Washington women wary of 'Real Housewives'

Bravo reality show circles D.C.'s leading ladies

Barack Obama has just named his pick for the Supreme Court and is still filling out the ranks of his administration. But it's another casting process, also being conducted in the strictest secrecy, that's really got them whispering in Washington.

Which five wealthy, connected, ambitious, opinionated, party-going, power-brokering women
will become the country's newest "Real Housewives"?

Maybe you thought residents of our nation's capital were too focused on the economy or North Korea to worry about the casting of a cable reality show. Think again. Ever since the Bravo network announced this week that "The Real Housewives of D.C." was in development, political blogs have speculated on who'd be tapped for the show. Stories have emerged of stealth screen tests across the city.

"Everybody's abuzz about it," says Catherine Merrill Williams, publisher of Washingtonian magazine.

But just how will this franchise, which depends on wealthy women dishing about everything from their finances to plastic surgery to sex, translate to a city where power is defined by access and discretion is paramount?

With difficulty, some say.

"They want people in Washington who get to events where they mix with movers and shakers," says Williams, whose staff has been consulted by producers looking for the right women. "But it's unlikely that a working woman here is going to want to do this. In Washington, reputation is everything. Whatever you do is a reflection on your job."

Besides, adds lobbyist Edwina Rogers, who's been contacted about joining the cast, "People are so careful about what they say and do here. I suspect that's why there haven't been more shows like this about Washington — because people are so private."

For those whose cable viewing might tend more toward C-SPAN, or maybe just the news channels, a "Real Housewives" primer may be in order. The franchise began in 2006 with "Real Housewives of Orange County." Versions from New York City, Atlanta and New Jersey followed.

The featured women are always wealthy, have big houses, like to spend money, and like to talk. But there are regional differences.

The New York City show "is not for the faint of heart," says Andy Cohen, senior vice president of programming and development for Bravo. "They're either five steps ahead of the rest of us, or they think they are. SO New York."

The New Jersey show has a more Carmela Soprano feel, with decorating sprees to fill huge, overdone Jersey McMansions. On the Orange County show, "they're all SO blonde, with SO much hair, real or not," says Cohen. "They also have huge chests. Never real."

So how will the doyennes of Washington fit in? Cohen hopes politics will play a role. He'd love to see a Republican woman and a Democrat, each passionate about their views, meeting up at a fancy dinner, where sparks would fly. "Now, that would be fun," Cohen says.

In New York, the cast is made up of colorful characters like the Countess LuAnn de Lesseps, whose count recently broke up with her by e-mail, and former model Kelly Killoren Bensimon, arrested in March after allegedly punching her boyfriend.

In Washington the show seems to be tapping more established figures, though certain women are clearly out of reach.

"I imagine it would be a challenge if we were trying for, say, Desiree Rogers," says Cohen, referring to the new White House social secretary. Lynn Cheney, wife of the former vice president, is also unlikely, he admits.

But the show might get another Rogers — Edwina, a longtime lobbyist, a former George W. Bush White House official, Republican strategist and now director of a trade association.

In a telephone interview, she said she'd been approached but hadn't yet decided — and hasn't seen any "Real Housewives" episodes.

Rogers sees one potential benefit in participating: a boost not to her own career, but to Washington.

"What I find attractive is that it would show people the cute, fun, exciting, tender side of Washingtonians, and our unique culture," Rogers says. "There are things we do that people don't do anywhere else."

For example, the competitive ritual of holiday cards in the political world. "We all try to come up with better and more elaborate ones, and to get ours out sooner," she says.

Or, the show could focus on the life of a political fundraiser — giving significant air time to the chosen woman's cause, of course. Or how about the art of political gift-giving — "a very big deal in Washington, all the way down the food chain," Rogers says.

Whether she joins the cast or not, Rogers hopes it will display the changes in Washington over the last decade or so. "There used to be very few good restaurants — now there's one opening every week," she says. "There are high-end retail stores, and lots of nightclubs. Ten years ago you couldn't find a place to go dancing."

Many, of course, attribute the new allure of Washington to the incoming Obama administration. "There's a freshness with a new president, and less baggage," says Bravo's Cohen. "Plus, the president and first lady's youth brings a new energy to the city."

But longtime Washingtonians like Williams, the publisher, say that energy's been percolating for years. "The city itself has been changing for a decade," she says. "The world just hasn't seen it."

Justin Long, 21, doesn't know much about "Real Housewives," but he does know about D.C. arts, culture and urban development, which he blogs about on ReadySetDC.com. "A lot more younger people are coming into the city, and it's kicked things into higher gear," says Long. "More eyes are definitely on D.C."

And clearly Bravo hopes those eyes will gravitate to "The Real Housewives of D.C." — potential launch date unknown.

Juleanna Glover Weiss, a Washington lobbyist and frequent hostess, will not be among the housewives, though she's given producers advice.

"I'm the sole supporter of three children. My margin of error is pretty small," she jokes. "Maybe they should try for some diplomatic wives — women who can get out of Dodge quickly if they need to!"
comments powered by Disqus