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What is Going to Happen When the Original Real Housewives Are No Longer on Television?

Illustration for article titled What is Going to Happen When the Original Real Housewives Are No Longer on Television?
Graphic: Jezebel, Screenshot: Bravo

Welcome to Jezebel Inquires, a very serious tabloid about very serious things.

I’m finally ready to talk about the biggest story in reality television this decade—the few weeks that currently make up said decade notwithstanding. Specifically, I’m referencing Us Weekly’s reporting on Vicki Gunvalson and Tamra Judge’s exits from the Real Housewives of Orange County, a show they ostensibly held down as a Bravo flagship for just under a decade. RHOA and RHONY have long since replaced their status as the centerpiece in the network’s starry sky of shrieking rich bitches, but that’s a story for another day.

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Their exit, undeniably, is a tectonic shift in the Real Housewives universe, which in recent years has found itself stuck in an uncomfortable quandary. With nearly 15 years on the air—where else is there to look for the next batch of table flipping, influencer-adjacent women that the franchise relies on to keep itself afloat. New entrants like Dallas and Potomac (and soon, Salt Lake City) show the promise of greater things to come, but will they be able to last as legacy fans of the old guard peel away out of boredom, rage, or some combination of the two? Alongside the Tres Amigas—a nickname that is as dumb as the first time Vicki and Tamra screamed it—Bethenny Frankel and Lisa Vanderpump have also departed their franchises. Making matters worse, Vanderpump was, for its entire run, the lynchpin of Beverly Hills, and a fan favorite (no matter how many strings she so blatantly pulls). Can these cities survive without their trashy reality TV queenpins?

The immediate answer is obviously yes. Bethenny exited New York once before, although she returned soon after. NeNe Leakes has also done the same, and is rumored to be planning an exit from Atlanta soon. (Or, as I have also postulated, she’s simply looking to garner sympathy or leverage in a contract negotiation with the network.) But beyond the immediate, my worry for Bravo is more about the long-term, as its newer franchises reach middle age. Currently, the average amount of seasons per franchise is around 10. Both Potomac and Dallas are gearing up for their fifth seasons. With more and more of the founding class of Real Housewives either already gone or planning their exits, it isn’t just that there will be nobody left to cast. Reality television stars are, currently, the most populous group of people on the planet! That’s precisely the problem, however.

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Illustration for article titled What is Going to Happen When the Original Real Housewives Are No Longer on Television?
Screenshot: Bravo

When the Real Housewives of Orange County first aired in 2004, there wasn’t the architecture of a pre-built fanbase, a convention geared towards Bravo diehards, or the sprawling network of blogs that fuel the drama both on and off the shows. Those first Housewives also didn’t have the immediate aspirations of launching hair care lines or chunky statement jewelry collections of pop music careers. By the fourth and fifth iterations, maybe, but the Real Housewives of Orange County and Real Housewives of Atlanta were exactly that—housewives. The shows were focused on their families, not entanglements with cast members. They were also blessed to exist in a time when there weren’t desperate hoards of entrepreneurs and socialites hungry for a shot at Housewife superstardom. That magic that aided in the longevity of Housewives like Tamra and Vicki just doesn’t exist anymore.

Looking beyond the cast, however, there are other problems that so obviously plague Bravo’s increasingly large sorority. The year the franchise launched, in 2006, was before the recession and during the Bush years, and while there were certainly political dissenters in the mainstream media, they were often shouted down a la the Dixie Chicks in favor of the congenial, placid conservatism popular with Disney channel alums and morning show hosts. But this isn’t 2004. When a Housewife outs herself as a Trump voter, like Vicki, viewers pay attention, and believe me: Housewives fans have litigated this point repeatedly over the past four years. But what airs on the show, where these women work and build their brands, is a completely different story.

For a decade, it wasn’t uncommon to make it through an entire Real Housewives reunion special without mentioning anything vaguely political. This has changed in the era of Trump, of course, but political beliefs have certainly not been a barrier to the Housewives’ careers at Bravo. And while I cannot expect a network like Bravo, with a clear interest in money over ethics, to cut Trump supporters from their roster (even though they should), it’s clear that fractures in the non-political environment are beginning to show. The majority of the Orange County Housewives voted for the dude, as did New Jersey Housewives like Teresa Giudice. Dallas, one can assume, is probably the same; especially with all that onscreen racism last season, or the Hollmans probable support of Ted Cruz, considering they’ve popped up at multiple charities with him. This season of New Jersey has also been underscored by a tone of antisemitism, with many of the predominantly Italian cast claiming Jackie Goldschneider, who is Jewish, wasn’t “raised like them.” (There have also been mentions that she isn’t European, which is a long-standing antisemitic justification for violence against Jewish people.)

