Boffo ratings, but beige story lines for Bravo's 'Real Housewives of D.C.'

By Lisa de Moraes
Friday, October 8, 2010; C02

No matter how many times you click your little heels together and make a wish, you might not awaken Friday morning after watching Bravo's "Real Housewives of D.C." finale only to discover it was all a bad technicolor dream that, happily, is over.

Because all that blah blah blah that you've been reading about the show's lousy ratings? Just wishful thinking on the part of The Reporters Who Cover TV.

The Washington iteration has been, since its unveiling Aug. 5, the second-most-watched "Housewives" debut season in the franchise's history. Averaging 1.58 million viewers, it's trending behind only "Real Housewives of New Jersey," which attracted a record 2.55 million viewers its first season, in 2009.

"RHDC" hasn't completely wrapped its first season: Bravo's about to announce a two-hours-over-two-nights reunion show in which, we hear, all the non-Michaele Salahi housewives kick up a storm over how the Salahis and That Visit to That White House State Dinner completely derailed their lovely little reality TV series.

The show's mom-of-five/biometric lock user/Arthur Godfrey granddaughter Mary Amons, modeling agency matron Lynda Erkiletian, real-estate agent Stacie Turner and self-edit-gene-lacking British designer Catherine Ommanney -- they're apparently hoppin' mad.

But they're not wig-tearing, table-flipping mad -- which from the start has been one of the problems with this iteration of the Bravo network ratings magnet.

"Real Housewives of D.C." is, quite simply, too quiet.

And too dignified.

In other words: too Washington.

"We knew this was going to be different from the others," Andy Cohen, Bravo SVP of original programming and development, told the TV Column on the phone Thursday afternoon. "It's less noisy."

Some of the other "Real Housewives" editions have benefited from being located "in the center of the media world. . . . Those women are going to parties every night that 'E.T.' and 'Extra' and 'Access Hollywood' are covering. Those feed into a kind of noise machine that D.C. doesn't have."

Washington is a media town, he acknowledged, but it's a different, more beige media.

"It's serious, it's politics," he admitted. "The level of discourse on this show is different. For people who expect to see table flipping or wig pulling, that was never going to happen on this show."

That said, Cohen acknowledged that "RHDC" is not the "quietest" of the franchise.

"I've always said of 'O.C.,' that's probably our quietest, in terms of the drama -- to me that's the 'Knots Landing' of the franchise -- their hair is blonder, their boobs are bigger and they probably drink a little more than a lot of our other housewives."

That would make "RHDC" the "Falcon Crest" of the franchise, Cohen continued on his theme: "the quieter sibling with a mix of politics, Beltway 'tudes and rules -- and, of course, a -- albeit less successful -- winery."

"RHDC" is also the oldest-skewing of the "Real Housewives" shows, because younger viewers really don't want to hear about Washington, as MTV learned the hard way with its "Real World D.C." experiment.

The median age of the "RHDC" viewer is 40 -- meaning, of course, that half the audience is older than 40. That is not what a network targeting 18-to-49-year-olds wants to see, because people who watch a show tend to only get older as the years pass, what with having birthdays and all. What Bravo wants to see is "Real Housewives" with a median age of 34 -- as had the first season of "Real Housewives of Atlanta."

Maybe even more disturbing -- if you get disturbed at the thought of yet another D.C.-set reality series going toes up ("RHDC," meet "Real World D.C.") -- our contribution to the "Real Housewives" pantheon did not grow a larger audience in the course of the first season, as had all the other versions. "RHDC" opened with 1.63 million people tuned in and, as of last week, 1.18 million were sticking by the show.

That was to be expected, Cohen insisted, given all the pre-debut hype about Michaele and Tareq Salahi and That Visit To That White House State Dinner.

"We never had a 'Housewives' series be as noisy in the month leading up to its premiere," Cohen explained. "It would have been impossible to maintain the cacophony of what was going on in the pre-launch of this show."

Plus, D.C. housewives had to battle formidable Thursday at 9 p.m. competition as the broadcast networks launched their new TV season (Bravo moved the show from 10 -- where "Housewives" usually launches -- to get it out of the way of MTV's "Jersey Shore," which returned with original episodes on Thursdays at 10 in late July).

"The fact that these women have maintained this strong average in the face of all these premieres, in a brutal time slot, and that it has been rerunning as well as it has been, is really positive," Cohen said.

You know what could really hurt "Real Housewives of D.C.'s" chances of a second season?

A super-gimongous launch for the "Real Housewives of Beverly Hills" next Thursday. Maybe if this one opens with the biggest "Housewives" audience yet, Bravo will pull a Brad Pitt and dump "D.C." for the hotter number.

With "Real Housewives of Beverly Hills," Bravo is heading back to familiar territory: blond, booby, over-the-top and super-superficial. This newest entry has the most promising cast yet, having been populated with recognizable names that are sure to attract viewers -- including, among others, Kelsey Grammer's soon-to-be-ex Camille Grammer and not one but two Paris Hilton aunts: former child stars Kim and Kyle Richards.

So, now, please click your heels together and repeat after me:

There's no place like Beverly Hills. There's no place like Beverly Hills . . .

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