Any Bravo fan knows that Real Housewives stars have no shortage of opinions, on just about anything, whether or not they were asked for one. Starting this weekend, they’ll be able to toss them around like cocktails and prosthetic legs.
After Sunday night’s episode of Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen, Bravo is premiering the late-night talk show Bravo Chat Room. Think of it as The View, as it would exist in the network’s indelible universe of shade, irreverence, and, underscoring all of it, a “mention it all” candor, as Bethenny Frankel would say.
The six-episode event series will be hosted by the four-strong Bravo-lebrity panel of Hannah Berner (Summer House), Gizelle Bryant (The Real Housewives of Potomac), Kate Chastain (Below Deck), and Porsha Williams (The Real Housewives of Atlanta), with Chastain and Williams also serving as executive producers.
Born in part out of the fun of hearing guests on Watch What Happens Live weigh in on all things Bravo as well as current events, the idea is that the four hosts will debate everything from the latest Housewives drama to pop-culture scandals and more serious news, including the Black Lives Matter movement, politics, their experiences in the pandemic weathering motherhood (in the case of Bryant and Williams) and dating (for Chastain and Berner).
As Bryant tells The Daily Beast, the platform is a natural fit: “We’re so freaking opinionated about everything.” A Bravo-fied version of The View’s “Hot Topics” segment seems like a good comparison; though Bryant concedes that “we haven’t had a Joy-Whoopi smackdown, at least not yet…”
In a similar fashion to new episodes of The View, the Bravo Chat Room hosts will gather virtually for each episode. At first Chastain wondered if audiences would be suffering from Zoom fatigue by now, after spending half a year on work meetings and family calls through their webcams. But in the end she was grateful that the remote format meant location wasn’t a limitation when it came to casting hosts and guests.
Plus, if you’ve tuned into Bravo’s recent The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills reunion episodes, you know how seamless and polished the virtual production can be. “I actually kind of preferred it over the Zoom, because they could put everyone’s face on the screen at the same time and see everyone’s reactions,” Chastain tells The Daily Beast.
Speaking their minds has, in large part, already been part of the stars’ professional responsibilities on their respective shows. But it has taken some adjusting to adapt those skills to a talk show and the breadth of topics outside of what went down at last weekend’s boozy brunch with the girls—or, in the case of Below Deck’s Chastain, the needy charter guests.
“I was watching myself on camera for a chemistry test, and I was like, wow, I’ve never actually seen myself so, like, happy on camera,” Chastain says. “Because usually I’m stressed out from working on a yacht.”
And for a group of women who, by nature of their reality-TV job descriptions, are already vulnerable to some of the most intense public judgment and criticism, there is an inherent risk that the scrutiny will only be heightened when discussions broaden outside of Bravo matters to what’s going on the world. But that’s also, in effect, what seems to excite them about the show.
“I’m not just a Housewife,” Bryant says. “I have views, opinions, and thoughts about all things that are going on, for instance on Black Lives Matter and the pandemic. You know, things that are happening in our lives that wouldn't necessarily be discussed on the Housewives platform. And if people don't like what I have to say, you know, the reality of it is, ‘Big deal.’ I’m used to that.”
That’s not to discount how traumatizing the social-media criticism can be. Bravo viewers, as enthusiastic as they are about the shows that they watch on the network, also may rank among the most vicious and unrelenting fan bases on social media, a toxicity that is hard to ignore, no matter how much the stars try.
Chastain remembers, for example, the time when Hurricane Dorian was forecasted to wreak havoc on the Bahamas and she tweeted a request that her followers pray for the people there, and she got an angry direct message from someone chastising her for not also asking for prayers for Florida.
“Sometimes you just can’t win,” she says. “It makes me laugh when friends or family will be like, just don’t read the negative comments. I’m like, well you don’t know they're negative until you’ve already read them.”
Bryant remembers a time after the first season of The Real Housewives of Potomac when the women were filming their reunion. Off-camera during a break, Cohen asked them how they were holding up under the social-media attention, horrified to learn that the women were actually reading the comments on their posts. “He was like, ‘No! Absolutely don’t do that!’” she remembers, sighing with a laugh. “It can be very annoying and irritating.”
But heading into a new venture like this, then, is nerve-wracking for a whole spectrum of reasons. “Just as far as what to wear!” Chastain says. “I’m in isolation, but I still want to look amazing. Do I wear sequins? Or is that too much for my living room?”
Giving Bravo-lebrities a current-events platform outside the confessional set-ups on their respective shows or opposite Cohen in the WWHL hot seat is an extension of a programming experiment, of sorts, that began when the murder of George Floyd sparked race demonstrations and a nationwide confrontation with racial injustice in May.
Bravo aired a special at the beginning of August titled Race in America: A Movement Not a Moment, in which a dozen stars from across the network had a panel discussion revealing their thoughts on the Black Lives Matter movement, their own experiences with racism, and their responses to All Lives Matter folk and the “Karens” of the world.
It took a similar format to other roundtable discussions that have taken place in the last few months, with the exception that there is something undeniably different when the conversation is being had by Real Housewives.
These aren’t academics or politicians, but TV personalities whose popularity stems from their willingness to bare themselves, warts and all, for the entertainment—and, hopefully, empathy—of viewers.
As that can often present itself as drunken debauchery, gossip, and screaming matches, there’s something sobering and, as such, powerful about these stars articulating their own experiences on these issues. In doing so, they may reach audiences and minds in ways that the other specials couldn’t.
“I was super excited to be a part of it because, if you remember season one of Potomac, we talked about what it means to be a Black woman and we talked about race, and it was like a taboo,” Bryant says. “Nobody wanted to hear us talk about the fact that we’re Black women. So, to go from season one, which was not that long ago, to now Bravo’s doing a special about equality and injustice and trying to make changes as it relates to the Black community is powerful.”
More encouraging, she says, is that fans, who may not have necessarily been on board to engage on such a serious level with stars they typically turn to for distraction from the heaviness of the world, have largely been incredibly supportive. “You’re going to have some haters and some people that act like Karens or some racists out there. You’re going to always have that. But overwhelming support for the Black community is what I have seen.”
“I’ve been pleasantly surprised and happy about the direction that we’re going in and we can’t let off the gas. This is a situation in which, if we let go, then it’ll go away,” she continues, but also careful to clarify that Bravo Chat Room is, at its heart, going to be lightweight and funny.
And if you’re tuning in purely because you’re a Bravo-holic excited to see four Bravo-lebrities gossiping together, you can expect to get your fix there, too, Chastain says. All four hosts have been on Bravo shows, and have an insider’s perspective to dissecting the drama and can compare notes about certain tricks of the trade they’d employ when filming.
She jokes that she wishes she had met Berner, a newbie to the Bravo universe from the series Summer House, sooner, so she could have given her one of her best tips: If you’re going to argue with one of your cast mates, make sure you wear your best outfit because you know it’s going to end up on camera. And, as she learned the hard way, don’t waste your favorite looks on the beginning of the season when everyone is still polite and getting along. Save it for the middle of shooting, at least.
“Imagine like trying to watch a movie with somebody who went to film school,” she says. “They’re like, ‘Look at the lighting there! And the editing there!’ And you’re like, can you turn that [perspective] off.” The show will be like that, but with reality-TV secrets. And if you’re a Bravo addict, you won’t be asking any of them to turn that filter off.