‘Real Housewives’ Producers Explain Their Choice To Knock Down That Fourth Wall

- Real Housewives of Beverly Hills -
‘Real Housewives’ Producers Explain Their Choice To Knock Down That Fourth Wall

“Bravo, Bravo, fucking Bravo.” When Denise Richards blurted out this line during a group dinner on the most recent season of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, the fourth wall came crashing down like it never has on Real Housewives before.

Because “Fucking Bravo” isn’t like spotting a cameraman or hearing a producer during a confessional. “Fucking Bravo” communicates something angrier, something more raw, and therefore, something more real.

It says, “I would like to call ‘cut’ on this scene, bitches, and now.” It’s a compelling line and it was a compelling scene. It was also, potentially, a compelling look at the future of reality TV. And after ten seasons of the show, it was pretty unavoidable.

“We’re always looking to tell the most engaging, authentic story, and this season, we thought we needed to break the fourth wall in order to do so,” Alex Baskin, RHOBH executive producer and president of Evolution Media tells me via email. “Our thought was that if we didn’t break the fourth wall, we wouldn’t have been able to capture the real-life developments and interpersonal dynamics within the group.”

Plus, there’s precedence. Richards and her storyline may have barreled through the wall like the Kool-Aid pitcher, but even if the fourth wall wasn’t deliberately destroyed before, it’s been chipped away at. Richards’ storyline is far from the first time a Real Housewives show has given us a peek behind the curtain.

From the very beginning of the franchise, it has been obvious when cast members didn’t want certain things said on screen. In Season 1 of RHOBH alone there was the famous “but now we said it” moment between Camille Grammer and Taylor Armstrong, as well as the limo fight between Kim and Kyle Richards, where it was clear they weren’t exactly planning on Kim’s issues with alcohol being brought up.

And this isn’t limited to RHOBH. In the past there have also been instances when a camera person has been involved in the action, like with the fight in Nene Leakes’ closet during Season 11 of The Real Housewives of Atlanta or Season 6 of The Real Housewives of New York City when Heather Thomson accidentally kicked a cameraperson while on a swing. Many of the shows have also let us hear producers asking the questions in the women’s confessionals.

All of these moments let us know a show is being filmed, but this year in particular has seen multiple Real Housewives shows move firmly into territory where the fourth wall comes down and stays there. (See: Ramona Singer yelling at production to stop during her birthday party, Dorinda Medley freaking out about Tinsley Mortimer “breaking her contract”, and, of course, everything Denise Richards.)

This season, Baskin says, the fact that the cast was filming a TV show “impacted the very story we were looking to cover in the first place.” That story, of course, revolved around the fact that Brandi Glanville claimed on-camera that she hooked up with Denise, which is something Denise adamantly denies.

If the show didn’t film and air this storyline, the meat of which took place off-camera (all we got was the she-said, she-said afterward) then the whole season would’ve been about Dorit Kemsely’s tardiness, Sutton Stracke’s wealth, and Kyle Richards’ bangs.

Since Brandi Glanville was very willing to appear on camera and get the ball rolling on this much more dramatic storyline, there was no way a producer could let it slide. So, they brought a sledgehammer to that fourth wall and banged it down faster and with more reckless abandon than ever before. There’s only so many times you can hear people argue about time-management and the size of one’s travel glam squad. When Glanville comes to you with a plot about a secret affair with one of the Housewives, you knock that wall down.

Baskin says that the producers at Evolution have mixed feelings about doing so, though. They “prefer the show not to be about the show itself” because it’s meant to be about the lives of the cast, not about the making of a series. But, he says, “if the real story dictates that we break the fourth wall, then that’s what we need to do.”

This is exactly what happened during The Real Housewives of Potomac Season 4 when it was alleged that Ashley Darby’s husband, Michael Darby, grabbed the butt of one of the show’s cameramen. It’s not possible to not talk about the show in that case. One particularly meta episode even showed Ashley and Michael speaking about the allegation on a talk show that they never would have been on were they not reality TV stars. (For the record, Michael denied the allegation and the claim was later dismissed.)

More recently, on the Sept. 20 episode of RHOP, we saw Michael Darby literally yell “cut” during a scene at a restaurant in which Ashley was confronting him about supposedly cheating on her.

