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Is 'Housewives' staging the latest British invasion?

Ommanney (center) with her fellow "The Real Housewives of D.C." participants Lynda Erkiletian and Mary Amons. (Stephen J. Boitano)

Read more of the Washington Post's coverage of "The Real Housewives of D.C."

First the British stole all the Oscar roles from our homegrown stars. (Didn't you, Kate Winslet?) Then their TV hosts craftily revamped their hits for U.S. viewers (ahem, Simon Cowell and Jo "Supernanny" Frost) and started colonizing our airwaves.

Shouldn't we worry that Her Majesty's subjects are going to grab the last good paychecks in American showbiz -- in reality TV?

Introducing the curious case of Catherine Ommanney. The U.K. transplant, who moved to the U.S. barely two years ago, seemed an odd choice for a show called "The Real Housewives of D.C." But, as demonstrated in Thursday night's premiere, she's absolutely perfect for it: Husky-voiced and snarky, she rivals Michaele Salahi in cheekbones and scandal (we told you in May about her 2006 kiss-and-tell moment with Prince Harry) and lends a sharp, mean wit to the enterprise.

But have no fear, Snooki: While the Brits are frighteningly gifted at the reality TV game, it's not easy for foreign visitors to get the appropriate work papers for such a gig. How, exactly, Ommanney did so remains unclear.

It seemed like an interesting question, in a town packed with expats and immigration-policy wonks: What kind of visa do you need to be a Bravo star anyway?

Bravo execs would only say that Ommanney has her papers. What kind? They referred us to Half Yard Productions for the details. A Half Yard rep said they would not violate workplace confidentiality and referred us to Ommanney. The star herself kind of blew us off when we asked her in e-mail -- and when our colleague Hank Stuever followed up in person during a chat in Beverly Hills, she got all "Mean Girls" behind our back.

"She sent me this three-page letter about it; it was boring," Ommanney sneered. "I kind of fell asleep halfway through. . . . There's no story there, but thanks for asking."

Reality TV seems like a no man's land -- not quite journalism, which requires one kind of visa; and not quite acting, a separate species altogether. The 30-something mother of two came to the U.S. in the summer of 2008 when she married Newsweek photographer Charles Ommanney -- himself a British citizen and green-card holder. (The Ommanneys are estranged. While friends told us "Housewives" production strained their marriage, Catherine denied it to Stuever.) Having a green card doesn't entitle you to import a spouse into the U.S., though, and Catherine came over credentialed to do work on behalf of Upgrade Productions, a London TV-production outfit, a company rep told us.

What happened next? Chris Bentley, a rep for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services said he could not discuss any individual case because of privacy laws. But he said starring on a U.S. television show -- scripted or not -- would require the same O-1 or P-1 visas granted to actors. Which is seemingly not the kind of work Ommanney came here to do.

In general, Bentley said, someone who comes to the U.S. on one visa and then takes a different kind of job could risk invalidating that visa. At the same time, he said, it is possible for someone to get permission to switch their visa category, with help from their new employer, but that takes some jumping-through-hoops.

Did Half Yard and Bravo help Ommanney make the switch? Her attorney, A. Scott Bolden (small town: also attorney for White House crasher Carlos Allen) declined to comment, "other than to confirm that she is in the U.S. legally and has a valid work visa permitting her to be employed in the U.S."

By The Reliable Source  |  August 6, 2010; 1:05 AM ET
Categories:  Real Housewives of D.C.  
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Next: Who are these women?: D.C. "Housewives" recap and fact-check (#1, Aug. 5)


Here's a good summary of the show

Posted by: kega_6 | August 5, 2010 11:28 PM | Report abuse

Well, I wonder when the U.S. Home Land Security will come knocking on her door.... it seems this woman has lied her way to America and lied her way to Reality television.... it's impossible for her to be "legal" to work in the U.S. under the circumstances outlined above. Furthermore, she didn't marry her childhood sweetheart, she met Charles and had a 6 week affair with him when she was 17 and never saw him again until 2008... and after 20 months of marriage, she ruins his reputation and continues to lie her way for attention and fame. How can the American public be so naive as to believe this con-artist and contribute to her 15 minutes of fame, which is what she thrives on.... evidenced by her Prince Harry episode for which she got paid handsomely. And as a mother? What woman sends her daughters to another country so that they cannot impede with her "party" circuit antics. And this is a "real" housewife of DC? Are there any investigative journalists who can get to the bottom of this deceit in the Nations'Capital? What a mockery of the American Homeland Security and the American public.... this woman must be laughing her way to the bank.... at our expense!

Posted by: realitybites2010 | August 11, 2010 5:04 PM | Report abuse

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