As one of only two women who has been on all 13 seasons of “The Real Housewives of New York City,” Ramona Singer is no stranger to drama. But this month she finds herself in a PR crisis of her own making. To be fair, many feuds on the show have been her fault, too, but this one is erupting while the show isn’t even filming. Ramona Singer likely needs to go. But her continued presence has clarified two of the major structural problems that are plaguing the “Real Housewives” universe.
Whether you love it, hate it, or try to ignore it, the franchise is a both a cultural mainstay and a microcosm of America.
Whether you love it, hate it or try to ignore it, the franchise is a both a cultural mainstay and a microcosm of America. And Bravo is dealing with the problem of structural racism on its shows as it simultaneously tries to integrate them. This can have mixed results, as Singer’s alleged comments show.
Last week, Variety reported that the New York franchise’s 13th season reunion special was canceled because Bravo was doing an external investigation into claims that Singer made racially motivated comments off camera. One complaint was lodged by Eboni K. Williams, the first Black woman cast on “RHONY,” and the other by a crew member. According to Variety, the investigation corroborated the claim made by the crew member but not the one made by Williams. By the time the investigation was finalized, Bravo decided there would be too much of a gap between the final episode of the series and the reunion, and scrapped the whole thing (a franchise first).
While Variety did not report either of the comments that Singer allegedly made, gossip rag Page Six had more details. (Essentially, after a fight between Luann de Lesseps and Eboni at the former’s Sag Harbor home, Singer reportedly said, “This is why we shouldn’t have Black people on the show.” She denied this account to Page Six.)
But because when it rains, it pours, Ramona’s no good, very bad November has also included an ill-advised tweet that certainly seemed like she was agreeing with anti-vaxxer Robert F. Kennedy’s comparison between the government giving out Covid vaccines and the Nazis experimenting on Jews in concentration camps. There’s a whole lot of choices being made here, and they’re piling up like the garbage on a Manhattan sidewalk.
This latest brouhaha with the Ramonacoaster, as her castmates have dubbed her, is symptomatic of a large problem in the current Bravo-sphere. Since its inception, the Real Housewives franchise has been mostly segregated, with shows like “Real Housewives of Atlanta” and “Real Housewives of Potomac” featuring majority Black casts. The first Black Housewife on a nonmajority Black show was Stacie Scott Turner on the one-season wonder “Real Housewives of D.C.” (You know, the one with the White House party crashers.) It would be almost a decade before Black housewife Garcelle Beauvais joined the “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” in 2019.
And even before the racial reckoning that swept the nation after George Floyd’s murder, fans were noticing that the housewives had a diversity problem. Adding Beauvais and Crystal Kung Minkoff, the series’ first Asian housewife, to “RHOBH” led to intense and constructive conversations about race both among the women on the show and the fandom that loves them. However, inserting Dr. Tiffany Moon, the first Asian housewife on “Real Housewives of Dallas,” led to castmate Kameron Westcott comparing her to a Thai sex worker and Westcott’s family attacking Moon on Twitter with racially tinged messages. Bravo was eventually forced to put out a statement supporting Moon and declaring “anti-racism is not a form of racism,” as the Westcott family claimed. Soon after, “RHOD” was canceled.
But diversity is only part of the problem. The other is that many of these shows are getting old and, perhaps, a little bit stale. The 13th season of “RHONY” was a disaster both creatively and ratings wise, with viewership going from about 1 million for the season premiere to about 500,000 for the series finale. “Real Housewives of Atlanta,” usually the network’s highest-rated show, was beat out for the first time this year by the yachting show, “Below Deck.” The series that started the phenomenon, “Real Housewives of Orange County,” has struggled for several seasons to find its groove.
Some of this could be because of the pandemic, with filming restrictions keeping the casts small and women bound to their houses, unable to go on the fancy cast trips and booze-soaked lunches that fans are used to. I also think that some of the stars of these shows, like Singer, have worn out their welcome. Yes, Singer is always good to say something outrageous and apologize for it later. That is her M.O. But the world has changed, and so has reality TV. The women who made this franchise a cultural behemoth might not realize that their once-successful playbook can now make them relics.
Maybe what some of the older franchises need is really a complete refresh. Real Housewives casts works best when the women have organic connections. These days, “RHOC” and “RHONY” don’t seem to care who they cast, as long as those women can feud with Ramona Singer or Shannon Beador. This is no longer a group of friends — it’s a disconnected group of co-workers behaving outrageously so that they can stay on the show, keep collecting a paycheck, grow their platforms and eventually launch more lucrative businesses.
There must be another, more diverse group of friends in New York City for the producers to snatch up. Maybe look in Brooklyn. Maybe search Atlanta for a group of women who seem like they actually want to spend time with one another — which did not at all seem like the case on the last season of “RHOA.” While Atlanta’s franchise doesn’t have a diversity problem, chemistry — not to mention congeniality — is in wildly short supply.
Real Housewives has had a fantastically long shelf life. But like so many other successful television institutions, it needs to learn how to grow, evolve and stay relevant. Yes, Keenan Thompson has been at “Saturday Night Live” for 19 years, but he’s the exception. Ramona Singer is not Keenan Thompson. Her latest scandal should, in theory, be more than enough to warrant a pink slip. But hopefully producers realize why she should have been cut long before it got to this point.