'Housewives' Death Not Unprecedented

Originally published on September 5, 2011 6:43 pm
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ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

The second season of "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills" begins tonight on Bravo. For a while, it looked like the show might not make it on. A couple of weeks ago, the estranged husband of one of the housewives committed suicide. Commentator Andrew Wallenstein says that it's an awful situation - but not unprecedented in the world of reality TV.

ANDREW WALLENSTEIN: The "Real Housewives" franchise has always been equal parts flashy and trashy.

(SOUNDBITE OF "THE REAL HOUSEWIVES OF BEVERLY HILLS")

TAYLOR ARMSTRONG: It may look like I have it all, but I want more.

WALLENSTEIN: Basically, it's rich women who have nothing better to do than fight with each other, to the amusement of their viewers.

(SOUNDBITE OF "REAL HOUSEWIVES OF BEVERLY HILLS")

LISA VANDERPUMP: In Beverly Hills, it's who you know. And I know everyone.

WALLENSTEIN: MTV found itself in a similar situation back in 2009 with "Gone Too Far," a reality series featuring D.J. A.M. ministering to drug addicts trying to kick the habit.

(SOUNDBITE OF SHOW, "GONE TOO FAR")

WALLENSTEIN: I'm on my way to Olivia's house, and the whole family's going to be there. And it's intervention time. Gina told me she wants help. I've got a ticket. I got a treatment facility ready to accept her. Here comes the do-or-die part. I'm afraid she's all talk.

WALLENSTEIN: Just a few months before the show was to air, D.J. A.M. died of an accidental overdose, but MTV was still able to put the show on the air with the family's blessing. No doubt Bravo is proceeding with Taylor's approval. Having a grieving widow complain? That's about as bad as publicity gets. Sometimes, networks in this kind of predicament find it's better just to cancel than go forward.

(SOUNDBITE OF SHOW, "I LOVE MONEY 3")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Uno, dos, tres, quatro. I love it. I love money. I'm going to love my time in Mexico.

WALLENSTEIN: Given all these reality TV tragedies, you'd think the industry is doing some soul-searching right about now. But it's likely this suicide will be forgotten soon enough. That is, until the next time something like this happens.

SIEGEL: Andrew Wallenstein is an editor at "Variety." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.