The producers and network execs behind Bravo’s “Real Housewives” franchise know that fans want a full view of the ladies’ lives — and they work hard to capture the good, bad and sometimes heartbreaking moments that make for great TV.
Such was the case when Lauren Kaylor, a veteran producer of multiple “Housewives” series, discovered Lenny Hochstein’s hot mic rant that caused the current maelstrom surrounding Peacock’s reboot of “The Real Housewives of Miami.”
“You just never know what’s there and you don’t always know what’s happening at these parties until you get back into the edit bay and you can really dissect and get into it,” Kathleen French, SVP, Current Production, NBCUniversal Television and Streaming, told Leak Herald Monday during a panel at the 2023 Realscreen Summit in Austin, Tx.
According to French, it took “hours and hours and hours” for Kaylor to track down Hochstein’s whispered diatribe, during which the plastic surgeon revealed to a friend his plan to leave now-estranged wife Lisa Hochstein for girlfriend Katharina Mazepa.
“One day, [Kaylor] was having a sandwich and she said, ‘I want to know what Lenny was doing during the party.’ … She was listening to his audio the whole time and she was the one who found the hot mic moment juxtaposed with Lisa outside talking about how wonderful the marriage is,” she continued.
“There’s a certain style of prouder. And I call them ‘part ferret’ because they just get in there and they listen. They’re looking for things and they just have an intuitive sense of what’s happened. It’s really what makes ‘Housewives’ ‘Housewives.’”
French was joined onstage at Realscreen by other “Housewives” creators — including Pamela Gimenez, VP, Unscripted Current Production, Documentary & Lifestyle at NBC Entertainment; Lorraine Haughton-Lawson, SVP, Current Production at Truly Original; and Alex Baskin, CEO of the newly launched 32 Flavors Entertainment.
The foursome — each of them instrumental in building the “Housewives” empire — discussed how the franchise has evolved into a pop culture phenomenon more than 15 years after “The Real Housewives of Orange County” debuted as the first iteration.
“It’s a great franchise. We’re really proud of it. The people who work on the shows love the shows,” said French, who works on “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” and “RHOM.” “I think the women are proud of what they do and speaking both as an executive producer but also as a network exec, I’m so proud of the franchises as well.”
To date, 11 American editions, 19 international versions and multiple spinoffs have been produced — including Peacock’s wildly successful “Real Housewives Ultimate Girls Trip,” a show that convenes “Housewives” from far and wide in luxe locales like Turks and Caicos and Thailand.
“I feel that it is this Marvel Cinematic Universe. Everyone has their storyline and then they all kind of come together,” observed Gimenez, who oversees creative production for “The Real Housewives of New Jersey” and “RHOM.”
“Kyle [Richards] is friends with Marysol [Patton] and Teresa [Giudice] speaks to Alexia [Echevarria]. They give each other their psychic numbers and where they can get their injections from,” she elaborated. “It’s really this universe, this ecosystem that has been created.”
Execs and producers agree that authenticity is key for “Housewives” to thrive in that ecosystem.
“Some people really think that they can come on the show and hide their real lives,” said Haughton-Lawson, who produces “The Real Housewives of Potomac” and “The Real Housewives of Atlanta.”
She applauds Kandi Burruss, in particular, for keeping it real on the latter show for a consecutive 13 seasons.
“We’ve seen some ups and downs. She’s got into it with her mother, her mother didn’t like her fiancé, she married him anyway, she had children on the show, she just gives [to the audience],” Haughton-Lawson said of the Grammy winner.
“Kandi knows what this is about. She knows what she’s supposed to give to the process.”
Ideally, the process also includes keeping Bravo in the loop on major life developments before the public catches wind. Erika Jayne notably gave French and Baskin, who produces “RHOBH” and “RHOC,” a heads-up about her divorce from Tom Girardi before papers were filed on Election Day 2020.
“I got a phone call from her … and she said, ‘I’m calling you first because I want you to know I’m about to file for divorce with Tom Girardi.’ And I said, ‘Oh my God, does he have another woman?’” French recounted.
“And she goes, ‘Oh no, much worse. You’ll find out.’ And I’m like, ‘OK.’”
In December 2020, disgraced attorney Girardi — now an Alzheimer’s disease and dementia patient living in a memory care facility — and Jayne were sued by Edelson PC for allegedly embezzling funds meant for the families, including orphans and widows affected by 2018’s Lion Air Flight 610 plane crash.
Jayne denied the charges against her and was dismissed from the fraud lawsuit by January 2022.
“I called Alex afterward and then Andy Cohen,” French said. “But that was very shocking.”
Baskin, for his part, said he had “heard rumblings” about the scandal — but “didn’t believe” any of it was true until the “Pretty Mess” singer shared the news with him herself.
“It still amazes us, people who have that much baggage go on the shows. People think that we dig that up and are looking for that,” he added. “We’re actually not.”
While plenty of insider stories were told at Monday’s Realscreen panel — titled “Case Study: Inside the ‘Real Housewives’ Phenomenon” — participants also doled out advice for attending reality producers who aspire to one day be in their positions.
Baskin told the crowd that it’s important to be a fan of the genre. “You have to love it,” he insisted.
Producers should also “love the cast,” French advised. “There are times when you’re not going to love the cast,” she confessed. “But pretty much, you have to love them all the time and you really have to look for the good in them and you have to believe in them. They can feel it if you don’t.”
Meanwhile, Haughton-Lawson joked that her experience managing so many different personalities across “RHOP” and “RHOA” has inspired her to go back to school for a psychology degree.
“If you’re not really passionate about this, it’s going to be a hard job for you because once you get deep in it, the cast is calling you all the time. Like, they think we’re therapists,” she said with a laugh.
“I’ve talked people through so many things I thought I should go get a psychology degree on the side because I now really think I’m low-key, like, a therapist.”