Summit ’13: The “Housewives” secret to success

Producers behind some of the most popular Real Housewives series, along with Bravo's Shari Levine, shared the formula that has led to a lasting franchise. (Pictured: Real Housewives of Beverly Hills)
January 30, 2013

Producers behind some of the most popular Real Housewives series, along with Bravo’s Shari Levine, shared the formula that has led to a lasting franchise at the Realscreen Summit yesterday (January 29).

Shari Levine, the network’s senior VP of current productions, revealed the recipe for success for Housewives, which includes five to six over-the-top, unapologetic women, with fabulous homes, families and a cute pet.

The original series came to the network as a casting reel called Behind the Gates, which Levine said at the time was a new look at affluent lifestyles that hadn’t previously been available to a television camera. Bravo’s team realized they could change the city and the women and have a franchise on their hands, with the help of a new title.

Once the network launched Orange County in 2006, Levine says they captured lightning in a bottle again with Real Housewives of Atlanta two years later. Since then, the franchise includes series based in New York City, New Jersey, Beverly Hills and DC.

With the addition of more cities and more over-the-top women, each new series had to differentiate itself from the previous incarnations.

For Matt Anderson, president of Purveyors of Pop, who has worked on Real Housewives of Miami, Atlanta and New York City, it was Bethenny Frankel that changed the formula for New York City. “She was such an outlier, we used to call her the Greek chorus of the show, speaking as the audience.”

Lucilla D’Agostino, the senior VP of content and executive producer for Sirens Media, producer of Real Housewives of New Jersey, took the series away from the lavish homes and fur jackets. “The New Jersey turnpike is my glitz and glamor,” she said, adding that despite the grittier lifestyles of these women, their challenge was to still have the reality series have the high-end sound and look for Bravo.

The group also addressed having to recast characters in the series, with main housewives making way for new ones.

If the cast members aren’t revealing new layers to themselves, they will get dropped from the show, said Anderson, while D’Agostino said that recasting keeps viewers on their heels.

“We end up bringing back a lot of B characters, ‘pot stirrers,’” said D’Agostino, on keeping the cast interesting.

Levine also addressed the Real Housewives version set in DC, which only lasted one season. “Although it was an interesting first season, there was a sense of no place to go,” she said, adding: “Their numbers were pretty good, but it wasn’t a buzzy show.”

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