People often ask me what I do in my free time, and the horribly sad truth is that I spend most of it watching grown women argue on TV. I proudly admit that I love reality television, and the Real Housewives franchise is by FAR my favorite. It might just be one of the most iconic and widely diffused reality TV franchises of them all. With 11 American locations and a further 19 international spinoffs, people across the world seem to share my sentiments. From Beverly Hills to Napoli, Melbourne, and most recently Dubai, why do we as a society derive such enjoyment from watching these housewives?
As executive producer of the series, Andy Cohen, claimed in an interview: “We look for cities with strong personalities” Because the shows are non-scripted, it is essential for the producers to franchise into boisterous cities and cast entertaining women to keep the show lively and attention-grabbing.
The franchise has artfully mastered showcasing the personalities of the housewives by revealing their day-to-day interactions with each other, interlaced with personal confessionals. In these confessionals, the housewives are filmed in their homes giving commentary on the events unfolding in the episode, sharing their true emotions, or simply insulting their cast-mates behind closed doors. These confessionals allow the housewives to have some solo time and let their humor, wit, and rancor fully shine through. A standout moment from the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills season 2 follows Brandy Glanville intoxicated on an airplane admiring her own ‘cankles’. This is cut with a confessional of her saying, “I was so afraid to fly that I used to roofie myself, it was awesome. I wish I could still do that, but it’s against the law.” These confessionals feel intimate, as though the housewives are talking to us directly.
The beginning of each episode, regardless of location/series, begins with a glamor shot of each housewife overlayed with an introductory tagline. These often iconic taglines allow the viewer to understand exactly what to expect from each of the ladies. On Erika Jayne’s breakout first season on the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, she introduced herself with “I’m an enigma wrapped in a riddle, and cash”, shamelessly telling the world that she’s rich and mysterious, piquing our curiosity. Aviva Drescher’s season 6 intro for the Real Housewives of New York is, “When people call me fake, I know they’re just pulling my leg”, alluding to her prosthetic leg. Her tagline also foreshadows an iconic argument in the season where she claims “The only thing artificial or fake about me is this…”, and then proceeds to take off her leg and throw it on the table, then across the room.
These strong personalities make for properly unforgettable reality TV, with nary a dull moment. Women like these seem to be one in a million. Thus, watching the show and becoming acquainted with the ins and outs of these ladies’ lives gives us a false sense of closeness to them. Nonetheless, as we watch consecutive seasons we begin to pick our favorite housewives and root for them, even choosing sides during their countless fights. We begin to think of and talk about these ladies as if they were our own friends. The franchise’s ability to artificially foster bonds between the viewer and the housewives no-doubt contributes greatly to its success.
Naturally, with these uncompromising and often straight-up eccentric women, conflict frequently arises.
Gossiping is human nature, though it often becomes messy. The Real Housewives franchise gives viewers their daily dose of drama and gossip without hurting anyone in their real lives.
But why do we love drama so much? Here is my working theory regarding the benefits and human nature of gossip:
“Human beings are inherently social animals that require strong relationships to ensure our survival not only as individuals, but as a group. Therefore, it becomes essential to know what the people both in and outside of our group are doing, and to subsequently diffuse this information throughout the group. One of gossip’s most important functions is weeding out potential liabilities to group survival. If a person begins to act selfishly and/or is instigating detrimental conflict, it follows that this person’s true character be illuminated to the rest of the group so the problem can be resolved, ensuring group harmony. Thus, gossiping is not (always) destructive and malicious, but rather important in maintaining social cohesion”Tommaso Calderan *unqualified*
With this being said, the Real Housewives never falls short of an exorbitant amount of drama that, honestly, sometimes becomes hard to follow. Part of the fascination and entertainment derives from the context of this outlandish drama within a reality show. The following is a confessional from episode 18 of season 2 of the Real Housewives of Salt Lake City: “Last night around 3 in the morning Lisa came into my room and told me that all of the women were speculating that I had lied about my father’s memorial because I didn’t wanna get on the bus ride with everybody because I was the one who had turned Jen into the FBI” -Meredith Marks. The many layers of he-said she-said are hard to follow out of context, and that’s precisely why it’s so entertaining. This example is just one of many convoluted cases of gossip that spread through the housewives like necrosis. But, the viewer can just sit back and watch laughing in disbelief, ultimately unaffected by these very real situations
The reunion episodes are an essential part of the Real Housewives formula that are at the end of each season. In these episodes, the Housewives are invited, in their finest gowns, to sit with executive producer Andy Cohen and recount major events of the season, as well as settle any ongoing disputes. Being filmed right after the subsequent airing of the season, the housewives had the ability to see what the other women were saying in their confessionals and understand the true feelings of their cast members. Obviously, these reunion episodes feature a lot of yelling, the occasional tears, and fortunately some resolution. The drama of the season becomes simultaneously rehashed and is then (usually) also resolved in a perfect act of storytelling. Seeing the women whom we grew to know and love make up and move on is cathartic, much in the same way we would feel if our own friends squashed their drama.
Unattainable wealth will always remain a fascination for the plebian; what would life be like with no worries of financial instability? Financial stability would be selling these women short, however, as they represent some of the most affluent women that grace the television. Some of the housewives are self-made businesswomen, others heiresses, and yet more married into their wealth. Nonetheless, The Real Housewives franchise provides an abundance of empirical evidence supporting The Notorious B.I.G’s 1997 song claiming “Mo Money Mo Problems.”
In particular, the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, New York, and Dubai stand out as potentially being the richest. These series show the housewives going on many expensive and over-the-top trips: Hong Kong, the Bahamas, Paris, Rome, Berlin, Turks and Caicos, Colombia, and the list goes on. The Real Housewives of New York has Countess Luan de Lesseps, who married into French Aristocracy, while her cast-mate, Bethenny Frankel has a self-made net worth of $70 million. Beverly Hills sisters Kyle Richards and Kathy Hilton respectively have net worths of $100 million and $350 million.
This series functions as a zoo for the rich. We can watch in fascination as the ladies scream in their mansions or throw wine glasses in a luxury restaurant in Amsterdam. The dichotomy of ill-behaved women in boujee settings heightens the drama and storylines to a point of ridiculousness, making for entertaining TV no doubt. We are able to peer into the lives of the global elite while laughing and getting to know them, imagining for a short while that we too belong to their world.
I think the Real Housewives franchise is ultimately successful because it’s escapism flavored with eccentricity and glamour. We can forget the stresses of life, whether it be studying or working, and watch the housewives occupy themselves with trivial matters. We can pretend too that our most urgent problem is what color Birkin to purchase or what a friend said behind our back. With larger-than-life cast members and a myriad of different locations, it’s difficult to not find a Real Housewives series for everyone. I can confidently say that the Real Housewives (particularly those of Beverly Hills and Salt Lake City) is my favorite TV franchise of any kind, and I highly recommend everyone to give it a watch. Suspend your disbelief and just enjoy!