Reporting by Suzy Buckley; Produced by Jose Ortiz | April 5, 2011 | People
FROM LEFT: Alexia Echevarria, Larsa Pippen, Marysol Patton, Cristy Rice, Adriana De Moura, Lea Black
Naturally, our city let out a collective groan when The Real Housewives of Miami was announced. After all, we were still stinging from the abominable Miami Social (who were they again?), which seemed to grate on everyone’s nerves like an Ed Hardy T-shirt.
Then there was Bad Girls Club: Miami, a tour by Khloé and Kourtney and a short, fist-pumping visit from the cast of Jersey Shore, which all helped carve the Magic City’s image into one big cesspool of silicone, tramp stamps, booty-shaking and rented yellow Ferraris.
New York vs. Miami
It was in this cynical climate on our sunny, sandy shores that the 305’s take on Bravo’s infamous franchise debuted. And it started off on an appropriately bitchy, catty note, pissing off thousands of women in New York and around the country before the first episode even aired: A mere 19 days from the season-four premiere of the New York iteration, the network announced it was bumping the Manhattan girls in favor of Miami’s Marysol, Adriana, Larsa, Cristy, Lea and Alexia.
Were there problems with the of RHONY? If so, what did Bravo need to fix? Perhaps it dawned on the powers that be that RHOM was so good and timely it would blow everyone away—it had to air right this second! Even if the shifted airdate itself was some kind of ratings stunt, there was really no time to dwell on the details: The show that was supposed to start in June would in fact begin in February. The new crop of golden girls’ pre-launch vacation plans (and crash diets) were quashed, as there were now interviews, photo shoots, parties, appearances and a barrage of new Twitter followers to manage.
Behind the Scenes Squabbles
On a sunny spring day at a $60 million home on Indian Creek, Ocean Drive brought the Housewives together for their first, exclusive (non-Bravo) photo shoot. Entertainment Tonight showed up to get the scoop, RHONY’s Ramona Singer (apparently bearing no hard feelings) sent a case of her new eponymous Pinot Grigio to wish them well, and the girls were off—newfound national fame in tow.
Before the first photo was snapped, the house had already become a textbook RHO-style spectacle: Cristy Rice and Larsa Pippen bickered over the outfits each would wear in their shot together (“I’m just going to say, if you were going to look hot and half-naked, I could have worn something sexier too, but they told us to dress elegant”).
Lea Black introduced everyone to “Team Lea,” a posse that assists in her many businesses and charitable pursuits. Marysol Patton grabbed her BlackBerry and grumbled that US Weekly had just posted a blog entry describing her as the cast member who “squires a boring, younger beau.” A few of the girls mischievously declared that “Adriana [De Moura] would be the most likely to pose for Playboy.”
FROM LEFT: Cristy Rice, Larsa Pippen; Adriana De Moura
This being the Housewives, everybody’s marketing wheels were churning. Adriana had decided to launch her own line of sunglasses with a friend who owns Selima Optique in Soho. Cristy wore her line of Cuban Rice bracelets, made of silver beads and Swarovski pavé crystals, which she sells online at shopbribri.com. There was even a pretty FOH (Friend of Housewife) hanging around who cleverly snagged the chance to hawk her wares to those who would listen: She had a press kit at the ready for her new line of sanitized liners that shield babies from shopping cart germs.
The Business of Being a Housewife
The night before the first show aired nationally, Bravo flew in exec-cum-host Andy Cohen for a splashy preview party in the lobby of the iconic Eden Roc Renaissance Miami Beach hotel. Each Housewife was allowed 20 invitations, which resulted in an eclectic guest list of Miami boldfacers—many of whom made cameos in the series: James Davis (aka Elaine Lancaster), Maria Celeste Arraras, Belkys Nerey, Ingrid Casares, Yolanda and Jeff Berkowitz, Thomas Kramer, Dr. Julio F. Gallo, Richard Jay-Alexander and Rik and Raquel Watters.
Oversize screens played a loop of the first episode (on mute, of course, as a Miami Beach party needs loud music) while pundit guests gossiped about why the show would succeed (“Marysol’s mother, Elsa, is the star of the whole season!” cried Cohen) or fail (“They don’t have the money of Beverly Hills or the crazy ghetto-fabulousness of Atlanta—they can’t compete,” explained a thirty-something who admitted she had tried out for the show herself and didn’t make the cut).
Interestingly, that night NBC had sent a handful of Days of Our Lives soap actors (Camila Banus, Casey Deidrick, Galen Gering, et al.) to bask in a bit of the RHO spotlight. They milled about by the bar, looking like a strange litter of second-class citizens compared to this modern breed of how-did-I-end-up-here-I-just-did-the-show-for-fun-and-maybe-to-sell-something-on-HSN reality stars. Last year, a distribution deal syndicated the Housewives franchise for nationwide broadcast to compete with traditional daytime soaps during certain time slots; obviously it’s a lot cheaper to lay off professional working actors and replace them with people who will do it for free (or at a huge discount). Besides, aren’t these ladies supposed to be rich anyway, doing it, as they claim, for kicks and giggles? At press time here in Miami, Days was the lead-in for The Real Housewives of New Jersey reruns weekdays at 2 PM on NBC-6.
