When reality gets in the way of reality TV

A trending topic in the blogosphere these past few weeks has been in regard to the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills’ crisis management. If you aren’t privy to shameless reality TV news, one housewife’s husband committed suicidethis past month following his pending divorce and public financial mess. This occurred soon before the second season of the show was supposed to premiere, and many PR professionals wondered how the network, Bravo, was going to handle the situation.

In short, Bravo ran the premiere as scheduled, but added in an introductory clip of the cast members gathering to discuss the death of Russell Armstrong, estranged husband of castmate Taylor. The wives talked about how “no one saw it coming” and how badly they felt for Taylor. There were tears and hugs, and then an abrupt message saying, “the following footage occurred months before Armstrong’s death.” Then, ‘reality’ resumed. Following the episode, Bravo aired a brief suicide prevention PSA as well.

Writer Tonya Garcia of PRNewser’s blog said it best: reality has interfered with the ‘Real’ Housewives. A lot of viewers found the show, even with the edits and added PSA, hard to swallow. Many critics felt the show should have been canceled all together. Garcia, on behalf of PRNewser, admitted she thought the show came off looking “dismissive of a man’s death…and more concerned with capitalizing on the pre-premiere attention.”

I admit that I’ve indulged in the catty babbling of the ‘Real Housewives’ franchise – hey, we all have our guilty pleasures – but I was very put-off by this. I agree with Garcia; the show completely dropped the ball here. I understand that the old adage states, “the show must go on,” but this just left a bad taste in my mouth.

I don’t necessarily agree that the show should’ve been scrapped, but I do feel that by choosing to continue airing episodes, they should have removed the Armstrong storyline in its entirety. In my opinion, they could have acknowledged the tragedy in an off-screen interview with Bravo officials and willing cast participants without adding it into this season’s story arc.

I feel they should have announced that, out of respect for the Armstrong family, all footage of Russell (and consequently, Taylor) would be excluded from the season. I just don’t see how keeping it in the show could come off as anything but capitalistic. Although, as nauseating as it is to admit, I’m certain the ratings for this show will skyrocket if the deterioration of the Armstrong marriage is aired. That’s just how our rubber-necking society rolls.

While there were definitely more pressing issues in the news this week, I thought this served as a good example of PR crisis communication gone awry. I’m curious to see how other people my age felt about Bravo’s strategy. For anyone who watches (or just has a strong opinion about) the show, how do you think it should have been handled?

Katy Hartwick


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