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"Real Housewives of D.C.": Finally over. What it taught us about reality TV

Mary Amons, Catherine Ommanney, Jason Backe, Stacie Turner, Michaele Salahi, Tareq Salahi See a gallery of "Real Housewives of D.C." photos. (Stephen Boitano/Bravo)

(See also: Dirgham Salahi, Virginia winery owner, dies, The TV Column: Boffo ratings but beige story lines)

So now we come to the end of "The Real Housewives of D.C." It was Washington's first major encounter with reality TV. (No, we don't count "Top Chef" or "Real World" and their out-of-town-visitor casts.) What, exactly, have we learned?

That drama is hard to sustain when national headlines have given away the plot. That most political types want nothing to do with the cameras, though a few are game. That the stars of these shows aren't just caricatures but real people, with real feelings, easily hurt. And that a lot of what you, the viewer, saw on TV the past two months? Well, a lot of it was kind of fake. That's right, reality TV doesn't comport with reality. We tried to warn our fellow citizens, but now that the first (and perhaps final) season has come and gone, let's examine the wreckage.

It had seemed their chance for superstardom, but ultimately "Real Housewives" was not kind to Tareq and Michaele Salahi. Again and again, producers allowed the horse-country socialites to spout about their supposedly charmed and glamorous life, only to sharply undercut them: The next scene would be other Housewives gossiping that the Salahis "aren't paying their bills" or an image of withered, fruitless vines at his parents' Oasis Winery

In some ways, the series actually helped to prop up the jet-set image the Salahis dearly wanted to project: It showed them staying in luxury hotel rooms -- including the $15,000-a-night suite at the Four Seasons where Oprah Winfrey once lodged -- without acknowledging that a reality star can get that kind of treatment comped in exchange for the TV exposure. The many-gabled country home where the Salahis appear to live on the show is not theirs, but a friend's; "Housewives" never exposed that illusion either.

Mary Amons, Stacie Turner mashing grapes at Oasis Winery (Stephen Boitano/Bravo) See more "Housewives of D.C." photos

But the show also played into the savvy viewer's understanding that the couple's wild ride was about to end in scandal at the White House. In one scene, Michaele chided another Housewife's daughter for posting incriminating stuff on Facebook -- "If you're out there doing crazy things, it's going to come back." But that line's only funny if you recall the giddy photos with Joe Biden and Rahm Emanuel that the Salahis posted online after they managed to get into a state dinner without an invitation.

In a riveting scene aired last week, "Housewives" became a reality show about a reality show. The cameras followed the Salahis primping for the state dinner at a Georgetown salon. And we didn't just see Michaele searching in vain for her invitation (non-existent, according to the White House) -- we also saw and heard a producer reminding her what she was looking for. We know the feeling! What were we looking for here?

It was the first time that Bravo had shown us the mechanics at work. What was that about? Mostly just good TV, said Abby Greensfelder, of Half Yard Productions. "There's a level of surprise to see some rawness to this show," she said. "It just makes it interesting."

* * * * *

A few codicils to the "Housewives" code:

·Whenever characters are seen dining or drinking out, the restaurant's facade and sign must get a courtesy shot, so we know where they are.

·Whenever one character calls another, it must be on speaker, preferably through a tiny cellphone held in the upraised palm of the hand as if blowing a kiss.

·In every episode, someone must remind viewers that we are in Washington and articulate its rules: "D.C., has a special etiquette: As a host or hostess, you are responsible for taking care of your guests"... "In Washington, you try not to let politics get personal"... "In D.C., there is a certain standard of integrity that you must demonstrate, otherwise you're not going to make it." (We didn't say the rules are accurate.)

* * * * *

One scene of "Housewives" was set at a reception hosted by lobbyist Edwina Rogers -- a strangely underpopulated affair. We're told that she got a good turnout but that many of her guests hid in the hallway, reluctant to be caught on camera. Certainly there are reputations to uphold in D.C.; did that make it a difficult place to film a reality show? Not especially, said Greensfelder: "Everywhere that we shoot, there are always going to be people who want to be on TV and people who don't want to be on TV."

