"Don't come in here talking about my business!"
So decreed Bethenny Frankel during The Real Housewives of New York City last season, when Dorinda Medley's boyfriend John accused her of stealing her company's name for another business. The lesson we all learned? Skinnygirl is off-limits. But could this gag order of sorts carry over to Frankel's personal life as well, after her ex-husband Jason Hoppy was arrested on Jan. 27 for alleged harassment and stalking after sending Bethenny e-mails and texts, as well as showing up at their six-year-old daughter Brynn's school?
Cameras are currently rolling on the ninth season of RHONY, but it remains to be seen if any of Bethenny's drama with Jason will make it onto Bravo's airwaves, as most of their divorce dealings have happened off-screen since ending their two-year marriage in 2013, before it was finalized in 2016.
But when it comes to reality TV, there's always a fine line between real-life and TV, with the Real Housewives franchise seemingly living on that line.
While some Housewives' dirty laundry has been aired for all to see (including Teresa Giudice's legal battles, from pleading guilty to fraud and serving a 15-month jail sentence, basically becoming the driving storyline for The Real Housewives of New Jersey in recent seasons), others only hope to open one of their French doors to viewers for a partial view into their lives.
So how does Bravo, along with executive producer Andy Cohen, decide what's too real even for the Real Housewives—or is nothing off the table (as long as it's not flipped by Teresa)?
The franchise faced arguably its most difficult decision back in 2012, when then-RHOBH star Taylor Armstrong's husband, Russell Armstrong, whom she had filed for divorce from after allegations of verbal and physical abuse, committed suicide after filming on season two had wrapped. Producers scrambled to re-cut episodes, and at the Television Critics Association Press Tour in January 2012, Cohen said, "We had many discussions, as you can imagine, for a long time about how to do this… and I think what emerged is the story of a woman trying to extricate herself from a bad, broken marriage, in which she was unhappy and domestic violence played a part. And that was the story that wound up emerging from the season."
And in a 2012 interview with The New York Times, the Watch What Happens Live host defended Bravo against allegations that the attention on their relationship from their time on the show played a factor in Armstrong's suicide, with Armstrong telling People in an interview just before his death that the couple was "pushed to extremes" while filming.
"It was tragic. But if anyone in this building or the producers or the production company believed that the show was to blame for what happened, we would not have aired the show no matter what," Cohen said, adding that Armstrong "chose to come back" for a second season. "He has spoken to producers a lot vocally about how much the show had helped his business."
In late 2016, Cohen was a guest on Bitch Sesh, the Real Housewives podcast hosted by Casey Wilson and Danielle Schneider, where he said if the cameras are rolling when major drama goes down—whether it be Luann DeLesseps' then-fiancé-now-husband Tom cheating on her at the Regency on RHONY or someone making accusations of infidelity or fake cancer on RHOC—they wouldn't withhold it, though he didn't consider the cheating rumors to be that "dark," in the greater arena of RH scandals.
Wilson asked a follow-up about whether or not Cohen and the producers could be swayed by a desperate Housewife asking for footage not to be used if it could hurt their family. "I think it really it a case-by-case, it really depends what it is...you're setting a precedent."
But, Cohen noted, even if it doesn't make it onto Bravo, that doesn't mean it won't come out through other avenues, whether it be the tabloids or the other cast members choosing to bring it up on-camera.
A prime example of this happening was Adrienne Maloof in season three of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, when the cast member and her then-husband Paul Nassif threatened to sue Brandi Glanville, and allegedly Bravo, for making a comment about their children's parentage and whether they were born via surrogate. The actual allegations made by Glanville were never shown on Bravo, but the scandal "wound up playing out somewhere else…it's difficult because it doesn't always work out. Once the genie is out of the bottle, it's hard to put back in."
After the "very convoluted" situation and the announcement of her impending divorce from Nassif, Maloof chose not to return for the fourth season.
Another example would be RHOBH's handling of Kim Richards' ongoing sobriety. An original cast member, the former child star's alcohol abuse eventually played out on-screen, with Kim leaving the show as a regular Housewife in 2015, while her sister Kyle Richards remained a cast member.
"This time in my recovery, I've decided to keep it for myself. I do share it with my children, so that their worries are…that they don't have any worries," Richards said of leaving the show on Watch What Happens Live in March 2016. "That they know I keep them up to date on what I'm doing in my recovery. But for the public, I've decided that it's really not their business."
Still, that hasn't stopped the other cast members from discussing—and sometimes questioning—Richards' sobriety, which is still one of the show's biggest storylines this season as well as last season, with Richards saying, "I just feel that, why do they have to discuss me on the show when I clearly was not a part of it."
When it comes to Frankel, though, accusations of favoritism have arisen ever since she returned to RHONY for its seventh season after landing her own spinoff, Bethenny Ever After, and going through a nasty public split with Hoppy. But Cohen, who is friends with the Skinnygirl mogul off-camera, insisted she has no control over production.
"There is a misconception that…Bethenny is an EP of the show or somehow has control…that she has power into anything relating to the final cut of the show or what happens," Cohen said on the Bitch Sesh podcast.
As always, we'll have to watch what happens...or doesn't, at least on-screen, when The Real Housewives of New York City returns for its ninth season later this year.
(E! and Bravo are both part of the NBCUniversal family.)