Andy Cohen and Ramona Singer

Vanity Fair’s Bravo Takedown Article Is Here and It’s Bad

The thing about being a Bravo fan is that on some level, you always knew it was exploitative, but also, it seemed like everyone was a willing participant in their own exploitation. Unfortunately, a new Vanity Fair report disproves this admittedly weak fan theory.

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The article, titled “Inside the Real Housewives Reckoning That’s Rocking Bravo” is an explosive look into the emotional and physical damage of being a Housewife, and how Bravo has allegedly created an environment where alcoholism is encouraged for ratings and racial attacks are swept under the rug. It’s not great! Here’s an excerpt:

Leah McSweeney relapsed after nine years of sobriety before her first season on The Real Housewives of New York City (RHONY). Her recollection of a 2019 cast trip to Mexico, described at the beginning of this story, is from one of many interviews conducted over many months with current and former Housewives, producers, and Bravo staffers about the things that viewers haven’t seen: racist language and behavior, the real-world effects of making entertainment out of destructive interpersonal relationships, the downsides of fame, and substance abuse beyond the meme fodder that drives fan discourse.

Here’s the description of what is known as a “girls trip” in the Housewives lingo, mentioned in the above excerpt:

The Housewife woke up in her own urine. She was still drunk from the night before, when she’d had three drinks at dinner, another three or four with her costars, then an indeterminate but debilitating amount of mescal after her castmates went to sleep. The house had been fully stocked when they arrived.

She was too hungover to care that she’d wet the bed and so sick that she couldn’t film, she told production. But people on set kept telling her she was fine, it was just the Mexican water screwing up her stomach—the same thing had happened to them in Cartagena, Colombia, the year before.

Also, not great! McSweeney was a later addition to the RHONY franchise, and her fellow castmate, Ramona Singer, was singled out for racist and harmful behavior while a Housewife in the New York franchise. (Note: RHONY has since been rebooted with an all-new cast this year, but Singer is still a member of the Bravoverse):

RHONY season 13 featured [Eboni] Williams, the show’s first Black cast member. In 2020 and 2021, Singer’s alleged racial hostility and use of the N-word in conversation with a Black crew member during season 13 production were the subject of complaints within Shed Media, Warner Bros. Discovery, Bravo, and NBCUniversal. (Companies declined to comment on the specific allegations.) Singer continued to film after the alleged incidents, has since been part of two seasons of UGT [Ultimate Girls Trip], and appeared on WWHL [Watch What Happens Live] as this story was going to press. (When asked if she used the N-word in conversation with a Black member of production, Singer responded, “Never.”)

You’re probably wondering where Andy Cohen, host of Watch What Happens Live and producer of the Housewives franchise fits in to all of this. First, it’s important to note that he’s both on-air talent and behind-the-scenes boss for Housewives and other Bravo shows. He is, for all intents and purposes, the godfather of the Bravoverse. Cohen is directly implicated in the exploitation of Sweeney’s alcohol dependency and for sweeping the allegations against Singer under the rug:

McSweeney says that in April 2020 during an off-air exchange on WWHL, Cohen asked her, “Were you already drinking? Or was your relapse at the winery, or on the trip?” She told him she wasn’t dry when filming began, hoping to de-emphasize it. She believes “he looked disappointed” that the exact moment of McSweeney’s relapse wouldn’t be documented on the show. During taping of the season 12 reunion in August 2020, McSweeney says Cohen asked which drugs she’d used during her active addiction. (Through a Bravo representative, Cohen declined to answer questions.)

Hot sheets play a large role in implicating the producers’ encouraging (and ignoring) of bad behavior. Hot sheets are summaries of what happened after a day of filming on camera that are sent to producers of the Housewives franchise to give them an idea of what happened on that day’s filming, on camera. During one exchange, Singer reportedly said RHONY didn’t need Black people after a heated exchange between her and Williams, in which Williams had to explain what “white fragility” was to Singer and fellow castmate Luann De Lesseps:

One of the people who remained told Vanity Fair, “Ramona slammed her hands on the table. She goes, ‘This is why we didn’t need Black people on the show…. This is gonna ruin our show.’ ” (Singer emailed VF this “absolutely” did not happen. “In fact, I supported adding diverse cast members well before before [sic] Eboni was added.”)

The hot sheet went out several days later to a group that included Cohen and other NBCU executives. It did not note, however, that Singer allegedly said the show didn’t need Black people. On October 24, 2020, Cohen responded via email, “These are incredible reads and will be amazing episodes. The fact that this particular journey through white fragility ends with Ramona DM’ing Bryan Cranston is next level.”

The article is a long, sad read. There are many personal anecdotes on the record from Sweeney, Williams, and Bethenny Frankel, another Housewife alum who has recently started pushing to create a union for reality TV stars to stop the exploitation of the industry. There are also multiple off-the-record interviews with Housewives who wish to remain anonymous, for fear of retaliation from Bravo and Cohen, explaining why they remain in the franchise:

“We literally are walking to the casino thinking we’re gonna change our family’s lives, make a fortune, and ride off into the sunset,” one Housewife says. “But if you were, say, the most successful Housewife ever, you would not be able to chart it without charting also absolute emotional destruction, public humiliation, divorce, death, crime, prison, shame, misogyny, and just an onslaught of pure hate.”

As someone who loves the Housewives franchise more than I should, getting a behind-the-scenes look at all this exploitation and ignorance around race is eye-opening. These shows, which are meant to be escapist comedies, have a deeply ugly side that needs to be reckoned with. Not all Housewives agree with the sentiments of the ones who went on the record, though:

“I want to burn it down,” one Housewife told me in March. “I don’t!” I [another Housewife] said. I still hope there’s a way to keep making Bravo shows without cast members feeling they’ve ruined their lives. Can’t humanity be made into entertainment humanely?

I put this to another Housewife—the one who dreamed of being famous. “I take umbrage with ‘humanely,’ ” she says. “Have you ever seen what it takes to train a Navy SEAL or to become a professional athlete? There’s nothing humane about the process to do it. And there’s nothing humane about the game of football. And I f****** love it.”

Ultimately, it’s hard to see how this article does much to take down the juggernaut that is Bravo. Scandoval became a household word earlier this year, transcending the insular Bravo world, and as long as the network is offering instant overnight fame, there will undoubtedly be people lining up to exploit themselves.

(featured image: Bravo)

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Image of Kate Hudson
Kate Hudson
Kate Hudson (no, not that one) has been writing about pop culture and reality TV in particular for six years, and is a Contributing Writer at The Mary Sue. With a deep and unwavering love of Twilight and Con Air, she absolutely understands her taste in pop culture is both wonderful and terrible at the same time. She is the co-host of the popular Bravo trivia podcast Bravo Replay, and her favorite Bravolebrity is Kate Chastain, and not because they have the same first name, but it helps.