04.18.11 10:35 PM ET
Why The Real Housewives of Miami Flopped
Last Friday afternoon, Marysol Patton, from the cast of The Real Housewives of Miami, was sitting in her office, fielding calls. Not all of them were work-related.
"All my gay friends are trying to get me to go to the parade tomorrow," Marysol said wearily. "They want to use me as bait to get them men. I've gotten like a thousand calls."
Ah, the demands of being a gay icon—one of the crowns that has been bestowed on the glamorous, blond Latina since she and her brassy mother, Elsa (another gay favorite), appeared on the latest installment of Bravo's hit franchise about the lives of shamelessly rich and dependably catty women. Naturally, Patton fille, who on the show gabs with her gay pals about plastic surgery, and is proposed to and married on an Aspen mountaintop by a much younger, French hottie (more points with the boys!), hung out with Kathy Griffin at the comedian's recent show in Miami.
"I went a few weeks ago and all the gay guys were all so nice, saying, 'I love you! I love your mother!' They talk constantly about my mom."
Elsa was, indeed, one of the highlights of the show, which was Bravo's weakest-performing Housewives to date. The Real Housewives of Miami failed to attract the kind of following that the New Jersey, New York City, Atlanta, Orange County, and the immediately loved freshman Beverly Hills versions of the series have garnered. The stumble came on the heels of last year's ratings-challenged The Real Housewives of D.C., which Bravo recently announced is not being renewed for a second season. (Seeing as Miami's viewership was worse than D.C.'s, its fate seems equally grim.) The slips have been the first signs that a phenomenon that has spawned spinoff shows, books, and overall mania among a certain estrogen-dominant segment of the population, is more than just a formula that can be applied to any old gated community. As frothy and predictable as the show may appear at first glance, like any good drama, its success has been dependent on multidimensional characters with compelling dramas. Though, yes, the hair-pulling helps, too.
“It wasn’t supposed to be a Housewives show,” Marysol said.
As to what, exactly, went wrong with Miami, there has been much Monday morning quarterbacking. There was, after all, a sexy setting and a cast that, while certainly devoid of scenery-chewers like Atlanta's NeNe Leakes or New York's Jill Zarin, had its share of catfights, episodes-long grudges, and midday wine consumption. Nonetheless, the overall consensus was that the show was a bore.
But Marysol begged to differ. Now free of Bravo's publicity shackles, she happily offered her two cents.
"The ratings? I knew why that was happening," Marysol said. "They literally told us 10 days before it aired that the show was going to air." (It was actually 19 days; on Feb. 3, Bravo sent out an announcement that Miami, which hadn't been mentioned, much less promoted, would debut on Feb. 22, and that the network was postponing the premiere of Season 4 of The Real Housewives of New York City. But yes, the change in plans was a surprise.)
"We got one week's promotion," Marysol continued. "All the other shows get two months of, 'It's coming, it's coming, it's coming!' What kind of following can you get when there's only one of advertising?"
Bravo declined to comment for this story.
As a PR guru, Marysol was particularly miffed about the rush-job. "When we were told, all of a sudden everyone in [my] office froze. We looked at each in awe, like, What are we going to do? We looked at each other like, Why do we all feel so paralyzed? I didn't know what to do. We had to let Bravo do their thing, I couldn't go gang-busters doing my own PR. So I had to sit back and watch… We were all frozen and frustrated."
Something else Marysol felt free to talk about—besides the fact that yes, hubby Philippe's wine refrigerator is still in the house—was that when she was first approached by Bravo, she was told that the series, then called Untitled Miami Project, "was about women in business and philanthropy."
"It wasn't supposed to be a Housewives show," Marysol said, adding that Bravo played with several titles, such as Miami Caliente and Miami Chicas (which the women hated). "So they did a lot of work scenes, which got cut out."
Instead, her narrative "was turned into romance and my mom."
Realizing this as she watched the show—the women were told after filming wrapped that it would be a Real Housewives series—she said, "It was hard. During the first few episodes, I was like, What's going on here? Where's all my work stuff? It's all gone… It was a bitter pill to swallow, but what am I going to do?"
When asked how she couldn't have had some idea where the producers might be headed, considering that this was, after all, Bravo filming a show about six leggy women of a certain age, two of whom—Larsa Pippen and Cristy Rice—were not high-powered career women, Patton said: "Well, Cristy had a store for 12 years, but I thought they were looking for flair. I guess I really didn't know what she did, I'd just see her around and say 'hi.'
As for Larsa, the Paula Abdul-lookalike wife of former NBA superstar Scottie Pippen, who became Marysol's No. 1 frenemy when she told Marysol that her mother was "a bitch," Marysol said: "I didn't know her at all, I couldn't assume she didn't have a foundation. I just assumed, since three of the women fit the mold of what they talked about, the rest did, too."
But despite these gripes, Marysol said she enjoyed the Housewives experience and is especially tickled by what it's done for her mother, who is now bombarded by camera phones whenever she leaves the house, wielded by people dying for a photo of the self-described "witch" who sat around in silk nightgowns spewing Dorothy Parker-quality witticisms in a thick, Cuban accent. Most memorably, Elsa told Marysol's Euro-y fiancé-to-be that a) she'd seen his shirt worn by Michael Jackson and b) "There is nothing like a macho man dressed as a woman." It was their first meeting.
As befitting a reality-TV star, Elsa now has her own Twitter account—which she refers to as "Twister."
"She never knew how to get on a computer to save her life," Marysol said. "Now, two friends come over and she says, 'Tell my people I'm open from 3 to 6!' She leaves it open, hangs out with friends, and tells them what to write."
CORRECTION: This article originally stated that Marysol Patton taped a TV segment with Kathy Griffin. In fact, she attended a comedy show of Griffin's; it has since been updated.
Nicole LaPorte is a contributor to The Daily Beast and the author of The Men Who Would Be King: An Almost Epic Tale of Moguls, Movies, and a Company Called DreamWorks.