FROM LEFT: Alexia Echevarria; Marysol Patton and Lea Black
In the best situation, landing a spot on an RHO franchise can translate to big money, fame and fortune: RHONY’s Bethenny Frankel has admitted she had trouble paying her rent in 2008 and relied on rich boyfriends to help her out; by 2010, The Daily Beast reported that her best-selling books, videos and Skinnygirl-branded food and drinks earned her more than $4 million that year. In a worst-case scenario, a character (a term Bravo eschews, insisting they’re real women and should be called such) will have her past felonies exposed. Or she might become tabloid fodder for a while before fading into oblivion (Does anyone remember Kimberly Bryant?). As Cristy recently remarked: “If it works out, it’s a blessing. If it doesn’t work out, then it was an experience.”
Just How Did Bravo Find the Ladies of RHOM?
Sheri Maroufkhani and her husband/business partner, Michael McNamara, were also celebrating at the aformentioned preview. They’re the LA-based producers who created the show via their company, MCfilmworks (pulling in Ocean Drive’s editor-at-large Jose Ortiz as the show’s casting director), and were the best people to answer one of the biggest questions everyone’s asking: How were these ladies chosen?
Maroufkhani says they began casting the show in May of ’09, with some odds stacked against them: Miami Social turned out to be a flop. And while The Real Housewives of New Jersey’s ratings were recordbreaking (its first-season finale attracted 3.9 million viewers, making it one of the highest-rated English telecasts among the 18–49 age group on the day it aired), all its table-flipping glory (Teresa Giudice) and wild drug and prostitution scandals (Danielle Staub) were making potential Miami Housewives and their families nervous to sign on.
Ultimately, Bravo and MCfilmworks went with a Cuban-American publicist (Marysol Patton) with a wildly eccentric mom (Elsa), NBA star Scottie Pippen’s wife (Larsa Pippen), NBA star Glen Rice’s ex-wife (Cristy Rice), a Texas-born philanthropist/socialite married to acclaimed criminal defense attorney Roy Black (Lea Black), a Brazilian pentaglot art gallery owner (Adriana De Moura) and a Cuban-American magazine editor (Alexia Echevarria).
In casting the series, Maroufkhani says she was looking foremost for women who had a great sense of humor, followed by aesthetics (“We are still making a TV show, after all”) and stature in the community. Their lives had to be intertwined in some sense, as well. “If you don’t know the women in the show with you, there will be no stakes, no connection and no sparks—good or bad.”
Degrees of Separation
Larsa and Cristy are friends because their respective significant others played in the NBA together for more than a dozen years; the Pippens know the Blacks socially; Lea and Adriana became friends after meeting at their sons’ school on Fisher Island; Marysol’s public relations firm, The Patton Group, has worked the press and red carpet for Lea Black’s annual charity gala for years; and Marysol and Alexia run in Miami’s media circle together.
And half of the Miami Housewives have more in common than oversize hoop earrings, glittery platform Louboutins and tight, jewel-toned satin dresses: The Miami Herald’s Jay Weaver recently reported that in the ’90s, Lea, Marysol and Alexia all had connections to cocaine smugglers Willy Falcon and Sal Magluta. Lea’s husband earned a handsome sum defending Magluta. Alexia’s ex-husband alerted prosecutors that Magluta was holed up in his La Gorce mansion, and later served time in prison. And Marysol’s ex-boyfriend was Frank Garcia, a former Magluta associate now in the Federal Witness Protection Program, who testified against the drug smugglers at a 1996 trial.
Heels, High Jinks and Hoopla
On the show, the girls find themselves in many RHO scenarios we’ve seen time and time again in other cities: taking cooking lessons and stripper-pole dance classes, shooting targets at a gun range, attending charity galas, shopping at pricey multilabel boutiques and, of course, arguing and cocktailing aplenty. Like RHOBH’s Alison Dubois, RHOM even has its share of psychics: Cristy visits one in the first episode, and Marysol’s mother, Elsa, is a self-professed “seer” who, incidentally, predicted last summer that “the program will air much, much sooner than anybody expects.”
Throughout the shows, the city of Miami is showcased as nothing short of spectacular, with dazzling aerial shots that almost feel brighter and more colorful than they do in real life. Ratings were 1.2 million for the season’s debut, a healthy number for any Bravo show—just under the numbers for The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills’ premiere, and higher than the average audiences for The Rachel Zoe Project and Tabatha’s Salon Takeover. They were also nearly double those of Miami Social’s highest-rated episode.
“People might dismiss this show as frivolous, but [the RHO] franchise is meant to show a slice of life. The Real Housewives of Miami is very indigenous to this city. You will not find this group of women anywhere else—there is not an Adriana De Moura in Dubuque, Iowa,” Maroufkhani laughs. And, as Alexia adds, “There are always going to be haters, there’s always going to be negative energy. We’re not candy that everybody likes. It bothers some that you can do so many things successfully, and that’s unfortunately the human character.” Indeed: The dogs bark, but the caravan moves on.
Photographs by Navid