The Real Housewives are a reality TV/pop culture/American institution at this point, but why is that? And how? Those are the questions Brian Moylan set out to answer in his new book, The Housewives: The Real Story Behind The Real Housewives, an unauthorized deep dive into the Bravo-sphere, which reads as half tell-all, half psychological study into the addictive nature of these shows (and the women who have provided what feels like endless hours of entertainment to viewers for more than 15 years).
“I went in trying to answer every question I had and every question fans might have,” Moylan tells ET. “I hope that people take away that this is a valid hobby, or ‘passion pursuit,’ or whatever it is, to not feel guilty, to love it. And for those who are that into the show, it’s a little window into why we do love it so much, the great things and the fan communities and the support people get that come out of this weird thing of ours.”
Moylan, who co-wrote The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star Erika Jayne’s memoir and regularly recaps the series online as founder and president of the (fictional) Real Housewives Institute, is a fan, first and foremost.
“I love Bravo,” he declares. “I think they do an amazing job. They deliver us a great product. Whatever they’re doing seems to work … but I do want fans to have a realistic picture of how these shows are made and what they’re like. I don’t think that that damages anyone’s enjoyment of the shows at all. If anything, it probably heightens it.”
Read on for seven insights about the franchise from Moylan’s new book.
1. Housewives casting might be the reality TV equivalent of the Olympic trials.
It’s not easy to become a Housewife. Moylan claims 20 to 50 women go through casting every year, for every show in the franchise. It’s a mix of women the current cast recommends (some of whom at least one casting producer tells Moylan the team knows won’t make it far before they even vet them) and ladies whom casting producers find through their own connections. That list gets whittled down to about a dozen who enter a sort of “quarter finals,” including a background check, which would only pull up on-the-record information about the women, not say, a secret FBI investigation into their business dealings. From there, Moylan says about five get to the final stage, a “home visit” with a film crew and maybe a current cast member, to do a camera/chemistry test of sorts.
“This is where a lot of women fail,” one casting producer claims. “Like a lot of women get to the last stage and then just completely s**t the bed.”
There also also women who want it, and whom the network wants, but timing doesn’t work out. Moylan reports Sonja Morgan wanted in on season 1 of The Real Housewives of New York City, but had to wait until season 3 to sign on, after the dust of her divorce settled… though, 11 seasons later, she still seems to be sifting through much of it.
“My big Oprah light bulb moment was when I was talking to Chris Oliver-Taylor, who’s a producer who made Melbourne, Sydney, and Auckland — the Australian versions,” Moylan shares. “And he said to me that what he realized is you figure out why each woman is on the show. Are they there to find love? Are they there for money? Are they there to get famous? Are they there because they’re in a bad relationship?”
“Once he put it into that perspective, it’s like, oh my god, this makes so much sense,” he continues, “because my other thing that I’m obsessed with is, why are these ladies on the show? Sometimes I don’t think it’s serving them well, but they stick around.”
2. Bravo allegedly has a “Forever No” list for casting.
“Most of those women that [fans] want on Housewives have been interviewed and/or approached, and either Bravo doesn’t want them because they’re a mess, or they don’t want to do it for whatever reason,” one source tells Moylan. “There’s a huge list of everyone they’ve talked to, that’s pretty much like every woman in Beverly Hills and Orange County. I mean, the extent that we go to find new people is crazy ’cause everyone’s been approached.”
This list supposedly includes the likes of Heather Locklear and Nicollette Sheridan, whom fans started campaigning to add to The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills due to her being the ex-wife of both Lisa Rinna’s husband, Harry Hamlin, and now former star Denise Richards’ husband, Aaron Phypers.
“I wish that I could have talked more a bit about women trying to get on, like the people who really want on the shows, and whether or not they make it,” Moylan admits. “I also wonder, like, how do you convince somebody who’s on the fence?”