"Housewives" often had to stretch to convey any sense of official Washington: Photojournalist Charles Ommanney, husband of star Cat Ommanney, was frequently described as a "White House photographer" as if he were on staff there, with scant mention of his employer, Newsweek. The show's next biggest get was a cameo by Bo Obama's trainer. But two bona fide politicians did agree to step in front of the camera: D.C. Council member David Catania, who used his camera time to advocate for gay marriage; and Virginia state Del. David Albo, in a brief scene discussing winery regulations with the Salahis. (It was real business, he told us, not just for the cameras.)

* * * * *

A close viewing of the show revealed that producers took huge liberties with chronology. Parties, conversations, conflicts were often replayed wildly out of the order in which they occurred in real life.

Catherine Ommanney's ever-changing bangs. (Stephen Boitano/Bravo and Kevin Wolf/Bravo) "Real Housewives of D.C." photos

Some of this you'd only know if you were, say, a columnist who had chronicled nearly every time Half Yalf filmed around town. But there were other giveaways, like the mysteries of Cat Ommanney's bangs. In most scenes the sharp-tongued Brit wore her hair in a perfect blonde fringe along her brow. Then, in the same sequence, we'd see her again, forehead magically exposed, her bangs completely grown out. Or there was the weather: One minute the Housewives were in snow, the next, frolicking under the sun and leafy trees.

Such discrepancies exposed the show's fundamental trickery: When Ommanney (without bangs) talked gloomily about her husband, it was actually months later, when she had the hindsight that comes with an imminent divorce. (The couple separated this spring, months after the bulk of filming ended.) And when the Housewives whispered about "rumors" regarding the Salahis, it was actually transpiring in snowy December, after the White House incident -- and after the media stories that revealed their financial morass -- none of which had happened yet in the show's murky chronology. (You follow? Bravo doesn't want you to, apparently.)

Should this bother anyone? Greensfelder defended the sly editing as the only way to weave together disparate stories in a way that is "authentic to these women in their lives."

OK, so that was the explanation; here's the excuse: "It's an entertainment," she said. "It's not a news program."

By The Reliable Source  | October 8, 2010; 1:03 AM ET
Categories:  Real Housewives of D.C., White House crashers  
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Next: Last one ever?: D.C. 'Housewives' recap and fact-check (#9, Oct. 7)


What have we learned?

Uh .. . That so-called 'reality TV' is fake, and boring. That I don't watch those shows. That their 'time' is over.

Posted by: momof20yo | October 8, 2010 5:20 AM | Report abuse

What have we learned?.
That some shows' end can not come soon enough?.
That some shows' like this one are an embarrasment to thinking people?.

Posted by: hoffmannrojas | October 8, 2010 5:48 AM | Report abuse

reality tv is hardly reality. professional camera persons follow the participants, lighting is just perfect, participants are given a set and make-up is applied appropriately. reality tv is staged and the masses eat it up. reality tv should be more like an amateur video of some event as it happens even for those out in the jungle type reality shows. reality shows are all fake, all staged. eat it up if it floats your boat.

Posted by: joey3 | October 8, 2010 6:09 AM | Report abuse

What a prize writing assignment - you get to cover the end of a stupid show which examined the lives of useless wannabes. "Real" fakery, what a society.

Posted by: fortenbaugh | October 8, 2010 6:11 AM | Report abuse

Get a shot of real life. Have a politician spend a couple of nights with a family in a low income neighborhood. Without police protection.

Posted by: MissV | October 8, 2010 6:36 AM | Report abuse

If you're looking for politicians eager to be part of reality television, look no farther than congress. In hauling up the Salahis to testify before a congressional hearing, viewers are treated to a bevy of congressmen, all vying for attention and air time. If that isn't theater, I don't know what is.

Posted by: mingold | October 8, 2010 6:37 AM | Report abuse

Is it me or does the picture on the right of Cat with bangs remind you of Linda Tripp?

Also. Really, Bravo. The name should have been "Real Housewives (+1) of DC"


Posted by: Parsley1 | October 8, 2010 6:57 AM | Report abuse

Glad i didnt waste one second of my life watching this.

