09.02.10

Real Housewives Goes 90210

A Hollywood split, Paris Hilton’s feuding aunts, a venerable ZIP Code—the newest Real Housewives, set to premiere next month, would appear to have it all. Gina Piccalo pre-games the melodrama.

The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, the fifth show in Bravo’s strangely compelling reality-television series, has everything it needs for over-the-top melodrama: a wronged celebrity wife (Camille Grammer); a mouthy Brit with a beefy live-in “trainer” (Lisa Vanderpump-Todd); two feuding sisters who are former child actresses and happen to be Paris Hilton’s aunts (Kim and Kyle Richards). And, of course, Liberace-style grandeur.

The show, which premieres Oct. 14, features a $50,000 birthday party for a 4-year-old and herculean efforts to comfort one very lucky pocket-size dog named Giggy. There are extravagant shindigs in Las Vegas, private jets, and outings to the Bentley dealership and the plastic surgeon. Naturally, lots of self-promotion will figure in.

Gallery: The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills vs. Other Real Housewives

Of course, nearly everyone involved has something to gain from surrendering his or her lives to this spectacle—which, considering Beverly Hills’ proximity to Hollywood, should come as no surprise.

Bravo declined to make any of the stars or their husbands available for interviews for this piece, but according to sources close to the casting, the cable network developed this series around Kyle Richards, Paris Hilton’s aunt.

At 41, she has four children aged 2-21 and has stayed remarkably well-preserved. From the right angle, she’s a dead ringer for Demi Moore. Kyle is one of few in the cast who claims to be happily married. She is described in Bravo’s press materials as “sassy,” and people who know the family say Kyle’s got formidable joie de vivre. She was the “cool mom” at her daughter Farrah’s 21st birthday party in Las Vegas, living it up like a youngster.

Beverly Hills insiders speculate that Richards and her luxury real-estate agent husband Mauricio Umansky agreed to join the show in part to help sell homes in Beverly Park, the 80-home gated community off Mulholland Drive. Indeed, two cast members, Vanderpump-Todd and Adrienne Maloof, live across the street from each other there. (It’s worth noting here that most of the “housewives” don’t live in the area traditionally known as Beverly Hills, but rather the “Platinum Triangle” that abuts it, Beverly Park, Holmby Hills, and Bel Air.)

It’s quite possible, says real-estate blogger Mark David of Realestalker.blogspot.com, that Richards and Umansky also hoped to find a buyer for their own 4,200-square-foot Bel Air house, which has been on and off the market since May 2009 and has an asking price of $2.49 million after a price reduction.

Sources close to the casting process say Richards corralled her three friends: former Baywatch babe Vanderpump-Todd, who with her husband, Ken Todd, returned from London five years ago to open new restaurants in Los Angeles and recently opened one in Beverly Hills; Maloof, part of the Maloof dynasty that owns the NBA’s Sacramento Kings and the Palms Casino and Resort in Las Vegas; and Taylor Ford Armstrong, who is in a troubled marriage and whose participation sounds suspiciously like a husband-hunting expedition.

“This Midwestern girl knows how powerful men in Beverly Hills work, so she makes sure that she is always looking her best because she knows that something younger and prettier can always come along and catch her husband’s eye,” the show’s promotional materials read.

The real melodrama will likely emanate from the two other wives: Richards’ single-mom sister Kim, with whom Kyle has a thorny relationship (in one scene, Kyle climbs across the back of a stretch limo to scream in Kim’s face) and Kelsey Grammer’s estranged wife, Camille, a former MTV dancer and Playboy model whose private life has kept Page Six busy the last few months.

Camille’s backstory is the most sensational of all of the wives’: Her 13-year marriage to Grammer was falling apart as the cameras rolled.

“The most traditional people wouldn’t do the show because the epitome of class is to live a quiet life.”

“It was very hard walking down the red carpet knowing that my marriage was almost over,” Camille says in one scene, describing her appearance at the Tony Awards in April with Grammer after his nomination for his performance in La Cage aux Folles. “I was absolutely devastated.”

Filming began in March. By July 1, she had filed for divorce. By mid-August, news broke that Grammer had impregnated a 28-year-old British flight attendant and the new couple were “deeply in love.”

All summer, Kelsey and Camille, through friends and lawyers, have traded barbs in the media, revealing odd details about their marriage such as the fact that Kelsey didn’t call their son and daughter on Father’s Day and that the couple has had sex just 20 times in 13 years.

Although the breakup had to be hard, Camille won’t end up destitute. She is co-owner of the TV production company Gramnet Productions and entitled to about $30 million as a result. No chance she’ll have to forfeit her four nannies any time soon.

None of these ladies is really the classic “Beverly Hills type,” say two Beverly Hills natives who chronicle their social lives on their Beverly Hills-centric TheDailyTruffle.com.

“It’s a rather conservative breed,” says one Daily Truffle writer. “The most traditional people wouldn’t do the show because the epitome of class is to live a quiet life. I think it’s hard to find a true-to-form person who is willing to do the show. I think Adrienne is the closest one. I think people were surprised [she agreed to be on it]. Everyone’s sort of hoping for the best.”

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Gina Piccalo spent a decade at the Los Angeles Times covering Hollywood. She's now a contributing writer for Los Angeles Magazine and her work has appeared in Elle, More and Emmy. She can be found at ginapiccalo.com.