Real Housewives of New York City stars Sonja Morgan, Tinsley Mortimer, and Dorinda Medley joined executive producers Andy Cohen and Lisa Shannon for a rare behind-the-scenes look at the inner workings of the hit Bravo show
Real Housewives of New York City stars Sonja Morgan, Tinsley Mortimer, and Dorinda Medley joined executive producers Andy Cohen and Lisa Shannon on Sunday for a rare behind-the-scenes look at the inner workings of the hit Bravo show.
They appeared together at a special Tribeca TV Festival panel in celebration of RHONY’s 10th anniversary.
During the hour-long discussion and audience Q&A, the cast and producers reminisced about the legacy they’ve created so far while spilling show secrets — and, in true Housewives reunion fashion, squabbling amongst themselves.
Here are seven of the afternoon’s biggest revelations:
1. New Yorkers still freak out when they see the cast in public
It’s been 10 years since the show premiered, but that hasn’t meant New Yorkers have gotten over the excitement of seeing the cast in public. “They’ll be like, ‘Oh my god, you’re filming right now!’ ” Medley recalled, adding that the reactions get even crazier when the entire cast is together. “They almost get into the scene with you. It’s like people don’t realize we’re real.”
“That’s New York, they want their 15 minutes of fame,” Morgan joked. “They want to get on camera.”
It can be especially challenging when the women are in the middle of tenser times. Not only do onlookers not know the dynamics going on within the group, but their explosive fights can boil over in public. “I think we ruined someone’s brunch in the Hamptons the other day,” Medley said. “All of a sudden I’m looking around and people are shocked.”
Morgan disagreed. “It’s a love/hate thing,” she said. “Because New Yorkers love the show so much, it’s like a ‘f— my brunch, this is amazing!’ “
2. The ladies’ taglines aren’t always written by them
Nearly as iconic as the Housewives themselves are their taglines each year, which sum up their personalities and storylines of the season (See Morgan’s “I have a taste for luxury, and luxury has a taste for me.”).
So who writes those? Typically, it’s production.
“It is one of my favorite parts,” Shannon said. “Usually we spitball them all. Barrie Bernstein, who is another executive producer on the show, will come up to my office and we’ll get out a bottle of wine and we become them. ‘What will Tinsley do this season?’ “
Of course, each Housewife has input and often suggests lines of her own. “We’ll come up with something, confer with the cast, who are always come up with stuff, too, and they just kind of come together,” Shannon said.
3. The seating at the reunions isn’t as complicated as fans think
RHONY fans may read into a Housewives’ popularity based on her proximity to Cohen at the reunion, but Shannon insists it’s not that serious — explaining that lots of factors go into dividing the couches and picking seats.
“It’s usually whomever has the bigger story that season is going to be the one who sits next to Andy,” she said, adding that they split up Housewives who are at odds to get the best camera shots possible. “We take into consideration who will be fighting and conversing with one another across the couches. And we also take into account who who is sitting next to one another. If someone is quieter, not that anyone on this cast is quiet, we’ll seat them next to someone more outspoken.”
Cohen admitted that “some people are very concerned about where they are seated at a reunion.” But Medley said she doesn’t get too bothered.
“It’s sort of a weird thing. It’s an honor to sit next to Andy at the reunion, but it’s also scary,” she said. “Closer to management is closer to the door. I like to be in the middle, that way I’m a little bit buffered.”
4. Cast trips are paid for by both production and the Housewives
Cartagena, Turks and Caicos, St. John, Marrakech, London — the Housewives have gone on some extravagant vacations over the course of their 10 seasons. So who is footing the bill?
“It’s a combination,” Cohen said, revealing that the bills are split between production and the cast themselves.
Picking the destination each year, and who “hosts” the trip, is meant to be “organic,” Shannon said. “There’s usually a tie-in that makes sense,” she shared, pointing to the cast’s visit to Tequila, Mexico, where Frankel’s Skinnygirl manufacturer was located.
“Ramona’s been calling for 10 years trying to get the women to Aspen,” Cohen said. “It’s a good idea!”
5. Luann de Lesseps’ infamous hookup with “the pirate” in St. Barth’s almost didn’t make the show
One can’t speak about RHONY trips without bringing up the season 5 outing to St. Barth’s, which was filled with drama (including a heated argument between Aviva Drescher and Morgan/Ramona Singer). But its most called-upon scene — when the cameras caught de Lesseps speaking French on the phone, admitting to a romantic rendezvous with a Johnny Depp lookalike the cast dubbed “the pirate” — wouldn’t have made it to air if it weren’t for a keen sound man.
“This sound guy was the sound guy of all sound guys,” said Shannon. “He needs an Emmy.”
“We hired him for just that trip and he spoke French, incidentally enough,” she continued. “We were actually on break and he was listening, as we do — we’re always listening to the mic. And he was like, ‘You have to put your headphones on right now!’ But I was like, ‘I don’t speak French!’ And he wrote down what she was saying. He’s translating it and we ran a camera up and got it. It was like Christmas and Happy Birthday, all at once.”
6. Production has no regrets about firing anyone
Not all Housewives are Housewives for forever. So how does production decide it’s time for a Housewife to say goodbye?
“It’s usually a conversation,” Cohen confessed. “At the end of every season, we talk to the women about what they have coming up and whether they want to come back. What they see for the future. Then we also look at the show and say, ‘How do we want to change the show?’ “
“I think part of the reason the entire franchise is successful is it’s an ensemble show,” he explained. “It’s all about what’s best for the group. What’s best for the ensemble? How’s it going to be different? Do we want to continue this conversation? Do we want to pivot into a new conversation?”
In Medley’s eyes, it’s “rarely a surprise” when Housewives leave. “People sort of know,” she said.
The biggest shakeup came in season 5, when Jill Zarin, Cindy Barshop, Kelly Bensimon and Alex McCord all exited at once. In their place, Drescher, Carole Radziwill and Heather Thomson joined, starring alongside Morgan, de Lesseps and Singer.
“That was a scary time but also, it reenergized the show and took it into a lot of different directions,” Cohen said.
“I was out in the field for that first season,” Shannon remembered. “It was three newbies and three veterans. And there was that polarizing divide between the women that, this is how we do it and this is how it’s done. When you come on and you’re new and you’re by yourself, you just kind of have to defer. But this was 50 percent of the cast. It really was an interesting chemistry shakeup. And also trying to mentor three new cast members into what its like to open up your life and to really be free and be yourself. It was terrifying as a producer. I was like, ‘I don’t know if it’s going to work.’ “
That being said, Shannon doesn’t have any regrets about Housewives no longer with the show. “Definitely not a regret about firing anyone,” she said, without naming names.
7. The producers play up the comedy
Sure, RHONY‘s emotional storylines and all-out fights might make fans think the show is a drama. But producers and editors behind the scenes are more focused on the positive.
“The show is really a comedy at the end of the day,” Shannon said. “There’s dramatic moments for sure, but they’re hilarious. It’s gotten funnier and funnier.”
That especially comes to light in the editing room, where laughter is “constant,” according to Shannon.
“Our editing team is spectacular,” she said. “They’re all for the most part middle-aged men and grumpy. A lot of them have worked on the show since season 1, and they love it.”
In the end, Shannon said the comedy is what makes the show unique. “These women all are genuinely friends and are connected, and have real relationships with one another,” she added. “Of course, in real life, there’s going to be disappointments and your friends are going to upset you. But they always come back together in the end. That is a genuine chemistry.”