Bravo's Real Housewives franchise, which has been stirring the pot for more than 15 years, has launched 31 books and a cocktail line; featured two jail sentences and a couple of supermodel daughters; made Andy Cohen a household name; and resulted in 36 divorces, 14 albums and countless memes.
The Housewives: The Real Story Behind the Real Housewives offers superfans of the pop culture juggernaut an inside peek into the inner workings of the franchise with both on and off-the-record interviews with current and former housewives as well as members of the production crew.
Written by Brian Moylan, the immensely popular Real Housewives recapper for Vulture, the book gives fans the inside scoop on every classic throwdown and reveals what the housewives are really like off-camera.
"I decided to write this book mostly for selfish reasons, to answer all of the questions that keep me awake at night," writes Moylan in the introduction to The Housewives: The Real Story Behind the Real Housewives.
Windy City Times: Your obsession with the Real Housewives started with the glimpse of a hot, topless guy.
Brian Moylan: Listen, I am shallow and vain so I will watch just about anything with hot, shirtless guys in it. However, that is not enough to get me to stick around. After I got past the gorgeousness of Shane Keough [son of The Real Housewives of Orange County alum Jeana Keough], it was the ladies' stories I found captivating. I loved trying to figure out what was real and what the show revealed about them that they didn't want the audience to know but we sensed anyway. I think that is at the core of my deep and undying love of the Real Housewives.
WCT: You interviewed "real soldiers-on-the-ground" for the book, including producers, editors, sound techs and so on. What is your big take-away from these interviews?
BM: I think they are really proud of their jobs and mostly love the work that they do, even as crazy as the women and Bravo can be sometimes. But I think my big takeaway is that the shows are a lot more real than a lot of fans think they are. They see producer manipulation in everything and, really, all of those who work behind the scenes that I talked to say that if anyone is manipulating a storyline or trying to script things it's the women themselves.
WCT: How does Real Housewives casting work?
BM: So, casting usually starts with the current cast's friends or people who run in the same circles as they do because the best cast members are those with organic connections to those already on the show. Everyone I talked to in casting says the best Housewife is one who will, as Bethenny Frankel says, "Mention it all." Someone who will let her full life be on camera and is willing to live her truth for the masses. But to find those people they pass through many rounds of vetting, screen tests and, yes, background checks. But how good can those checks be when we end up with a Jen Shah situation.
WCT: How much do the Housewives make?
BM: Everyone wants to know the Housewives salaries and it does vary, especially for those like Denise Richards who come to the show with some fame already attached. However, for those who go from obscurity to the Housewives, they usually make $60,000 the first season, $120,000 the second season, and then somewhere between $300,000 and $500,000 for the rest of her tenure.
WCT: Does Andy Cohen really have as much power as we all think he does?
BM: I will always love Andy Cohen for his contributions to making the Real Housewives what it is today, but ever since he stopped working for Bravo in 2013 and is just an executive producer on the shows and host of Watch What Happens Live and the reunion specials, he is less of the omniscient Svengali that fans think he is. Yes, he's in all the meetings and does have a say in how casting and production go, but he's just one of many other voices in the room with others, including Bravo honchos like Shari Levin and Francis Berwick who carry more power than he does.
WCT: Talk about the evolving landscape of reality TV as it relates to LGBTQ+ identities and how they are portrayed (or not) on these shows.
BM: As for the Housewives specifically, I find it interesting that in the early years we met a lot of "gay sidekicks" on the shows, like Dwight Eubanks on Real Housewives of Atlanta and Cedric Martinez on Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. Those have mostly disappeared (with a few exceptions) so there are almost no queer representations on the shows even though it is on a network that is considered very gay. We also have never had a full-time LGBTQ+ Housewife and I think it's well past time. Now that the shows are diversifying more in terms of race, I think we'll see someone who flies the rainbow flag sometime soon.
I think the state of queer people on reality TV is the same as it is in scripted drama. We're seeing a lot more representations in lots of different genres, but it's surprising to me that there are very few reality shows about queer lives. While it's great that we get to be a part of the big world of reality TV, it would be nice if there was something that was by and about LGBTQ+ people for LGBTQ+ people.
WCT: What's your secret to writing engaging reality TV recaps?
BM: I always assume that people who are reading the recap have seen the episode already (though sometimes that may not be the case) so I try to avoid a "this happened, then this happened, then this happened," format and take the episode more thematically as a whole.
I think readers really want to hear a recapper's opinions, so I try to really take a stand and say who I like and who I don't at any given time (though that is always shifting) and I do try to be fair when assessing their conflicts and arguments. I try to put myself in the situation and think about how I would react.
Then I just try to really make it my own and add a lot of my personality into it. People are coming to recaps to prolong the enjoyment they get from watching the show, so I try to provide as much fun and extra value as I can in about 1,500 words.
WCT: What is your early take on the Housewives All-Stars concept?
BM: I'm excited for Housewives All-Stars, as we're calling it, just because fans have been speculating about it for so long. Someone who worked on filming told me it's amazing. But I will admit that my expectations are a little bit low. What makes the Housewives trips so explosive is that it puts these women that have issues with each other and long-standing relationships in a situation where they can't escape each other. While the All-Stars all know each other, they haven't had the months of build-up to really be in a situation where things will come to a head; but it will be fun to watch them all interact.
WCT: In writing this book, what did you learn about yourself as a fan of the Real Housewives that surprised you?
BM: I think that some of the best parts of the book are when I go to vacation with Vicki Gunvalson and when I travel to BravoCon. I thought I would love talking to the Housewives and the producers, which I did, but really the most fun I had was with the other fans, the people that love this same thing that I do. I really wanted to write this for them and I hope that they all love it as much as I loved writing it and getting to know them.
The Housewives: The Real Story Behind the Real Housewives, published by Flatiron Books, will be released May 25.