It’s a strange time to launch anything, much less the SLC iteration of The Real Housewives franchise, which requires its reality to be the opposite of socially distant—socially up in each others’ faces is more the brand. Lucky us, however, the producers of Real Housewives Salt Lake City got their filming in under the COVID wire and there are venomous droplets aplenty waiting for us in the new season, which Bravo launches this week, on Nov. 11. The VIP premiere party, however, was a sign of the times. We’ve covered lots of celebrity press gaggles and by far this was the strangest. Forget the red carpet, the en-logoed step-and-repeat and a scrum of photogs fighting for flash time. Fabulous was not possible. Instead, The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City had a drive-in theater (built for the occasion) in the parking lot kitty-corner from the silent Vivint Smart Home Arena.
Bravo’s newest housewives traded in glitz for asphalt and press lines for interviews from the front seats of their Range Rovers (and an Escalade and Jaguar.) And if it sounds weird, it was. But there was a certain, charming, the show-must-go-on feel to the night. The stars in cars pulled front and center in front of the giant screens and Team Shah showed up en masse, with two black Escalades filled with housewife Jen Shah’s entourage armed with sirens and bullhorns to cut through the moody weather and bring a bit of flair to the social distance.
But, for the four of the show’s stars who turned out for the event—Jen Shah, Lisa Barlow, Heather Gay and Whitney Rose—the drive-in premiere launched what they hope will become the next big thing for Bravo’s most popular franchise.
“I was made for this,” Whitney Rose, who owns the Iris and Beau skincare line boasted. But so what is this? If you’re new to the Real Housewives universe, here’s the breakdown:
Affluent women across the country—often promoting their businesses or to recapture former celebrity—open their homes to reality TV cameras and all the drama that comes with their fabulous lives. Producers were going for a Peyton Place meets Desperate Housewives vibe when they kicked off the series in Orange County 14 years ago.
“Viewers have been riveted by the fictionalized versions of such lifestyles on television,” said then-Bravo president Lauren Zalaznick. “Now, here is a series that depicts real-life ‘desperate’ housewives with an authentic look at their compelling day-to-day drama.”
The show was an instant hit and, in the years since, launched franchises in New York, Beverly Hills, Atlanta, New Jersey, Miami, Potomac, Dallas, Washington, D.C. and, now, Salt Lake City, plus 13 international installments and 19 spin-offs. It’s a thing, inspiring dozens of parody shows and countless Housewife-fan social accounts and podcasts.
The success has come with criticism, too, including an October 2019 New York Times story pointing out how the casts seem to be segregated by skin color. Atlanta and Potomac have almost entirely Black stars, while the others are primarily white save for one or two women. Enter Salt Lake City.
Utah is hardly recognized as a beacon of diversity, but our installment brings some representation to the franchise not seen in other iterations: two women of color; two Jewish big-city imports; and ancestors of Mormon pioneers. It’s a subtle but noticeable and necessary move for a series that has largely found success in racially homogeneous casts.
So, that’s a little bit of history. You’re ready to pour a glass of bubbly (or as the housewives would say, “champs”) and dive in for the primetime premiere on Wednesday.
Salt Lake magazine got a sneak peek—but we won’t spoil that now—at the drive-in premiere and chatted with some of the stars about their hopes for the show and, of course, their taglines. (The taglines are biggies and offer an introduction and first impressions. Good lines are witty and a bit snarky, bad ones make the brain groan.)
Take Lisa Barlow, who owns the LUXE marketing firms and Vida tequila and used her tagline to promote herself with a zing. “I had to have something to do with tequila,” she said from the back of a luxury, black Escalade. “If you take cheap shots, you’re going to end up with a hangover. That’s why people should drink Vida.”
But it’s not just about her brand, Barlow says. Showcasing Salt Lake on a national scale is the bigger win. “This is so major for our city.”
Religion, too, plays a big role, with producers going big on the faith angle in the show trailers and early promotion. It works in part because of the religious diversity of the cast. Barlow, who has Jewish ancestry, calls herself Mormon 2.0. Jen Shah, who owns three marketing firms, converted from Mormonism to Islam. Jewelry designer Meredith Marks is Jewish. Mary Cosby, who inherited her family’s “empire of churches, restaurants and more,” is a Pentecostal pastor (though she prefers “first lady”). And cousins Heather Gay and Whitney Rose come from pioneer stock and “Mormon royalty.”
Gay, who owns Med-spa Beauty Lab, used her tagline (“Just like my pioneer ancestors, I’m trying to blaze a new trail”) as a metaphor for leaving the church after her divorce. She had a back-line just in case the first didn’t make the cut: “I may be dead inside, but I’m still the life of the party.”
Rose, too, left the Mormon faith after the church excommunicated her and now-husband and LifeVantage exec, Justin, for having an extramarital affair. (Spoiler: Their vow renewal features a dress that would never make the cut in a traditional Latter-day Saints ceremony.)
Ten years later, the drama follows Rose onto the show, prompting her tagline, “This rose isn’t scared to handle a little prick.” Most of the pricks come from Barlow, Rose said from the passenger seat of a white Range Rover. “We’re all the prick, though.”
See all of our A&E coverage here.