3. Yes, Bravo (mostly) pays for the trips.
The network actually let this “secret” slip at BravoCon in 2019, but Moylan digs a bit further into the inner workings on these on-camera excursions. He says budgets for the vacations can be in the “hundreds of thousands of dollars,” but often the network, the producers and/or the women will barter for a trade-out that delivers a better deal.
“There’s a lot of times where Bravo will say, ‘You can’t go on this trip unless you can get a trade-out,'” one tipster claims. Moylan also cites a luxury travel agent, Sally Serata, who’s volunteered her services over the years, including for The Real Housewives of Atlanta‘s memorable outings to San Francisco and Spain.
“I think that I am obsessed with money stuff and how the show works like that,” Moylan says of seeking out answers around trips, brand integrations and the like (he’s under the impression that product placement for Bethenny Frankel’s Skinnygirl brand was part of her contract when she returned to RHONY). “I’m always fascinated by these brands that want to get on the show where these women are doing deals on the side, and what kind of impact does the show actually have on people’s business.”
Moylan also reports on “code of conduct” clauses the hotels/rental properties require the women to sign, which one person (whom Moylan claims worked on “a number of these shows”) stipulates things like, “while wine can be thrown, punches certainly cannot.” Those same contracts allegedly include a filming curfew, too, which explains why so often on trips, a “producer cam” captures the late-night goings-on, or, in the case of The Real Housewives of Orange County‘s Ireland trip, early morning bus rides.
As far as how the producers decide which woman will “host” the trip, that’s usually born out of where the cast is headed, which they try to tie into someone’s personal story. That cast member then does aid production in planning what they’re going to do.
“I helped facilitate, like these are the options of things to do,” The Real Housewives of New York City alum Kristen Taekman shares on the record. “They pretty much do it all, but somebody’s got to host it.”
As for the glam budget for these trips, Moylan says the ladies foot that bill themselves, which means the likes of Mikey Minden and Justin Marjan are getting paid out of personal checkbooks.
4. Vicki Gunvalson thinks the “family van” bit was planned.
Moylan’s book journey took him all the way to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico (a visit to Andale’s Restaurant & Bar included), for a one and done experience called “Vacation With Vicki,” hosted by none other than The Real Housewives of Orange County OG Vicki Gunvalson in 2018. While speaking with the crowd of fans who signed up for the vacay, Gunvalson recalled the season 1 moment that preceded a different vacation, in which the Coto de Caza resident screamed at a representative from a limo company on the other end of her flip phone: “This is not funny! You have a little family van! When do you ever send a family van to pick up six people? This is ridiculous! You guys are everywhere! Why are you sending a family van?!”
“They put this family van up to it, and they did it,” Gunvalson alleges. “They still say to this day that they didn’t but I ordered a stretch limo with mimosas and bagels and … we’re going to Europe. It was meant to be fun.”
Why Gunvalson might think this may have to do with RHOC‘s origin story. When Scott Dunlop, the man who first came up with the concept behind the series — originally titled Behind the Gates — pitched the show to Bravo, his plan was to make it hybrid reality/improv, using Larry David’s HBO hit, Curb Your Enthusiasm, as a blueprint. Moylan reports that early episode cuts of RHOC looked a lot like David’s show, but Bravo ultimately edited out all the “scripted” comedy and extended filming to turn the show into a true reality series.
“Watching it back, you can really see it,” Moylan says of the Curb-inspired moments from the early episodes. “I watched the first episode again and I was like, ‘Oh, OK…'”
5. Production isn’t as manipulative as viewers might think… or at all.
A running theme of Moylan’s tome is the women really drive what happens. In his years of research, in interviews both on and off the record, he only heard one story of a “malicious” producer who seemed out to force a moment to happen. It was on The Real Housewives of New Jersey, according to Greg Bennett, who remains close friends with Caroline Manzo’s sons, Albie and Chris.
“She was rough, like a real L.A. reality TV producer,” Bennett recalls. “She didn’t want to be our friend, no. She was always trying to catch us doing something we weren’t supposed to be doing. [On the trip] she left a beat sheet out and it literally said, ‘The boys are going surfing but Lauren [Manzo, Caroline’s daughter] looks like a big fat whale in a wet suit and won’t put it on.’ Caroline was not happy and complained to the producers. We never saw her again.”
