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When Reality TV Actually Gets Real

Kari Brownsberger

Last night, the second season of the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills debuted on Bravo after some very sad and serious recent events.  The estranged husband of one of the show’s stars, Taylor Armstrong, committed suicide just a few weeks ago, leaving behind Taylor and their five year old daughter.  This isn’t the first time the Bravo franchise has dealt with a death - the fiancée of Kandi Burruss, one of the Atlanta housewives, was killed after a nightclub brawl in 2009.  However, unlike the previous incident, Beverly Hills’ second season had already been filmed and completed, and based on the screeners sent to press earlier in the summer, relied heavily on the drama unfolding between Taylor and her husband Russell.

These unfortunate circumstances obviously forced Bravo to make some important choices about the fate of the show, which is arguably one of the most popular of all the Housewives versions.  Shortly after news of Russell’s death broke, Bravo came out and said the second season would still debut on September 5 after some heavy editing.  They retooled the episodes and taped an interview with some of the cast to discuss Russell’s suicide, which they would air at the beginning of the first episode.  They also planned air public service announcements during the premiere's broadcast to raise awareness of suicide prevention.  But was this really enough?

Some viewers came out against Bravo, saying they would no longer watch the show.  Others said the entire Beverly Hills show should be scrapped out of respect for Taylor and her family.  Still others said that, as such fans of the show, they would continue to watch just as loyally as they had in the past.  Either way, the network found themselves in the middle of a moral dilemma that threatened to damage their brand reputation.

What would I recommend to Bravo?  Well, it’s a tough call.  I loved the first season of the Beverly Hills Housewives, but I don’t know if I can watch Taylor now knowing the pain and devastation that would be coming her way.  And I am sure the other cast members have said and done things on air that, while they didn’t realize it at the time, might now cause Taylor even more pain.  Perhaps they should have scrapped their footage from season two, given Taylor some time to grieve and decide if she’d like to participate in the show again, and then started filming again for a revamped season two.  But, what’s done now is done, and all that’s left to do is see how the show unfolds over the next few months and hope that, in the end, it doesn’t cause even more suffering for Taylor and her family than she’s already been through.