For 15 years, The Real Housewives franchise has been the crown jewel of reality TV. On the surface, it’s all backstabbing and table-flipping—a show filled with tiny dogs and massive diamonds. Though the wealth may be staggering, the series’ personalities are the real-life soap’s centerpiece. These finger-pointing, scandal-loving, Louboutin-wearing broads are why Housewives not only continues to survive but thrive after all these years.
Indeed, there would be no Bravo without Housewives and there would be no Housewives without Andy Cohen, the franchise’s expert casting curator. Determining who stays and who goes is what’s kept viewers glued to Cohen’s empire. After getting voted off the metaphorical (or, in the case of New York, literal) island, it’s up to each Housewife how they’ll parlay their newfound fame. Some will launch a business empire, while others skulk to the washed-up reality television graveyard after using up their 15 minutes of fame.
The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills alum Brandi Glanville is aiming for the former. When Bravo approached Glanville about joining the franchise, she was going through a divorce and needed to provide for her sons. “I could not afford to turn down the opportunity to do the show,” she recalls. While she never had the desire to be on TV, Housewives became the platform she needed to go on a journey of “self-discovery” and establish herself career-wise. “It opened up doors for me to write books [and] start my own chardonnay, among other many money-making opportunities,” she adds. Since leaving the show in 2015 (aside from a few pot-stirring cameos last season), she’s done 13 other reality shows and has hosted her podcast Brandi Glanville Unfiltered for nearly a decade. She’s also since been inspired to make another career pivot. During the coronavirus pandemic, she says, “I decided to get my real estate license, so I am almost done with the courses and should be able to take the test soon.”
Over the years, there’s been no shortage of Housewives like Glanville, who have tried to translate Bravo stardom into a sort of socialite-businesswoman hybrid lifestyle. Sonja Morgan and her never-released toaster oven cookbook; Shannon Beador and healthy prepared meals; Ramona Singer’s skincare line. But there have been plenty who had already established themselves in their fields long before their Bravo stints—Kandi Burruss as a hit songwriter, Lisa Rinna as an actress and TV personality, Meredith Marks as a celebrity jewelry designer, Carole Radziwill as a well-respected journalist. And then, there are the few Housewives that reached the peak of fame on the show and have since seen their businesses and celebrity profiles flourish.
Arguably two of the biggest Housewives success stories revolve around The Real Housewives of New York’s Bethenny Frankel and The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills’ Lisa Vanderpump. Not only did Frankel emerge as one of the most beloved personalities of the franchise for her quick wit and straight-shooting opinions, but with one of the most successful businesses in the franchise’s history with her liquor brand Skinnygirl. Her post-Housewife life has been nothing short of booming. Frankel has since starred in multiple reality TV show spinoffs—and even a daytime talk show—turned Skinnygirl into a lifestyle brand and formed BStrong, a disaster relief initiative. Now, after leaving RHONY for the second time 2019, Frankel currently the main character in her own narrative with HBOMax’s The Big Shot with Bethenny, her own reality competition where business moguls will compete for a chance to be her second-in-command, and has been perceived as a harsh look at boss culture.
Like Frankel, British-born restaurateur Vanderpump became something of an elder statesman on RHOBH thanks to a combination of class and sass (though perhaps some of it is the accent). During her time on the series, she expanded her eateries from Villa Blanca and SUR (the center of the spin-off Vanderpump Rules), to PUMP, Tom Tom, and Vanderpump Cocktail Garden. She also opened a dog rescue, which, of course, featured as a prominent plot point. Since leaving RHOBH in 2019, Vanderpump has already filmed two additional series, including her own dinner party series Overserved. For opportunistic Housewives, the Bravo industrial complex became a launching pad for lifestyle brand domination.
For others, Housewives has been a way to usher in new beginnings. Dorinda Medley, whose final season on the RHONY was in 2015, joined the show shortly after her husband passed away and her daughter headed to college. The opportunity came as she entered a new chapter in her life. She found it to be “a therapeutic journey” that “was filled with a lot of self-discovery and reflection.” Like many Housewives before her, Medley seems to be capitalizing on the post-series high by working on a memoir, her Make It Nice is due this summer. “I hope it will make people happy and teach them things they might not already know about me,” she says. “The Real Housewives was just one part of my life, and I'm really excited to share more with the world.”
Meanwhile, former model and editor Kelly Killoren Bensimon joined RHONY to provide for her family following a divorce. She was also curious to try out fame for herself. “My pure intention was just more visibility for the rest of America to really see who I am and see what I've accomplished, coming from Rockford, Illinois,” says Bensimon. For Bensimon, the show provided opportunities like magazine covers, an HSN jewelry line, and book deals for her two novels—but it also eventually led to a career change. “When my mother passed I decided to get my real estate license, and I've been very successful with that, selling north of $50 million in just this year,” she says.
For some former cast members, Housewives became one of the biggest moments, if not the biggest moment, of their lives. When Jo De La Rosa first joined The Real Housewives of Orange County, it was because of her then-fiancé Slade Smiley who was interested in being part of a reality TV show. (Of course, if you’ve followed the Bravo show, Smiley has long been with another former RHOC Housewife, Gretchen Rossi.) At the time, De La Rosa wasn’t trying to be in the entertainment industry. “I wanted to go to law school,” she recalls. Following Housewives, she ended up leaving the limelight beyond and working in advertising. In the past few years, though, she’s been drawn back to the allure of post-Housewives stardom, pivoting to full-time content creation through her podcast PopCandy and smaller-scale, lifestyle-focused YouTube channel. “Opportunities and collaborations that do come my way, it’s all because of The Real Housewives and kind of having that brand and franchise behind my name,” she says.
Life after Housewives has ultimately been one of newfound purpose—some have leveraged the fame gained from the show for more of the spotlight, but others have used it as a key step in self-discovery. Still, the Housewife afterlife remains anything but singular.
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