The eighth season of the original Real Housewives premieres Monday night. Because it's been years since the show first hit airwaves, I'll remind you that the franchise was Bravo’s reaction to Desperate Housewives' explosive success, and arguably one of the most successful, talked about, and spoofed reality franchises with current and past spin-offs all over the world.
Even the Associated Press followed the “original housewife,” Vicki Gunvalson as the show premieres its 100th episode tonight, years after her original hesitation to do the show and expose her life on television.
As the AP notes: “I have a sense of responsibility," [Gunvalson] says following her on-camera therapy session. "I would've been (expletive) at myself if I backed out of season five or six and saw the success of the franchise keep going, and I elected to pull back because I couldn't handle it anymore. There's nothing I can't handle. I just have to figure out a way not to crumble when times get tough when I'm doing this."
Even though change has defined the show — as the problems of the Coto de Caza housewives in pre-recession 2006 have changed dramatically and the cities in which Bravo has explored the first world problems of privileged, rich, and successful women have changed — the real change is the new type of reality show it ushered in.
Not since The Real World (with its 28 seasons) has a franchise had such a pop culture impact and drawn in an audience with the only sense of competition in the show coming from the interactions of the people on it. Many other successful reality shows such as American Idol, The Bachelor, Survivor, and others have all featured competition as the driving factor of the show. It took the archetype of MTV’s Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County, a real-life version of a popular fiction show set in California, and capitalized on it, right around the time the three-year run of Laguna came to a lackluster finish with neither of the show’s marquee characters, Lauren “LC” Conrad and Kristin Cavallari, driving the plot. (If you have a couple minutes to kill, seeing where the Laguna Beach kids are now is worthwhile for any mid-2000s MTV fans out there.)
Now with the Real Housewives populating airwaves, the competition wasn’t high schoolers acting like high schoolers being watched by high schoolers; it was middle-aged wealthy women who arguably at times acted like high schoolers but were being watched by everyone. This more voyeuristic reality television form made a winning model, so much so that now the show is more than just a pop culture phenomenon to be spoofed by late night television hosts. It has inspired an entire spoof series on BET called Real Husbands of Hollywood, headed by funnyman Kevin Hart, that has finished airing its first season and has been reportedly picked up for a second.
Would so many of the other docu-soap, voyeuristic, semi-scripted reality shows that run the airwaves today, both on Bravo and outside of it, (looking at you Basketball Wives) be around without the massive success of the Real Housewives series? That's up for debate, but the center of Real Housewives — people of a certain socioeconomic status making big deals out of little problems — probably isn't going anyway any time soon. If you want to see the group of women who started this madness, look no further than Monday nights on Bravo with Vicki and the gang on The Real Housewives of Orange County.