Posted by: LloydChristmas | October 8, 2010 7:41 AM | Report abuse

Who watches "reality" TV and thinks it has ever been real?

Posted by: mark1161 | October 8, 2010 7:41 AM | Report abuse

What have we learned?
That reality TV is huge business with enough fan base for Bravo that they have created a number of these Housewives shows. People watch. A lot of people watch.

Posted by: Woodie731 | October 8, 2010 7:48 AM | Report abuse

We have learned that along with junk food, junk news, junk movies and junk conversation we are wonderful junkies in this country. But fake reality shows beat real reality scenes in Iraq and Afghanistan!

Posted by: judithclaire1939 | October 8, 2010 7:59 AM | Report abuse


Posted by: citigreg | October 8, 2010 8:16 AM | Report abuse

Zzzzz ...

Posted by: motogp46 | October 8, 2010 8:41 AM | Report abuse

I suspect that if Mrs. Salahi had not been a skinny, bleached blond with extensions...her hubby could have never crashed the WH with her. She has been his money maker...what next?

Posted by: judithclaire1939 | October 8, 2010 8:49 AM | Report abuse

The entire conversation was ludicrous and the premise was false: the housewives weren’t real and the drama was forced and contrite and did more the expose Bravo’s bias then any real element inherent to the DC culture. The funny part wasn’t the posers and the gate crashers the real and the mundane self-proclaimed celebrities who didn’t really live in DC, but who could blame them, it was the reticence of the town to appear in a reality show for fear of looking unreal when the “upper-strata” of the town social circles is based entirely on the plastic political theater that is the DC cocktail circuit, political fundraisers, populated by unreal characters who want to look real and who’s agenda is ultimately formulated and executed by the real power within the city. While commonplace and accepted within the beltway, the real mechanics of the federal government are a lot like sausage. You don’t want to see how it works. Bravo would have done better to follow the “real” people on the inside; the lobbyist, the staffers, the contractors and the mandarins of the federal government who are alternatively backslapping and backstabbing, cajoling, and fraternizing and form the living breathing monster that is DC. DC is our town and we thrive here.

Posted by: FromWoodbridge | October 8, 2010 8:53 AM | Report abuse

None of this is important or relevant. Ignore these people and get on with your lives!

Posted by: wfmccarthy | October 8, 2010 8:57 AM | Report abuse

We have learned that along with junk food, junk news, junk movies and junk conversation we are wonderful junkies in this country. But fake reality shows beat real reality scenes in Iraq and Afghanistan!Also, that one really needs a tall, skinny, bleached blond with extensions to bring in the money and be a party crasher!

Posted by: judithclaire1939 | October 8, 2010 8:57 AM | Report abuse

How real was it? There's nothing real about this series at all. Lisa Wu from the Atlanta edition admitted that the producers try to make the housewives do certain things to increase the ratings. That's why she quit. This is just something to put on tv while you do the housework. It makes your chores go faster.

Posted by: forgetthis | October 8, 2010 8:59 AM | Report abuse

Thank goodness for Cat. She was the only one who stood up to the Salahi's and spent nearly every episode telling the Salahi's what fraud's they are. As Cat said to the Salahi's, you were "NFI!" (Not f*****g invited!).

Posted by: InVA2 | October 8, 2010 9:02 AM | Report abuse

glad to hear that the 'real housewives of NoVA' has concluded. i don't care about reality tv one way or the other, i just don't like it being filmed in DC.

outside of cspan, video cameras and politics are often a bad combination.

if i were a DMV politician whether local, city, county, state, or federal, i would have walked out immediately upon seeing the Bravo cameras. their livelihood is based on drama, which puts them at odds with a politicians or politically adjacent socialite or lobbyist' future.

Posted by: ProfessorWrightBSU | October 8, 2010 9:08 AM | Report abuse

I refused to watch such unscriptedly scripted garbage. It's good alright... good & TERRIBLE. Not to mention it gives folks the absolute WRONG impression of just what D.C. is about, from ANY standpoint/ perspective. Just AWFUL.

