The most recent season of The Real Housewives of New York City was a barely watchable disaster so despised by its typically ravenous fanbase that even its most loyal audience couldn’t stomach watching and abandoned ship in droves. By the time off-screen controversy and investigations started complicating matters, the whole thing was such a mess that, for the first time in the franchise’s storied history, there was no reunion. (For the uninitiated, this would be like church without the Holy Communion.)
Inexplicably, Bravo’s response to its worst season in RHONY history is to…make twice as much RHONY.
You know what? I’m into it. If a Real Housewives fan knows one thing, it’s that the secret ingredient to good television is unpredictable chaos. With this new bombshell decision, chaos is exactly what Bravo is giving us.
In an interview with Variety on Wednesday, Grand Poobah of Bravo, Andy Cohen, revealed that the network plans to move forward with two different RHONY series with completely separate casts. One will be an entirely new group of women assembled from scratch, as if the network was launching a Housewives franchise for the first time in a new city. The other will feature beloved alumni from past seasons of the show, and is being referred to in-house as RHONY: Throwback and RHONY: Legacy.
It’s an innovative solution to a problem most fans had cynically assumed the network would never be able to solve.
Last season, the cast of veteran O.G.’s continuously clashed with new cast members brought in to freshen the show, and the racial tension between them—Ramona Singer, specifically—and the series’ first Black Housewife, Eboni K. Williams, was so appalling that it was hard to imagine how a new season could salvage things. It was an impossible predicament. Keeping the cast intact would seem borderline abusive and indicate a lack of repercussions for bad behavior, but a mass firing would strip the legacy series of the very identity that contributed to its one-time status as Bravo’s most valuable and popular series.
Even if the group was able to make amends, moving forward with a regular season of the series would be risky.
Beyond the ickiness of its handling of racial conversation, the last season of the show was, thanks to COVID, largely a snooze. The women were forced to convene in empty restaurants, where they either engaged in torturous debates about race and identity or drank themselves to uncomfortable oblivion without the saving grace of the show’s secret best characters—the random people of New York—around to judge them. Another season that didn’t deliver the fun that viewers crave from the show would have been lethal. You don’t get to flop twice.
A total rehaul would have also been disappointing. Even with the shambles the season finished in, the longtime stars of the series remain hugely popular. It’s almost impossible to think of RHONY without Singer, Luann de Lesseps, or Sonja Morgan—so impossible, in fact, that Bravo fans have treated the idea that Singer’s litany of fireable offenses would never result in a termination as a fact of life. You need air to breathe, the sun is warm, and Ramona Singer has a free pass to be problematic.
The two-tiered RHONY endeavor is, in a way, like getting the best of both worlds. The show desperately needed a new vibe, one that it wasn’t going to get without a new cast. And the “legacy” offshoot means not having to fully say goodbye to the vets, be they cherished, loathed, or the enviable reality-TV mix of both.
This is a bit like offering two RHONYs, one for those who don't like racism and one for those who will tolerate it. Progress?
There is a whiff of surrender here. There will probably never be any televised accountability for the misdeeds of last season, and, complicated as the feat seemed, it would have been intriguing to see how the network attempted to revitalize the show while holding on to at least some of its stalwart cast.
I had thought there might have been a way to rebuild the show around Williams and newer Housewife Leah McSweeney so that they weren’t outnumbered by the out-of-touch bullies. What we’re getting, I suppose, is a watered-down version of that.
Cohen told Variety’s Kate Aurthur that there’s no cast in place for either series. Buoyed by how much viewers embraced the Ultimate Girls Trip season of Housewives for Peacock, he said he’s not ruling out any past RHONY star for the new throwback season, especially since there’s an appetite for nostalgia in the Bravoverse.
Aurthur indicates in her piece that a call for “beloved” legacy RHONY cast members—as well as her impression of Cohen and Bravo’s reaction to her questioning—means that Singer won’t be invited to participate. Asked about Morgan and de Lesseps, however, Cohen said, “I don’t really want to get into specifics about specific women. Because then it’s like, ‘Oh, well, he said yes to these two…’ The answer is: Sonja and Luann have been a part of the show— for Luann, from the beginning, and Sonja since Season 3. So I think, in theory, sure!”
He also said he expects a phone call from original RHONY star Jill Zarin to be imminent.
Regarding last season’s hot mess, he said, “I think that if you look at any series, where the ratings are declining week to week as the series goes on, and the viewer feedback is growing disenchanted on social media, etc.—I think that was a big red flag for us. Because this is a beloved show. And that’s part of the reason why it’s taken a bit for us to just sit with this and figure out how we want to make this right, and make it a gift to the fans, which I think this will wind up being.”
This idea does have the potential to be a gift to the fans, and, wouldn’t you know it, Andy, we have a registry! Jill Zarin, Luann de Lesseps, Sonja Morgan, Dorinda Medley, Tinsley Mortimer, Kelly Bensimon, her pouch of jelly beans, and Alex McCord and Simon Van Kempen Zooming in from Australia once an episode. Look, we made it nice.