From the confines of The Lantern newsroom to orchestrating black-tie affairs on the white sand beaches of a Caribbean vacation spot, Ohio State alumna Sandy Malone has had a busy career.
In her first granted interview since the premiere of a new cable television series was announced in a TLC press release Monday, Malone gave The Lantern an exclusive glimpse into the career that landed her the show and what viewers can expect.
TLC formally committed to a six-episode season of “Wedding Island,” which will broadcast on Thursday nights this summer beginning July 17, according to a press release.
Malone graduated from OSU in 1996 with a degree in journalism. She now co-owns and operates the only wedding planning firm on the island of Vieques, Puerto Rico with her husband, William.
The series, filmed entirely on location in the Caribbean, aims to portray the process of wedding planning through the eyes of industry professionals in what Malone called a logistically challenging niche market.
“The difference about this show is that most shows are focused entirely on the brides and grooms and the weddings,” Malone said.
“Wedding Island” will instead center on the day-to-day operations of the couple’s business, encompassing “the good, the bad and the ugly” parts of delivering “seamlessly executed dream destination weddings” to clients.
Malone’s professional background encompasses her time in Columbus as a Lantern reporter, where she “wrote like a madwoman.”
“Studying was something I fit in between writing,” Malone said.
She parlayed her experience into post-graduate matriculation to Georgetown University’s Institute on Political Journalism, at the urging of her journalism ethics professor and current OSU faculty member, Thomas Schwartz.
“My writing and my clips for The Lantern are what got me in,” Malone said. “It was nothing to do with my GPA. The only reason I am where I am is because Professor Schwartz encouraged me to apply to the program at Georgetown.”
Schwartz spoke highly of Malone.
“She struck me as a very ambitious and hardworking journalism student,” Schwartz said. “She did a number of enterprising stories for The Lantern, I remember.”
He recalled her ambition and personality.
“She was a live wire, always looking for the big Pulitzer Prize-winning story,” he said. “She was a big personality. She should never give credit to anybody but herself for all of her accomplishments.”
Her professional career spans 18 years and took off when she secured an internship at Campaigns & Elections magazine while enrolled in graduate school in her native Washington, D.C. during the 1996 campaign trail. She became the periodical’s managing editor by November and was offered a position at The Wall Street Journal’s interactive edition the following fall.
Malone eventually left the Journal to work for the government of Puerto Rico in a public relations capacity through assignment by a Washington firm. She worked on bringing about the U.S. Navy’s eventual withdrawal of its presence from Vieques in 2003, after a scandal surrounding the accidental bomb killing of a security guard incurred protests and public outcry.
Sandy and William Malone married on the island after becoming enamored with the location during her stints of work there. They continued to vacation on the island and in 2007, finally decided to quit their respective jobs in Washington to live full-time on Vieques to plan weddings.
Speaking about agreeing to film “Wedding Island” with the crew of 495 Productions, the company responsible for “Jersey Shore,” Sandy Malone said in her blog, “For the second time in my life, I’ve joined the dark side.”
She explained that since she is a journalist at her core, it was humbling to later break her own rule of shunning the worlds of public relations and reality TV by pursuing careers in both.
However, the creation of “Wedding Island” actually came about because of Sandy Malone’s writing.
Since its inception, the company’s reputation has spread through word-of-mouth feedback from satisfied customers and grassroots advertising in tourist maps and on bridal websites.
But Sandy Malone said there is no question in her mind that the media spotlight that spawned a TV show all traces back to her wedding blog. The Huffington Post carries the blog, and that garnered visibility for her firm, Weddings In Vieques.
“God’s honest truth: It was my blog,” Sandy Malone said. “I didn’t even know what one was six years ago. My background is in writing, and nothing makes me happier than to write. In a perfect world, weddings can just run themselves and I can sit in the corner and write.”
Sandy Malone said the challenges of providing world-class nuptials, luxuries and comforts to clients on a remote Caribbean island that “is seven miles off the coast, has no four-way stops, no stoplights, no chain anything and nothing open past 9 p.m. except bars” are to be well-documented in “Wedding Island.”
She said working in the industry as a self-described “schedule Nazi” in the “male-dominated culture” of Puerto Rico is another aspect of the show that could help set it apart from anything viewers may have seen before.
The show follows her daily life as she often juggles the needs of multiple clients simultaneously, which calls for Sandy Malone to improvise and “make some noise” with staff and vendors when things aren’t going as planned.
She said she worries about how that may come across to viewers.
“I’m scared to death that I’m going to look like the Gordon Ramsay of wedding planning,” Sandy Malone said, speaking to her apprehension about how cutting room floor omissions can sometimes portray people unforgivingly on reality TV shows.
“There is no how-to-do-reality-television guide for dummies out there,” Sandy Malone said.
She said the sweltering tropical environment adds to the difficulty of maintaining elegance and comfort for her clientele.
“There’s never been a reality show like this,” Sandy Malone said. “In a lot of shows, they’re wearing million-dollar outfits and 20-inch heels. I live in a place where it’s 95 degrees, I change clothes four times a day and there is absolutely nothing glamorous about my job.”
She also said the variety of weddings and special requests could surprise some audiences, as they range from Wiccan ritual occasions to commitment ceremonies for gay, uniformed military service members.
First-season filming began during a 21-day stretch at the end of 2012, and the production team then chronicled a sequence of four consecutive double-wedding weekends in April.
Sandy Malone said she is proud to have planned and managed the weddings of five Buckeye couples, including that of current OSU graduate research assistant in linguistics, Mike Phelan, and his wife, Jennifer Phelan.
She said the couple “wore Buckeye gear at their rehearsal dinner and had a tailgate party with a million pennants.”
“Sandy was incredibly helpful planning the wedding for us as grad students,” Mike Phelan said. “Sandy was great at cutting down the stress, taking care of a lot of things on her own that we didn’t want to micromanage.”
He endorsed her show as well as her ability to plan weddings.
“Sandy will make for amazing TV,” Mike Phelan said. “With her personality and her dynamic of working with people, it should be fun to watch.”
Sandy Malone said her Buckeye loyalties and the rivalry between OSU and University of Michigan manifested themselves often during production on the island, as the show’s executive producer, Joel Zimmer, graduated from UM.
She said the competitiveness between the two was good-natured, and notable instances included stubbornness about which team’s colors could be worn on camera, purposeful placement of Buckeye refrigerator magnets, screensaver pranks and Sandy Malone’s whiteboard scribbles proclaiming, “Brutus was here.”
“With the number of clients I have from Columbus and the family I have at Ohio State and extensively through Ohio… everything about this came from going through Ohio State.”