Since 2006, executive producer Andy Cohen has brought us nonstop drama with Bravo's Real Housewives franchise. While it may seem like these ladies have zero rules—you know, given all the ponytail pulling and wine glass throwing—it turns out there are quite a few, and I'm here to break them all down. So grab yourself a glass of Ramona Singer's pinot grigio and settle in.
Friends are preferred when casting new Housewives...
In a 2015 interview with Attitude (opens in new tab), Andy explained why friends are preferred. "The show works so well because it’s all people who have long histories with each other. So it's not just throwing people together in a Big Brother house and seeing what happens." Think: Dorit Kemsley and Lisa Vanderpump or Dorinda Medley and Ramona Singer.
...but friends still have to audition.
Nope, they don't get an automatic bid to the show. It's still important for the network to see if the potential new members are watchable. Bravo executive Ryan Flynn told The Daily Dish Podcast (opens in new tab) they start the casting process with the current cast members. "We always start with the women, sort of the core group that we think is coming back. It's always like, 'Who do you know that we should know?'"
Everything in their life has to be fair game...
Per the Real Housewives contract, the crew is allowed to access anything and everything while filming—from the women's closets to their kids. "I always ask people what's off the table. [If they] say, 'This, this, this and that,' I say, 'You shouldn't be on reality TV," casting director Melissa Stanforth told the New York Post (opens in new tab).
...even their phone conversations.
Have you ever noticed that the Housewives exclusively talk on speakerphone on the show? It's because while they're filming, the producers want to hear both sides of a conversation, you know, since they later share those phone conversations (opens in new tab) with the whole world.
The women have to keep a blog.
When the show airs, the drama can get real. From things said behind their back to situations that unfolded a lot differently than one thought. That's why the Housewives are supposed to keep a blog (opens in new tab) with their reactions to each episode as part of their job.
The women get *some* input on their taglines.
"We actually start discussing what the potential tagline could be for each of the various 'wives pretty much at the beginning of the season, and we kick around ideas all season long, because they want their tagline to be unique and special and ones that really stand out from the pack," producer Doug Ross told E News (opens in new tab). The women get some say, record three to six, and producers see which one sticks.
They can't change their hairstyle mid-season.
During every season premiere, you'll see at least one Housewife has changed up her look. That's because the network won't let them do so once filming starts. Why? A new look would ruin the continuity of their interview looks (opens in new tab).
The women only get three interview looks.
They have to be able to recreate those looks regularly. "You wear the same outfit all year long. You get three looks [total]. But for three months, you have to wear the exact same outfit, same hair, same makeup. You can never cut your hair in the middle of it because you're supposed to look the same," Vicki Gunvalson told Glamour (opens in new tab).
Housewives have to be available for reshoots.
Yes, reshoots. Because if reality doesn't work once, try, try again. Cast members have been caught in public filming the same scene multiple times and the crew sometimes even sets up lighting (opens in new tab) for the "set" where they're filming.
They have to coordinate for promo shoots.
From all white to metallics to different shades of neon, the cast members always look cohesive for their cast photo.
Reunion looks are a little more lax.
Some are more planned than others. The Real Housewives of Dallas really nailed the black and red color scheme here, but usually the theme is a little less obvious and the women wear what they're most comfortable in—as long as it's cocktail attire.
They pay for their own glam team.
When Erika Jayne joined The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, she blew the lid off of the glam squad secret that some Housewives hadn't been airing. Erika was open about her wardrobe, hair, and makeup team that she flew out for all of the major cast trips. But at who's cost? Not Bravo's. The stars pay for glam themselves (opens in new tab).
The Housewives work long hours while filming.
It takes hard work to make TV gold like the Real Housewives franchise, and not just from the producers's end. The women are logging six-day work weeks (opens in new tab) for 14 weeks during their season—and that's on top of any other job that they might have.
Their kids have lighter schedules.
There are strict rules about filming children, as legally they can only be filmed for a limited time each day (opens in new tab). So production has to come up with a strict schedule to make sure they get the footage they need in the constrained time.
Production sends out call sheets every day...
Besides securing locations to film (more on that later), the production team gives each cast member a written call sheet. According to Bravo producer Dave Rupel (opens in new tab), this "outlines the next day's shoot schedule. Times, locations, weather conditions, etc."
...and arranges phone calls.
Some of the show's drama is too real to be cooked up, but some is...how do we say this...pushed along by production. Former Real Housewives of New York cast member Alex McCord explained (opens in new tab) that some of the scenes and phone calls were orchestrated by producers.
Housewives can't break the fourth wall.
That means no mentions of production or the crew whatsoever. This can sometimes lead to confusing drama. Real Housewives of New York star Carole Radziwill told BuzzFeed (opens in new tab) that she was told information by a producer that led to her calling Aviva Drescher a liar. But since explaining her source to viewers would break the fourth wall, she couldn't divulge more info.
Cast trips are paid for...sort of.
Andy Cohen has revealed that the network pays for part of the cost of the exotic trips the Housewives take on the show, but that ultimately it's a combination (opens in new tab) between the network and the 'wives.
Housewives can pay to upgrade accommodations.
If a trip the women want to go on is outside of Bravo's budget, the women can front the bill. Perks like flying private or traveling to a destination in peak season are all some of the things the women arrange themselves. "Look at the credits. If you see 'promotional consideration provided by' an airline, a hotel, a cruise ship, a this, a that. That means it was provided by the producers," Alex McCord told RealityFix (opens in new tab).
