Eisenhower had it easy -- he only had to plan D-Day. But an upscale wedding with elaborate food and flowers, and the gown, plus the music and the officiant and there's always somebody who wants doves and . . .
And that's when you call a wedding planner. In fact, if you're a 1-percenter or even a measly 10-percenter, you may find yourself calling Babylon-based Michael Russo Events. Or you would if you had the phone number, since the firm doesn't advertise and only has an email link on its website. Even once you get through, Mikie Russo may or may not accept you for one of the six major events he says he limits himself to each year.
But now with FYI's new show "Mikie Saves the Date," premiering Tuesday at 10 p.m., regular Joes-and-Janes have a chance of obtaining his services. A slim chance, but a chance nonetheless. The show's producer, High Noon Entertainment (TLC's "Cake Boss") screened "thousands of submission videos," Russo says, for the pilot that aired Aug. 26 and the upcoming eight-episode season. Russo made the final choices.
"I know right off the bat who I would love to work with and who I know is doing it for another reason, like just to be on TV," says the effervescent event planner, 35, who was born and raised in Smithtown. "I really picked the couples that I had that immediate reaction to. I knew they wanted my help genuinely."
Not that it comes cheap: The husband-and-wife-to-be still have to kick in. "Most of their budgets were $20,000 to $40,000," Russo says. "For me to walk through the door is $100,000. So they're getting a discount. A major discount!"
Seeing him in action, it does look as if they get their money's worth. Russo handles nervous brides and difficult parents with aplomb, using everything from reflective questions to mock outrage with surgical skill, giving viewers a small course not just in wedding planning but also in management psychology.
The son of a housewife, Rosemary, and a retired contractor, Frank, with family roots in Sicily, Russo began his career over 10 years ago at James Cress Florist in Smithtown, working with brides-to-be, and first made his mark in July 2004 planning the Oheka Castle wedding of former U.S. Sen. Alfonse D'Amato. Two months later, Russo became a celebrity wedding planner almost overnight with the marriage of 'N Sync singer Joey Fatone and Kelly Baldwin, also at Oheka.
The high-profile gig came about through Russo's boyfriend and now husband, publicist Richard Piana, "who's known Joey since kindergarten," Russo says. "Literally the next day, 'Entertainment Tonight' called wanting to interview me." With the national exposure, Russo and Baldwin started Glen Cove-based Roses n Lollipops.
"I had the company with Kelly for a year, year-and-a-half, and became very busy, very quickly," Russo says. When Baldwin became even busier with a young daughter, "Kelly said, 'Y'know what, let me sell the company to you for a dollar.' " He incorporated it in 2007 and reincorporated as Michael Russo Events in 2011. By then, he had done Kevin Jonas' wedding, as well as parties for the likes of Kathy Griffin and Shaquille O'Neal. A year later, he got screen time planning a wedding for CMT's "My Big Redneck Vacation."
He'd been approached often to do his own reality series, he says, "but it was never the right fit, because most of the programming everyone was after was manufactured drama. Then when I met with High Noon, they understood what I was after in terms of having a positive nature. Then I met FYI and I fell in love."
And isn't that how all good marriages start?