'Real Housewives' casting has been unreal with Tareq, Michaele Salahi's drama

By Amy Argetsinger
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 30, 2009

From the time the Bravo network announced in May that it would bring its hit series "Real Housewives" to Washington, the buzz around town about possible cast members centered on Michaele Salahi.

Of course, Tareq and Michaele Salahi did a lot to create that buzz.

While most reality shows demand discretion from their stars, the Salahis immediately adopted the calling card of our era's famous-in-waiting: a Facebook "fan" page devoted to Michaele, though she was little known outside Virginia winery circles. Then they posted a gallery of glamour shots -- old modeling pictures, grip-and-grins with celebs like Bill Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, Richard Branson -- with a wink-wink title: "The Real DC photos of MICHAELE in Action."

The Salahis -- reality stars, for real? While the Northern Virginia socialites, now infamous for apparently crashing last week's White House state dinner, had been accused of exaggerating connections to fame and fortune, Bravo's production team soon became a fixture at parties attended by the statuesque blonde and her polo-playing husband. Though the show was far from an air date -- and the casting decisions had not even made official by the network-- the Salahis, along with the series' other likely stars, could bask in the glow of the camera and the anticipatory fame it bestowed.

Path to reality TV?

Now that the scandalous couple has turned into a pair of walking spoiler alerts, what happens to "The Real Housewives of D.C."? When the whole world already knows your story, will it bother to tune in? Or will viewers only hunger for more behind-the-scenes drama with the Salahis?

Bravo's not saying. While the network acknowledged last week that Michaele Salahi was being considered as a cast member -- and that its camera crews followed the couple's state dinner primping, under the assumption the pair were welcomed guests -- a spokesperson declined to say Sunday whether the Salahis remain with the show.

The path to "The Real Housewives of D.C." began more than a year ago, when a local team known as Half Yard Productions began making calls around town. The young production company, started in 2006 by two veterans of Silver Spring-based cable giant Discovery, had a background in middlebrow docutainment ("Chopper Wars," "Say Yes to the Dress") for the likes of the History channel and TLC, respectively.

Originally, the word was that Half Yard was looking to make an all-new documentary series about Washington power players.

"They were looking for larger-than-life characters," said GOP lobbyist and hostess Juleanna Glover, who helped make introductions and allowed them to gather footage at a party at her Kalorama home. Half Yard producer Abby Greensfelder already had entree to media and political circles via her husband, New Republic editor Franklin Foer. Several sociable young reporters and PR types spent hours being filmed by Half Yard for a show they were told would be called "Inside Washington."

It's unclear now whether this was all just a secret scouting mission for "Real Housewives," which has explored the lives of well-off women in Orange County, Calif., New York, Atlanta and New Jersey. But in late May, the network announced that the show was moving to the nation's capital, to be produced by Half Yard.

Who would star? Bravo said last spring it had two dozen potential "housewives" on tape, and made it clear it hoped for a strong political flavor. But many political types in town were revulsed by the idea of the show, which in recent seasons has focused heavily on plastic surgery, shopping and catfights. Susanna Quinn, wife of super-lobbyist and former White House counsel Jack Quinn, had filmed some sessions with Half Yard but sent an immediate no-thanks when she learned what the taping was for. " 'Real Housewives' end up ex-wives," she told The Post.

While casting remained secretive, the identities of the likely stars has been an open secret around D.C. -- they were the ladies followed by cameras all the time. Besides Salahi, the lineup likely includes: Lynda Erkiletian, owner of T.H.E. Artist Agency, a modeling agency; Mary Amons, a McLean mom of five married to a guy in venture capital; Stacie Turner, a successful real estate agent; and Catherine Ashley Ommanney, British wife of a Newsweek photographer.

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