'Real Housewives': Will wonky Washington again have reality-TV viewers tuning out?

By Lisa de Moraes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 15, 2010; C01

Here Come the Salahis!

Bravo will find out whether its "Real Housewives" franchise can succeed where MTV's "Real World" failed when our favorite state dinner crasher, Michaele Salahi, makes her debut on Thursday, Aug. 5, at 9 p.m.

Bravo will officially announce the start date for "The Real Housewives of D.C." on Tuesday.

Michaele's supporting cast includes: Mary Schmidt Amons, a "true Washingtonian and granddaughter of radio and TV personality Arthur Godfrey," according to Bravo; Lynda Erkiletian, who is "mother hen and owner of D.C.'s top modeling agency"; Catherine Ommanney, a "feisty Brit" who is "married to a White House photographer"; and Stacie Scott Turner, a "Harvard grad" and "active political fund raiser."

In its announcement, Bravo says the latest edition of its hit franchise "is set to take on the Hill," with women who are "connected D.C. power players," and that the show will reflect "D.C. almost as its own character in the series."

"I'm really interested in Beltway society and the protocol that exists there," Andy Cohen, Bravo senior vice president of original programming, told The TV Column. "Within that protocol, money doesn't necessarily buy you power -- it's your proximity to political power that is a measure of your social status. That is one of the main themes of this series."

He divulged his fantasy: "Was the idea of two housewives fighting over politics an incredibly juicy notion? Absolutely! Does it happen on this series? Absolutely, and in the first episode. That thrills me."

Cohen's enthusiasm is similar to that of MTV execs when that network was debuting "Real World: D.C." back in December.

That edition proved to be historic for the extremely long-running reality series franchise.

Historically bad.

The finale attracted only about 1 million viewers -- the smallest finale audience in the show's 23-edition history. The three least-watched episodes ever in "Real World" history came out of the Washington series. The prevailing rap: the Washington "Real World" flopped because the kind of person who loves "Real World" is the kind of person who wants to see hot-tub make-out sessions and dramatic runs to the ER to treat a bad case of alcohol poisoning. Turns out, that is also the kind of person who flees in horror from a show whose description includes the words: "Washington, D.C."

And now, on Aug. 5, Bravo will find out whether the capital of the free world and a show that is a ratings magnet for those who love mother-daughter plastic surgery bonding trips, restaurant table-flipping rages, and friends accusing each other of being vampires are also mutually exclusive.

Launched in 2006 with "The Real Housewives of Orange County," the franchise started out with an average viewership of 584,000 viewers and these days can hit 3 million. Last summer's restaurant brawl finale of "The Real Housewives of New Jersey" drew 3.5 million viewers, the biggest crowd for any "Housewives" episode ever.

Cohen notes "The Real Housewives of D.C." will not shy away from the Salahi White House gate-crashing incident, though he reminds us that it happened very late in the run of taping. "Our crew dropped them off in front," he finally confessed.

On the bright side, he noted, "you will see up to that, and the reverberations" of the incident among the other cast members.

The Salahis's warmup crashing of the Congressional Black Caucus dinner last September will also be "an element of the story," he promised.

Can't wait!

Strasburg's got game

Washington's TV viewers still have a big crush on Steve Strasburg.

This past Sunday, nearly 82,000 of them were glued to local CW station, WDCW, when the Nats' new phenom pitched his second game.

Yes, on a Sunday afternoon, against the World Cup, Strasburg copped a "Top Model"-esque crowd on the station, a.k.a. DC50.

Tyra Banks's "America's Next Top Model" is CW's most successful program, and it's in prime time.

Last year, when WDCW aired Nats games, the station averaged just 11,800 viewers.

With Strasburg on board, the Nats attracted nearly 600 percent more viewers for the Tribune-owned broadcast station.

"Steven Strasburg is an absolute phenomenon on every level -- he's as compelling a figure in sports as there has ever been at this time," a clearly pleased WDCW-TV Vice President and GM Eric Meyrowitz told The TV Column.

Another 73,100 people watched the game -- in which the Nats beat the Cleveland Indians, 9-4 -- in our market on regional sports channel MASN2.

(The game was also telecast on TBS, but that was blacked out in the Washington market. That cable network said its early stats show the game was on par with its average for Sunday game ratings. )

Locally, WDCW beat all other stations from 1 to 4:30 p.m. Sunday with Strasburg-vision -- except WJLA. The Albritton-owned ABC station aired World Cup play between Germany and Australia between 2 and 4:30 p.m. and averaged nearly 132,000 people. From 1 to 2 p.m., against the early going in the Nats game, WJLA aired an infomercial for the Magic Bullet -- a "personal countertop magician" that comes in a 21-piece set that apparently does any job in 10 seconds or less -- and another infomercial for Light Relief, which appears to be an infrared light therapy that promises to rid you of body pain.

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