Like in RHOBH when we saw a producer on-camera convince Denise to return to the restaurant to finish The Last Dinner In Rome, viewers got to actually see a producer come over to the Darby table after Michael yelled “cut,” and thank them for being “honest and real.” Michael explained how he didn’t have anything else to say and asked for another Corona. There’s no way he thought this would ever make it on TV. After all, the show rarely features producers on-camera — or at least that used to be the case.

“Our goal as producers and storytellers is to always accurately present the reality of our cast’s lives,” says RHOP executive producer and SVP of Programming at Truly Original Lorraine Haughton-Lawson. “In order to achieve that level of authenticity, you just can’t ignore what happens after the cameras go off. The moments where we break the fourth wall provide viewers with greater insight into various story points, but it also keeps our cast honest and real.” There’s those two magic words again.

In addition to RHOP, Truly Original also produces The Real Housewives of Atlanta. “On that series, we’ve also been breaking the fourth wall for many seasons, so it’s already in our DNA and approach,” Haughton-Lawson explains.

Something both RHOA and RHOP have done repeatedly is use moments that weren’t caught on camera, but were caught on microphone as part of the storyline. “Microphones become a second skin to cast members, who also tend to forget the cameras are on as they live their lives,” she says. “Our post producers are very skilled in scouring the footage and finding these raw moments, so this is a trend that will continue.”

One example of this took place during the current season of RHOP when viewers got to hear audio of Housewives Monique Samuels and Candiace Dillard talking after they’d wrapped a scene, but before their mics were removed. This also happened during RHOA Season 11, when a mic’d-up Leakes confronted Eva Marcille in a parking lot even though Marcille had requested their conversation be private.

Even though all of the Housewives shows air on Bravo, it’s important to keep in mind that they have different production companies. (Both Baskin and Haughton-Lawson say, though, that decisions to break the fourth wall are made jointly with the network.) So, while you can expect the fourth wall to keep coming down on RHOA and RHOP — “Breaking the fourth wall has become more prevalent, and I think it will continue to be part of the viewer experience,” Haughton-Lawson says — that won’t necessarily be the case for the other Housewives cities.

“We don’t think that the destruction of the fourth wall is the future of reality TV,” Baskin says of Evolution Media. “We think that the audience’s sophistication demands doing so on occasion, and that certain shows might inherently build in the absence of the fourth wall, but we don’t think that the genre on the whole demands this. If anything, we think the future of reality TV is wide open and that the medium can’t be rigidly defined.”

Baskin explains that production has been “reluctant in the past to break the fourth wall because it can paradoxically have the effect of making the show seem less real.” He explains, “We want the focus of our storytelling to be on the relationships involved between this group of women, and not on making the show itself.”

Basically, if viewers are constantly reminded of the fact that the women are surrounded by cameras, it could subconsciously lead them to question what else about the situation is unnatural.

Fans, of course, are not all going to be on the same page about this, but overall, it seems like after a decade-plus of watching Housewives, many viewers tend to like the peeks behind the curtain. “We know fans want to see the real-life developments whether the cameras are rolling or not,” Haughton-Lawson says. “We love sharing these relatable moments that we know keep the fans engaged.”

One of the most interesting things about the now-regular fourth wall breaking is that it makes you realize how much the women have already been talking about being on TV, just without viewers seeing it. Of course, they’re going to talk with each other about filming a show, because they’re co-workers who are filming a show. On top of that, Richards’ “Bravo” let us in on the fact that women have been saying “Bravo” for years in order to keep things off camera.

On the RHOBH aftershow, Kyle explained that since the beginning of the series cast members would say things like “Bravo, Bravo, hi, Andy Cohen!” if they needed to do something like fix their makeup real quick, knowing that the footage wouldn’t be used.

Things get tricky as far as show-talk becoming part of the show itself when someone tries to manipulate a storyline, when someone refuses to share as much about their life as their castmates, or when someone keeps storming out of scenes.

Given that we’re so many years into Housewives as a franchise, the cast members are savvy, so there’s been plenty of cases of them either trying to manipulate the show or trying to stop manipulation. (See: The downfall of Lisa Vanderpump, RHOBH, Season 9.) It’s only natural that the fourth wall has had to come down — and the printed text messages out — as the cast, the viewers, and the production solve the mysteries of the show and try to keep everyone honest.

Fucking bravo to production for being able to pull it off.

Images: Screenshots, Bravo

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