Tales From An Ex-'Wife'
After four seasons, former "Real Housewives of New York" matriarch (and original Bravo-lebrity) Jill Zarin is on her own and reveals what is was really like behind the scenes.
Bravo shocked series loyalists in September when it announced that popular -- and troublemaking -- cast member Jill Zarin would not return for the show's fifth season. (The network also released stars Alex McCord, Kelly Bensimon and Cindy Barshop.) The 48-year-old mom pulls back the curtain on reality TV's most-talked-about show.
Why did the network terminate your six-season contract after four years?
First off, I like to say I was fired because I'm not embarrassed about it. I didn't do anything wrong, so I really don't know why they fired us and kept the other girls. We were told that they wanted to begin season five filming over Labor Day, so the other ladies and I were preparing story lines, basically putting our lives on hold until shooting. In June, it wasn't even a question if they were inviting me back. By August, conversations started to change. They were hesitant to commit and delayed the announcement. Then I got a call the Wednesday after Labor Day that Bravo decided to bring back LuAnn [de Lesseps], Sonja [Morgan] and Ramona [Singer], but the rest would not be decided until the end of the week. I'm smart enough to know that they were putting out contracts to new girls, and whether they signed would determine our fate. So, at 5 p.m. on a Saturday night I get a phone call from my producer, and she told me that Bravo had made the decision to let the four of us go.
As one of the show's original stars, what was your reaction?
I was upset because I was told to put my life on hold. But I didn't argue, I wasn't going to try to sell anyone. I said, "OK. Thank you for everything you've done for me." Andy Cohen called shortly after, which I'm sure was a difficult thing to do. He gave me the respect I deserved considering I committed four years of my life to the show. He said they wanted the series to go in a different direction and that last season ended very dark -- which I find ironic because they could have controlled that. I filmed many happy scenes that the network canned.
It has been reported the network let you go after ongoing salary disputes.
That is absolutely untrue. First of all, we were finally making a decent amount of money last season. That was never a concern. They're getting a lot of money now, so that's another thing I'm disappointed about. I didn't get to make the money I feel I deserved. I didn't just help make the show popular; I cast it. I brought in Bethenny [Frankel], and I don't get a percentage of anything she spins off. The first, second and third season salary pretty much added up to the fourth season. I worked really hard.
Many accuse the show of being scripted or heavily produced. How do you respond?
It's a TV show, not a documentary. It's not scripted, but it is edited. It doesn't mean we didn't live it, it just means they focus on a particular storyline. With New Jersey, they were brilliant to film season four before season three aired. They had to. Bravo had no delusions that they set up Teresa [Giudice] by hiring her sister-in-law and cousin without letting her know. It's understandable Teresa would be upset. The show couldn't film now: Teresa and Caroline won't even be in the same room, and Jacqueline [Laurita] quit. As a cast, they're kaput.
Now that the show is behind you, how are going to spend all your free time?
I launched my shapewear line Skweez Couture in 2011. It's now available at Lord & Taylor and Macy's. My husband and I were recently in L.A. for meetings about a potential television opportunity. And now I finally have the freedom to do that. That's the one thing Bravo would never give us: the ability to appear elsewhere. Before, I could never appear on another network. We couldn't even do Good Morning America, we had to do Today, even if it was to promote our brands. They were very controlling. In hindsight, it would have been smarter for them to do a development deal with me. I would have been stupid enough to let them build my ego and give me a deal for no money that would lock me to the network.
What did you learn from the series? What will you miss and what won't you?
The show made women in their 40s and 50s relevant again. Hollywood is all about young girls, and this was an opportunity that didn't require us to be young and beautiful. It's real women. But I won't miss the lying and the fighting. And I won't miss the stress over clothes. I had to have 80 outfits for the season, and I would totally stress over that.