On the surface, Bravo's "Real Housewives" franchise allows its audiences to maintain an air of bemused distance from its subjects: Look! Here are some wealthy ladies with a lot of free time for shopping and bickering with their spouses and each other! They even sometimes permit dogs to drink out of champagne goblets right at the dinner table!
But that tone had to go following the suicide three weeks ago of Russell Armstrong, estranged husband of "Real Housewives of Beverly Hills" star Taylor Armstrong. For the first time since the death, three of the "Beverly Hills Housewives" (Adrienne Maloof, Kyle Richards and Lisa Vanderpump) and show executive producer Douglas Ross sat down with TODAY's Savannah Guthrie for a sobering interview about the suicide and its aftereffects.
Early on, Guthrie asked after Taylor and her 5-year-old daughter, Kennedy. Maloof explained that she had spoken with Taylor at the wake, and reported that "as is to be expected, she was very beside herself, obviously going through such a tragic ... and I think her concern is her little girl now."
But discussion quickly turned to the show itself. Media reports of the series premiere, which was sent out prior to Armstrong's suicide, have indicated that the first episode focused on the deteriorating relationship between the Armstrongs, which precipitated a re-edit of the show.
Ross confirmed earlier reports that changes had to be made after Armstrong's death: "We, along with the network, took a hard look at the show and we decided to do some adjustments where appropriate in light of the circumstances. Our goal has always been to make an honest and accurate story about the ladies and what goes on in their life. We want to be and always are respectful and responsible, and in this case, trying to be very appropriate."
He also indicated that at least in the first few episodes that have been edited, Russell would not be appearing. "But it is important to know that Taylor's story is told throughout the season," he added.
Yet the ladies were unstinting in their defense of the show, and the way in which it shows the lives of those who agree to be on it. Guthrie noted that Armstrong knew his marriage would be fodder for the new season, and wondered if the show added additional pressure. Richards said that Armstrong knew the score: "He also signed up for this season one, and came back for season two. When we started this show they cast six strong women and they didn't really know anything about our stories. ... We certainly didn't know the troubles that he had."
And the women are what the show is about, said Ross: "This show is about six strong, aggressive, successful beautiful women and their stories. And although Taylor and Russell's story is a part of it, it's not the whole show."
The second season of "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills" premieres tonight at 9 p.m., and will be preceded by a short interview with most of the "Housewives" commenting on the suicide.
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