A “beat sheet,” per Moylan, is a piece of production paperwork producers bring along on filming days, which includes potential talking points for scenes. Chances are the women will bring up those beats themselves (like talking out an issue that went down at a party the night before), but if not, producers can remind them to chat about them.
“It’s just encouraging the women to think larger than just in that moment, what is really happening,” one insider explains.
“What I found was interesting, was fans always have these conspiracies, like, ‘Oh, the producers told them to do that…’ and,’ They’re giving them the villain edit…’ and, ‘[Andy Cohen] doesn’t like that person and that’s why they’re being mean to her…’ and most of that isn’t true,” Moylan notes. “I think that sometimes the true answer is the easiest answer, which is that these women … know what they have to do. So, they’re starting a fight. You don’t need to tell them, they’ll just do it.”
6. The “bad edit” isn’t real.
Viewers and cast members alike might be quick to call out a “villain” or “bad edit,” but sources Moylan spoke with say, those in the edit bay are never trying to make anyone look bad (save for what one no-longer-employed Vanderpump Rules editor once claimed on a podcast).
“They want these people to be likable, obviously,” an editor tells the author. “They want there to be conflict, but nobody is trying to make anybody look bad. So, yeah, whenever somebody says they got a bad edit, I think they’re covering the fact that they were an a**hole.”
“Sometimes we try and protect the cast from themselves, meaning we just want to show their best face possible,” another editor claims. “Do they really need to say, ‘You’re a b***h,’ twice when once will do? No.”
“I make the point in the book that you can do a lot more of that on shows like The Bachelor or Survivor, where you only need these people for one season,” Moylan remarks, “and then if you screw them over, like, who cares? They’re mad about it, and you’ve already used them up. But if you piss off Kyle Richards, she’s not going to want to come back, or she’s not going to want to be honest anymore, and you’ve lost your show. So, I don’t think that [the editing process] can be really as Machiavellian as [viewers] think it is.”
Another edit fun fact: Moylan says it can take upwards of three months to cut one single, 42-minute episode of a Housewives show. Those in the know tell the author that The Real Housewives of New Jersey changed how all Housewives episodes were edited, as the pacing of that offshoot’s first season (including Teresa Giudice’s table flip, or as Moylan renames it, table shift) moved at a faster clip than its predecessors.
7. There’s seemingly no consistency when it comes to Housewives exits.
While fans might assume all the ladies getting axed from their respective shows get a personal call from executive producer (and the face of the network) Andy Cohen, Moylan claims only RHONY one season wonder Cindy Barshop got that privilege. Everyone else seems to find out their fate a different way, either from their producers, network execs or, in the case of The Real Housewives of Dallas‘ Cary Deuber, no call at all. Or, so she claims.
“I was really upset,” the RHOD OG tells Moylan. “Not because of the fame and the glory but just because it’s something I had worked really hard for, and I felt like my family and I had gone through more than anyone on that show. The gravity of it, to me, was huge. That rejection to me was like an overall rejection for women, and working women in general. I think I took that really hard. Because I thought, ‘Why wouldn’t you want me? Why wouldn’t you want someone who’s like me? Why wouldn’t you want to show America and people who real people are?’ Because I’m the realest.”
“I think one of the biggest questions I have — and this is almost from a psychological point — is what effect does the show have on the women after they leave?” Moylan ponders. “Cary Deuber said she felt like she was personally rejected, and so I think I got a little taste of that, but I wish that I could have talked to more women about what that process is like, being fired from a job that you love and that’s very public, and how that feels and what that does to you kind of in the aftermath.”
“Could be a sequel,” he quips. To learn more about the Housewives,
head to BravoTV.com check out Moylan’s book, The Housewives: The Real Story Behind the Real Housewives, available anywhere books are sold.
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