Taylor Armstrong, a star from the television show “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills,” is seen sobbing during a recent episode because of what co-star Camille Grammer said about her claims against husband Rusell Armstrong.
“You have no idea what she’s done to me!” Armstrong screams about Camille.
The reason this scene on Bravo was so intense was the fact that viewers knew what was coming in the weeks ahead, as Russell committed suicide not long after the episode was filmed.
Bravo faced an ethical question after Russell’s suicide that would test the limits of the viewers’ interest in a reality spectacle such as this one. The premiere of the second season pulled in 2.2 million viewers, which increased by 46 percent from the season one debut. Each episode has average roughly 2.2 million viewers, which is around the average per episode from the first season.
“It was unlike anything we had ever encountered before,” said Andy Cohen, the executive vice president of development and talent for Bravo and an executive producer for the show.
As the news of Armstrong’s suicide went public, the network had a major decision to make: cancel the season, edit Russell or Taylor or both out of the season, or air the season as planned. Television critic Mary McNamara wrote the following about the network and the show.
“The allure of the ‘Real Housewives’ shows has been, in part, their celebration of the unreality of life — all those dinner party conversations that were just as manufactured and misguidedly narcissistic as the surgically altered faces … offstage a man was slowly moving toward self-destruction. How can we now watch and think of anything else?”
After three weeks of deliberation, the network decided to air the season pretty much as planned. The network told Taylor’s story as a woman who was dealing with domestic abuse and a crumbling marriage.
Russell was in a panic because of the portrayal of him in the show, the scrutiny of being on reality TV, and financial problems.
A sociologist at USC, Karen Sternheimer, said, “I think that for networks, the bottom line is what gets ratings,” she said. “It appears they will take it as close to the edge as they can. So if somebody is a little emotionally unstable, I think that makes for great TV. It doesn’t necessarily make for good social responsibility, but I don’t know that that’s their primary concern.”
“There were some things that we left in the show, and we were very deliberate about why we left them,” Cohen said. “To ignore it or cut around some of the stuff would be to gloss over a very important topic.”
The president of Bravo, Frances Berwick, said that the network did not air the episodes in an effort to capitalize on the situation. “We were covering her story line as we would with any other cast member,” she said. “I think not airing it would be ignoring a central part of her journey.”