino boarded a 3am Greyhound out of the terminal in Chinatown on Wednesday mornings and headed to New York City. Arriving around 5am, he’d walk to 30 Rock (Rockefeller Plaza) and become the first of the arriving interns for The Howard Stern Show

“It was my first gig with actual responsibility,” he says with pride. Despite the almost impossible schedule – fighting sleep, homework and other assorted effects of the dizzying grind – the experience was a career starter. 

Working the equivalent of four shifts in two days, Contino got his first taste of constructive criticism, often from Stern himself, as well as invaluable time behind a hot mic. “I was a lifelong fan of Howard’s so to be able to contribute to his legacy was a dream come true.” For good measure, he also took on a sports radio gig while in the Big Apple, where he furthered his experience working the call board as a producer.  

HOW THE WEST WAS WON
With a budding resume and a chance encounter at a university-sponsored student athlete event to help connect the dots, his golden ticket spelled out… Hollywood.

As first jobs go, working in digital media at FremantleMedia (American Idol, America’s Got Talent) wasn’t a bad place to start. “Initially, I was assisting the SVP of Digital Media Service but was quickly promoted,” he recalls. Before long, he was producing Bellator MMA for Viacom International clients. 

Time spent at Shine America also helped to further his knowledge and growth in the television realm of the industry. Hunted (CBS), Restaurant Startup and Billion Dollar Buyer (CNBC) – as well as concept development for new seasons of both MasterChef and Biggest Loser – soon dropped into the “been there, done that” category. 

“Producing is like taking the pieces that are already there, then drawing out the personality of those pieces… it needs to be organic and authentic,” he says with conviction. Those words would become prophetic as he continued to move forth and help launch Eureka Productions. 

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IN REALITY
The list is long and the accolades are many for the relatively young, at least by industry standards, production company. With acclaimed series like Dating Around (Netflix), Pick, Flip & Drive (Facebook), Crikey! It’s The Irwins (Animal Planet) and Deadly Cults (Oxygen) already in the Eureka Productions’ international portfolio, Contino and team set their collective sights on a steady, but somewhat new course. 

“It’s funny,” he says amusingly. “We were filming Australian Spartan and watching all these buff and professional athletes crashing into obstacles and getting knocked around…” That’s when it began to click. “What if we were able to do something for the average person, from age 18 to 80? What would that look like?” he thought. 

The end result? Holey Moley. A supersized, extreme mini-golf course where the John and Jane Q Publics of the world can putt with passion for bragging rights, the “coveted plaid jacket,” a golden putter and, oh yeah, new for season two… a little chunk of change totaling $250,000!

COURSE OF ACTION
So just how does your average, fun-loving, crazy clothes wearing weekend warrior get to compete? “About 500 people were cast to get 100 (ultimately 96),” Contino says. And, in case you’re wondering, yes, they are rated. “You can’t just have someone who’s going to get there and just get wrecked… it’s not enjoyable.” 

Apparently, The Masters of Mini-Golf is a real thing, as is the US ProMiniGolf Association (USPMGA). Enter Ted Detwiler, an official and host of the “miniature masters.” He came on as a consultant to ensure contestants were indeed able to compete… competitively. In his advisory role, he not only critiqued participants but rated their overall game, as well. 

Still, the knock on reality TV is that it’s scripted. Contino counters, “We control the environment but can’t control what’s going to happen. That’s what makes it fun. Almost like setting up the (bowling) pins and letting the contestant knock them down.” Maybe the better analogy is having both come from talkative Italian families, it’s very much relatable to a Sunday dinner at grandma’s house. All subjects are on the table but all bets are off on the overall outcome. Let the games begin!

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TIS’ THE SEASON
When the world suddenly slowed to a crippling crawl in early March, Season 2 was thankfully already in the can. Unfortunately, the Australian version of the show was in production at the course, 45 minutes outside of Los Angeles. With the resumption of filming the Australian version and the German production still in the queue, there is still plenty of work to be done… when normal indeed becomes normal again. 

As for what to expect the next 13 weeks? In addition to the broadcast team of the  buffoonishly funny Rob Riggle and straight man sportscaster Joe Tessitore, Jeannie Mai returns to lend her underrated comedic timing and wit as the sideline correspondent. Then, of course, there’s Stephen Curry, the resident golf pro and executive producer. 

“I’m excited to work with the entire cast again,” Contino says. “Steph likes to get his hands dirty. He’s a huge golf fanatic and is very creative, as well. He’s the perfect fit.” As for the broadcast team? “Most of the time I’m in the booth with them, I’m in stitches. But of course I need to be quiet because of the live mics.”

Part of the lure of last season, for me anyway, were the human obstacles and the physical nature of the matches. I mean, where else can you get wiped out into a pool of water by a rotating windmill and later be serenaded, if you can call it that, by Kenny G on a hole appropriately named “The Distractor?”

“Oh yeah,” Contino adds, “It’s definitely a fun hour of television and you can expect even more cameos and blasts from the past this season.”

PLAYING 18
Not unlike playing a full round of golf, the industry can be very demanding in a “what have you done for me lately” sense. Hole to hole, you can play like a seasoned pro or a fidgety amateur. In relative terms, he’s come a long way since bouncing around the family business as a youngster in Philadelphia. But it required a healthy dose of early mornings, late nights, production deadlines, travel itineraries, hits and misses. 

“I constantly need to remind myself to take a deep breath, sit back and enjoy the current success before going head strong into the next project,” he says with intent. “So, if I have one piece of solid advice, it would be to celebrate the little things… Because there is a lot of rejection along the way.”

Holey Moley, Season 2 Premieres on ABC, tonight, May 21 at 9pm. 

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