Could Russell Armstrong's Suicide Ruin The Housewives Franchise?

The second season of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills was set to premiere September 5 — but with the recent suicide of Russell Armstrong, one of the show's stars, that's been thrown into question. The trailer for the new season — which had hinted that the Armstrongs' marital problems would be a major storyline — is no longer viewable on Bravo's website. And considering reports that Russell openly blamed the show for ruining his "entire life," the network may be left scrambling.

Sadly, this isn't the first reality television-related suicide. Two years ago, VH1 reality star Ryan Jenkins murdered his wife and took his own life. Before Jenkins' body was even found, VH1 distanced itself from him, removing all content of his show Megan Wants a Millionaire from its site and from iTunes, and later refused to air I Love Money 3, from which Jenkins supposedly took home the grand prize of $250,000. The network immediately released a statement that it was changing the direction of its programming and stopped all of its "Of Love" programming. As a result, VH1's ratings took a hit.

In the case of Ryan Jenkins, the casting process and/or vetting system failed to properly identify him as a dangerous individual. But Jenkins' motive was not believed to be his appearance on either of the shows. Armstrong, however, openly blamed his involvement with Housewives for the barrage of problems—divorce, lawsuits, revelations about his criminal past—that plagued him since first stepping into the glare of the reality TV spotlight. His friend William Ratner told the L.A. Times, "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, I think, was [Russell's] downfall. The TV show put a lot of pressure on him to produce financially. You're on a show with a couple like the Maloofs, who are verifiable billionaires, and you're not." And just days before his death, Russell reportedly told another friend, "It's funny how a reality show can ruin your entire life."

Clearly Real Housewives isn't responsible for the fact that Russell was a convicted felon and alleged wife-beater who had evaded his taxes, pled guilty to battery, and was sued for fraud. While it's understandable — and frankly expected — that reality TV subjects would blame editing for their portrayals, at this point in the genre's history, nobody has any excuse to blame a show for the skeletons that emerge from their respective closets. Hell, a veritable template has been made for this type of exposure, particularly when it comes to Housewives. One can and should expect revelations of sordid pasts (soft-core porn, old noses, criminal records, etc.), financial ruin, and divorce. Russell and Taylor Armstrong were the eighth Housewives couple to file for divorce since becoming involved in the show, and one of nearly a dozen who had filed for bankruptcy.

Bravo and the Housewives franchise has already had to deal once with the death of a cast member. Nearly two years ago, the fiancé of Real Housewives of Atlanta's Kandi Burruss was killed in a fight. However, unlike Russell, his death wasn't tied to troubles that were highlighted on the show.

According to TMZ, Beverly Hills was still in the process of filming for the new season, but reportedly that's since been halted. Bravo would neither confirm nor deny that. It was also reported that the network has ordered the cast to remain silent about Russell's death, and to rely on Bravo's official statement on the matter: "All of us at Bravo are deeply saddened by this tragic news. Our sympathy and thoughts are with the Armstrong family at this difficult time."

Bravo tells us that no decisions have been made on whether the show will be postponed or re-edited. But they'd be wise to seriously consider it.

Russell Armstrong Told Pal Just Before Suicide: 'Reality TV Ruined My Life' [Radar]
Did 'Real Housewives' play a role in Russell Armstrong's death? [L.A. Times]
Dark Side of Reality Television Spotlighted As Networks Struggle With Growing Number of Cast Suicides [Fox News]