Posted by: The_Funknician | October 8, 2010 9:16 AM | Report abuse

I refused to watch such unscriptedly scripted garbage. It's good alright... good & TERRIBLE. Not to mention it gives folks the absolute WRONG impression of just what D.C. is about, from ANY standpoint/ perspective. Just AWFUL.

Posted by: The_Funknician | October 8, 2010 9:17 AM | Report abuse

Thanks for the information! TV viewers who actually watch "dysfunctional reality TV" really need to hear how it all works. Hopefully, they can stop watching and maybe better programming can result.

Posted by: Sick_of_it_all | October 8, 2010 9:20 AM | Report abuse

I watched this housewives show because I seen where many of the wealthy politicians live. I loved watching the lobbyist Edwina as she was was shot down by Cat on the health care. I applauded Cat's outspoken candor. So the politicians supposedly hid in the hallway--why they don't' want the people to see who is working against them?

I just have no clue what the Salahi's were doing on the show except to create upheaval at every turn which is always a turn off and such Jerry Springer mentality.

With the rest it was more educational to see D.C. these days and how the politicians operate.

Posted by: mac7 | October 8, 2010 9:57 AM | Report abuse

Let's come up with a new name for so-called "reality TV." It's not real, but networks are pretending it is.

Empower the viewer: let the viewing public name this fake TV something else, something more honest and accurate. "Spray-tan TV"? "Freality TV" for "fake-reality"?

Posted by: cfow1 | October 8, 2010 10:04 AM | Report abuse

HELLOOOO this is not the first experiment of reality TV in DC. Real World, Top Chef, DC Cupcakes...this crap is everywhere and makes us look bo-ring! Whatevs

Posted by: colheights | October 8, 2010 10:11 AM | Report abuse

What have we learned? That despite the glam exteriors, these are really boring people!

Posted by: StratCat1 | October 8, 2010 10:12 AM | Report abuse

They need to film an episode starring the real housewives living with their families in one of the TX or AZ border towns, and make certain there's a rancher's wife with the group. No need to make up crisis or drama. However, the film crew might need to take along bulletproof vests and guards for their vehicles and equipment.

Posted by: inmanorj | October 8, 2010 10:22 AM | Report abuse

I'm going to miss "DC Housewhores" It's been a favorite.

Posted by: freehogan | October 8, 2010 10:23 AM | Report abuse

What did we learn? Well,,,for starters, Roxanne and Amy provide commentary that is more entertaining than the actual show.

Posted by: AnnsThought | October 8, 2010 11:59 AM | Report abuse

I was not surprised at the "patchwork" involved in editing the episodes. My son worked as a PA on a reality show, and he saw up-close how the proverbial sausage was being made. When he told me about it, I was surprised at how contrived the episodes are. "Reality" must be viewed as a loose term.....if reality is not exciting enough, the producers will fabricate whatever is needed!

Posted by: shilohgirl | October 8, 2010 12:04 PM | Report abuse

I watched last night with the Salahi's and Andy Cohen, she said she had been too busy with her Barbie doll, she showed that doll on the Today Show, it has plastic hair, and awful joints, I've seen Barbie Dolls and if they are going to lower the class of the doll who wants it. This poor woman has been such a joke, when does she really start to see herself. And also in the previous show he told his wife they did not have an invitation and everyone knows they do not need to have invitations to go to these events then she pretends to be searching in the car for one and her bra. She probably does not even on a bra, what for. I just wish our government would do something about them. They did something with the Boy in the Balloons parents, they should also have to suffer the consequences.

Posted by: lls3519 | October 8, 2010 6:23 PM | Report abuse

I'll add to the gossip. That "S" attached to the Salahi name,,,,I still think it stands for Spies. People in financial trouble are ripe for the picking and vulnerable to temptation....was it a test run for an enemy....just sayin'

Posted by: AnnsThought | October 9, 2010 12:39 PM | Report abuse

I'm calling BS on the MS for Michaele. The Salahi's like to give the apperance of all this charity work and I can never can recall them supporting MS in the past. They claim to have supported many causes none which have been MS. Seems fishy that someone that has been afflicted by it for 17 years is finally get around to supporting it.

Posted by: shoreterp1 | October 12, 2010 3:12 PM | Report abuse

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