Attendance on cast trips is expected, but not required.
It's a big deal to miss a cast trip and the women are expected to show up. However, sometimes there are conflicts—or women will create excuses if they're fighting with someone and don't want to go. That said, a lack of attendance can seriously jeopardize your standing in the show's cast.
The cast gets a say in where they go.
"There have been some that have been generated by us and there have been some that have been generated by them. The women take the planning of the vacation really seriously," Andy told OK! (opens in new tab). Wouldn't you?
Alcohol is always available—and always free.
On vacations, former Real Housewives of New York star Heather Thomson noted (opens in new tab) that it's all free-flowing: "You request the kind of alcohol you want and it's there when you arrive to your villa and if you run out, they get you more."
Bravo profits from the Housewives' businesses.
The women are known to hock their various ventures, but it's not exactly *free* publicity. Per their contract, Bravo receives a percentage of the revenue earned from any business promoted on the show, with one exception: Bethenny Frankel. "In the first season of Housewives, I made $7,250 for the entire season, but was the only person to put in my contract [that] anything I ever do, I own. And that ended up being a pretty good thing when it came to Skinnygirl," Bethenny told CNBC (opens in new tab).
The Housewives are paid per season.
The women are paid a lump some for the season, with some like fan favorite Bethenny making upwards of $1.5 million (opens in new tab) after her return to The Real Housewives of New York City in season 7.
Salaries range by person.
Nope, not all of the Housewives are paid the same. New cast members start out with a smaller salary and are given a pay increase after each season (opens in new tab), while the OGs or fan favorites, like Bethenny or NeNe Leakes, can bank more than $1 million (opens in new tab) a season.
Friends of the Housewives are paid per episode.
If you're a "friend" of the Housewives, a.k.a. you appear on a few episodes every season, like Faye Resnick on Beverly Hills, you're paid per episode (opens in new tab). Which might explain why Faye always instigates fights and returns on a later episode to address the drama...
The Housewives can't sue one another.
With all of the crazy accusations and altercations, it makes sense that Bravo puts in their contract that the Housewives have to settle their disputes on the couches at the reunion rather than in the courtroom (opens in new tab).
The show needs permission before filming in public places...
Don't be fooled, these women aren't just rolling into restaurants and asking for a table for three with a camera crew in tow. It's the production team's job to secure permission to film (opens in new tab) at all of the locations before filming.
...and everyone around them has to sign a release.
Whether they're audience members or fellow diners at a restaurant, every civilian you see on camera has been approached and asked to sign a release (opens in new tab). According to a producer (opens in new tab) for The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, people are generally happy to do it.
Andy Cohen decides who returns each season.
Andy, the King of Bravo, ultimately decides who stays and who goes. "It's all about what's best for the group. What's best for the ensemble? How's it going to be different? Do we want to continue this conversation? Do we want to pivot into a new conversation?" he told a crowd at the Tribeca TV Festival (opens in new tab).
It helps if you bring the drama.
One way to ensure you'll be asked back? Instigate drama. "If somebody just doesn't deliver, they just begin naturally to fade because the edit bay, honestly, is a meritocracy," producer Sean Dash told Business Insider (opens in new tab). "The best characters win out and the best stories win out. People who don't deliver just end up on the cutting-room floor."
You can get demoted.
Just look at Danielle Staub, Camille Grammer, or Vicki Gunvalson. These OG Housewives were given the dreaded demotion to "friend of the Housewives," which means less air time, money, and storylines (opens in new tab).
Former cast members can't go on another show.
When OG Housewives Tamra Judge and Vicki Gunvalson announced they were leaving The Real Housewives of Orange County after season 14, it was revealed that both stars were slapped with a 1-year non-compete (opens in new tab), which prevents them from appearing on another reality show until the set date.
Housewives can return if they're asked back.
There have been a number of times throughout Real Housewives history that a former Housewife has made a comeback (looking at you, Bethenny). But who has the authority to bring someone back? Again, that's all up to Andy (opens in new tab).
Filming the reunion is a long day.
The cast members sometimes film for up to 12 hours (opens in new tab). At the beginning of the day, each cast member is picked up by car and brought to an unknown location, where they get their hair and makeup done and prepare for battle to answer questions.
The cast can't speak to each other beforehand.
Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star Kyle Richards told Fox News (opens in new tab) that producers act fast when the women arrive on set for the reunion: "We all go to our rooms—they like to keep us separate because they don’t want any conversations to happen off camera because they want everything to happen on camera.”
They can bring evidence.
The Housewives do their homework to prepare for the reunions and often bring hard evidence to support their claims (opens in new tab)—whether it's text messages, emails, or even medical records.
Where each cast member sits is a big deal.
The reunion seating arrangements are as carefully choreographed as the New York City Ballet. Just ask Real Housewives of New Jersey star Danielle Staub, who refused to leave her dressing room unless she was sat next to Andy on season 10's reunion (opens in new tab). In reality, it's the women with the biggest storylines (opens in new tab) that go next to Andy, and the rest are arranged based on who is fighting.
Reunions always end with a toast.
Whether it's champagne, tequila shots, or wheatgrass shooters, the women always kiss and make up—or at least pretend to—at the end of the day.
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