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It could be said that, with more transparent political beliefs finding their way onto the show, that these conversations can come up at reunions. Do I think that any of these women are coherent enough to concisely debate politics? Absolutely not, nor are they really the ones anyone should be looking too for advice on who to vote for. But, they are indicative of certain kinds of belief systems, especially among the wealthy, which can be instructive! If only Andy Cohen was himself coherent enough to debate this with the women. Despite most of the cast accusing her of racism against Kary Brittingham, Leann Locken was neither fired or particularly moved to change. (And a week later, her most prominent accuser Brandi Redmond found herself contending with incredibly racist footage of herself.) As for Vicki Gunvalson of Orange County, her final moments on the Housewives saw her shouting down Braunwyn Windham-Burke for kissing women, claiming that she lost clients with conservative beliefs because same-sex relationships or intimacy is still too controversial for television. (Never mind the decades worth of salacious footage featuring Vicki, who believes herself exempt from this edict.)

Now, Vicki is gone. Thank god! But her absence, like Tamra Judge, or Bethenny Frankel, or NeNe Leakes, or Lisa Vanderpump, portends an uncertain future for Bravo. The network is clever enough to spin wildly popular franchises out of the Housewives before—Vanderpump Rules being its most notable—but even that show is sagging under the weight of itself. But with their future in question, however, most Housewives are, by now, influencers. I’m sure they’ll be fine!

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Illustration for article titled What is Going to Happen When the Original Real Housewives Are No Longer on Television?
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Horny Time:

Despite very recently getting back together with Jenna Dewan impersonator Jessie J, Channing Tatum has been accused by this week’s Ok! of secretly shacking up with Charlize Theron. He wishes! The tabloid also reports the same for Florence Pugh and Zach Braff, who are seemingly in love in photographs they consistently decide to terrorize me with. A “source” tells Ok!: “They spend all their free time attached at the hip, and even when they’re working, they’re always Facetiming and texting.” Sure, dude! Worse, I have an incredibly dull update concerning Chris Pratt and Katherine Schwarzenegger, which is that both are apparently too busy and too rich and too famous to spend any time together. This hasn’t stopped them from getting their pictures taken together all around Los Angeles, of course, but who’s counting? (Me, it’s me. I’m counting.)

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Us Weekly reports that Jennifer Garner and John Miller are “very much together,” which is something I could genuinely care less about. And before you correct me—I am using this properly. I could genuinely care less. We haven’t even reached the bottom of the vast, dark pit of uncaring I feel for Jennifer Garner’s love life. At least her chickens will have a proper father figure, though! The tabloid also claims that Mary Steenburgen uses Ted Danson as inspiration, and that Heidi Klum is still a “blushing bride,” despite marrying Tom Kaulitz last year. Whatever!

Sidenote: Do you know how many gossip items there were about Dax Shepard and Kristen Bell in the tabloids this week? I know anecdotes about their marriage are vital to their function as celebrity figures, but I can only take so much!

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And, because the tabloids are usually very late to literally everything, Rihanna and A$AP Rocky’s alleged romance takes up a whole page in this week’s Life & Style. The usual sources are all here, talking about their deep connection and apparent love. It’s laughable, but also indicative of tabloid journalism’s inability to handle what a casual hookup or fuck buddy might look like. If you hold hands you’re getting married, and if you’re pictured outside someones house in the morning carrying last night’s clothes in your tote bag, then you clearly just got proposed too. Never mind the clearly distressed hair, or stains on said clothes! Now, of course, pictures of Rihanna outside A$AP’s house don’t exist. But when they do—remember my words. I’m usually right about literally everything!

Who’s That Famous Person?

This week’s blind item comes courtesy of In Touch, and concerns an A-List “friend” of Meghan Markle who’s been iced out by the former royal. I wonder who it could be!

Which of Meghan Markle’s A-List friends has been iced out because Meghan suspected the pal was leaking information to the press? Seems whenever they got together, everyone found out about it. Meghan also apparently felt the friend would take photos that looked too regal, as if she was trying to be princess.

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Shit Talking:

  • Cardi B, on having so many ideas that make sense: “I have so many ideas that make sense.” [Life & Style]
  • Dax Shepard, on feeling like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman: “I felt like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman.” [Us Weekly]
  • Claire Danes, on not knowing where to start: “I don’t know where to start.” [Ok!]
  • Ryan Reynolds, on seeing Little Women: “Just saw Little Women.” [Life & Style]
  • Halsey, on posting photo evidence that somebody would want to kiss her: “I had to post photo evidence that somebody would want to kiss me.” [Us Weekly]
  • Goop, on being on mushrooms: “We were on mushrooms.” [Us Weekly]
  • Jade Catta-Preta, on loving tight hugs: “I love a tight hug.” [Ok!]
  • ScarJo, on Patrick Swayze being her biggest crush: “Patrick Swayze was my biggest crush.” [Life & Style]
  • Ken Jeong, on being paid to be stupid: “I’m paid way more to be stupid.” [Ok!]
  • Emilia Clarke, on sleep: “Goodbye, sleep.” [Ok!]
  • Jamie Foxx, on wondering if they can hear him: “I don’t they think can hear me.” [Life & Style]

