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The Huntington News

The independent student newspaper of Northeastern University

The Huntington News

The independent student newspaper of Northeastern University

The Huntington News

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Column: Can Bethenny Frankel burst the Bravo bubble?

Column%3A+Can+Bethenny+Frankel+burst+the+Bravo+bubble%3F
Angelica Jorio

Every worker needs a union, even if their job is being messy on national television.

Bethenny Frankel, “Skinnygirl” lifestyle mogul, original cast member of “The Real Housewives of New York” and unabashed reality TV pariah, first called for a reality television union on social media in July 2023 as a reaction to SAG-AFTRA’s bid for a more favorable contract. Enlisting the help of big-time Hollywood lawyers and the resources of SAG-AFTRA, Frankel is buckling down for a fight that could change reality TV as we know it. Comparing reality stars to scripted actors, the mogul called on her peers to organize and plan strikes so networks and streaming services recognize the sacrifice and vulnerability required to be a reality television personality. 

Frankel is completely right. Reality TV show hosts like Andy Cohen are eligible for SAG-AFTRA membership, but reality stars are written out of the script, even though near-complete access to their lives, careers, marriages, families and trauma is considered a reasonable part of the deal. Frankel also railed against the network’s use of non-disclosure agreements claiming that instead of discouraging stars from leaking plotlines and scandals before they air on the show, they are used to prevent the cast and crew from speaking out against the poor conditions they work under. When workers’ personal lives become their capital, is there anyone better suited to represent them than themselves? 

At a luncheon hosted by original “New York” cast member Jill Zarrin, longtime “Atlanta” Housewife Cynthia Bailey was one of the many Bravo stars interviewed by The Daily Beast, sharing her hopes for Frankel’s goal to earn residual payments for reality cast members. 

“I definitely think, especially as someone who’s been on a reality show for 11 years, to not be able to at least get residuals, because all that stuff helps with our health insurance, I never thought that was really fair,” Bailey said to The Daily Beast. “For our likeness, to just be used [until] the end of time and not be compensated?”Not all Housewives think alike, though. At the same luncheon, Countess Luann de Lesseps, a fellow original “New York” star, expressed that it would be great to have a union, but that reality stars are too easily replaced by networks for the movement to gain any real traction. 

“I would love to have a union, but it’s never going to happen … Because if we do a picketing line, [the network’s] gonna be like, ‘Bye! We’ve got the next younger, brighter, hotter star than you,’” de Lesseps said to The Daily Beast. “You can’t unionize reality, because it’s too easy to get other people.”

The situation became even more complicated in August with the publication of an explosive Vanity Fair article reporting that Leah McSweeney, a brief cast member of “New York” who held a controversial tenure on “Real Housewives: Ultimate Girls Trip,” accused Bravo of enabling her alcoholism and causing her severe emotional trauma by discouraging her from attending her grandmother’s funeral. McSweeney’s allegations underscored the need for employee protection in an industry that thrives off of its stars destroying themselves.

Bravo has also received heavy criticism for its continued support of stars caught in racist scandals, as written in the Vanity Fair article. In the Bravo-verse, there only seems to be a “time-out” period for racists. During the tumultuous final season of the original franchise of “New York,” Ramona Singer was accused of making racist remarks and using slurs in the presence of Black crew members and castmate Eboni K. Williams. Past problematic comments by multiple cast members contributed to the cancellation of the original series and the network’s eventual rebrand of the franchise with an all-new cast, although it continues to platform Singer through the “Real Housewives: Ultimate Girls Trip” franchise — the show’s fourth season began Dec. 14, 2023, and Singer is one of six starring housewives. But in the wake of the Vanity Fair article, BravoCon dropped Singer from the event. A few weeks later, in a surprising turn of events, Singer attended the premiere party of “Ultimate Girls Trip,” although Bravo denies inviting her. Despite controlling the final cut, Bravo can’t seem to get its story straight.

Frankel originally supported Vanity Fair’s reporting, expressing relief that the public was finally talking about the issues she’d been trying to get under national scrutiny. However, in a recent podcast episode with actress and former “Beverly Hills” star Denise Richards, Frankel walked back her support of the article and agreed with Richards’ tepid reaction to the supposedly “groundbreaking” exposé. The mogul has continued to be a vocal critic of Andy Cohen, who she claims has made fortunes off the backs of the Housewives, and has dismissed claims of racism within the network, going so far as to say Cohen “likely despises” her on Rob Lowe’s podcast. Frankel has not shied away from playing the martyr, refusing to acknowledge the fact that she made her millions off of the same shows and stereotypes about women that Cohen did. Frankel later walked back her position on her podcast, claiming that she “has no personal vendetta” against the TV host and finds him “charming,” despite her disparaging remarks.

Being a Housewife comes at a steep price, and that’s not just referring to the wardrobe required. 

With “Salt Lake City” wrapping up with a viral finale and explosive reunions, “Beverly Hills” careening towards a chaotic finish, and the sensational “Vanderpump Rules” returning later this month, Bravo shows no signs of slowing down. An exorbitantly wealthy person turning the details of their personal life into their profession would be enough to make Karl Marx turn over in his grave, but, in his own words, “Revolutions are the locomotives of history,” and although she may not know the details of the finer things,  Frankel has claimed the role of lead engineer.

About the Contributor
Angelica Jorio, Design Editor
Angelica Jorio is a fourth-year political science and economics major and design editor of The News. This is her third time being design editor after a year hiatus while she was student body president. If not designing or frantically responding to slacks, Angelica can be found hunting down the best cappuccino in Boston!
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