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DISCUSSION

bananabunny
Bananabunny

I’ll admit it. I was also addicted to watching Real Housewives (all franchises) and Bravo’s other “reality” shows for many years as a form of escape. But it’s a conservative shit show on screen and in blog comments (please see below) I also have an educational background in media literacy and some light experience in TV production, so it was fascinating for me from that perspective to watch the shows and then read the reality TV blogs to see how my perception of events was in comparison to others.

I never saw the shows as “reality tv,” but more as slightly less scripted soap operas that are set in the real world, rather than on a sound stage. The hands of production are pretty obvious (MUCH more so in later seasons), yet it has fascinated me to see just how seriously many viewers view the events they see as actual reality. Viewers in the blogs are usually super stans, some of whom tend to become pretty nasty if their favorite HWs are even slightly criticized. Each blog has a particular slant, running exclusively complimentary articles for some, while sensationalizing/trashing other HWs. I read them all. It’s actually fascinating to see how the same story is reported across each site. While I still read the blogs, I’ve have stopped watching the shows because I’ve found other ways to unwind... and I also can’t handle all the staged dinner table screaming matches. And some of the staging is now so blatantly obvious and the staged arguments are so out of control that it is impossible for me to suspend disbelief enough to enjoy the shows, even as entertainment running in the background. And it’s pretty hard for me to justify watching people on tv who are blatant Trump supporters IRL.

Reading reality tv blogs (RealityBlurb, Tamaratattles, All About the Tea, Reality Tea, etc.) is still interesting to me because it’s honestly the closest I can bring myself to encountering and interacting with people who have VERY different political opinions and beliefs (because I’m disabled and essentially home bound). It’s crazy to me to read blog comments and see: 

- frequent shameless homophobia and transphobia (commenters regularly referring to openly gay RH producer/Bravo host Andy Cohen as “Ms. Cohen,” making homophobic jokes/slurs, referring to HWs NeNe Leakes (RHOA) and LuAnn De Lessepes (RHONY) and Erika Girardi by male pronouns/implying that they are trans/mocking trans community, and BOTH on screen and in blogs the negative and disgusting statements about a few openly bisexual housewives (directed toward Barbara Kavovit from RHONY, Kandi Burress from RHOA, Braunwyn Windham-Burke from RHOC), using LGBTQ as props (Sonya Morgan from RHONY onscreen, and Lisa Vanderpump from RHOBH, who advocates for the LGBTQ community onscreen and IRL, but also made a transphobic tucking” comment directed toward fellow cast member Erika Jayne, and her IRL treatment of LGBTQ workers in her establishments)

- the ways in which domestic violence situations are viewed (most often blaming the victims, in the cases of RHOC’s Gina and her abusive husband, Ryan Vieth’s treatment of his child’s mother, RHOBH’s Taylor Armstrong, etc.),

- frequent comments that are pro-Trump administration immigration policies, disgusting comments about “illegals” and justifying Leanne Locken’s referring to Kary Brittingham, a HW born in Mexico on RHOD, as a “chirpy Mexican,”

-comments mocking those with eating disorders (Amelia Gray Hamlin, daughter of RHOH’s Lisa Rinna, Jackie Goldschneider from RHONY—whose serious ED has been dismissed by her own father, and has been both mocked by fellow castmate Jennifer Aydin, and has also retaliated by mocking Jennifer’s eating habits/recent liposuction on Twitter after the Jennifer’s on screen comments,

- racist comments about POC HWs on RHOA and RHOP, calling them “ghetto,” and weight shaming them for having curves and perfectly normal bodies,

- very frequent body shaming/weight shaming directed toward HWs on screen and in blogs, that are frequently encouraged by other commenters, etc.

This is JUST what comes to mind at the moment. But all of this (and more!) is pretty standard, normal behavior in reality tv blogs, and most of this is not challenged by the mods or other commenters (except for the owner of Tamaratattles, who seems to do a good job of shutting down and blocking racist or homophobic commenters). I comment fairly regularly, and like a few other commenters will do, I’ll challenge commenters on these issues, but nothing really changes because so many of these viewers/commenters hold their beliefs so tightly that they just double down and won’t budge. But if you feel the need to to step outside of a progressive bubble of kindness and psychologically healthy interactions for a moment, this is an eye opening and an interesting way to do it!