May 7, 2013 at 12:50 PM ET
Looks like the ladies of Bravo's Real Housewives franchise have something new to fight about. (Just what they need!) OK! Magazine has published their salaries, and—uh oh!—some are being compensated much more generously than others.
The financial revelations give some insight into why these women are so conniving. Bankrolls don't lie: Those cast members who are most likely to make a scene are the most richly rewarded. Remember high school, when the queen bees of confrontation managed to wrangle the cutest guys and spots on the homecoming court? Well, apparently the mean girl benefits keep rolling in—if you can scheme your way onto one of these shows.
Atlanta Housewife NeNe Leakes—who's perfected the art of leaning in and screaming into a frenemy's face—is the highest paid cast member. Going into Season 6, she signed a deal for $1 million per season, plus bonuses. That could include the cash she'll earn for her upcoming spinoff, I Dream of NeNe, but even so, she's making a lot more G's than her castmates, Kandi Burrus (who makes $450,000 a season) and Cynthia Bailey and Phaedra Parks (who earn $300,000). It's not that Burrus, Baily and Parks don't have claws; Leakes just has the longest ones. (And the loudest voice.)
And consider The Real Housewives of New Jersey, the franchise's highest-rated outpost. The much-loathed Teresa Giudice, who's famous for mangling the English language and every relationship she's ever had, receives $650,000 plus bonuses, per season. No doubt this rankles Caroline Manzo, the matriarch of this contemptuous group, who's earning a quarter of a million less, at a salary of $400,000 per season. But in comparison, Melissa Gorga makes even less ($350,000 per season) to put up with Giudice's relentless rumor mongering. (Based on previews for the upcoming season, Teresa has yet to let go of her "Melissa's-a-former-stripper" line.) And perpetual-victim Jacqueline Laurita, betrayed by her former BFF Teresa, gets a comparatively paltry $275,000 for her troubles.
On the face of it, this payment system seems outrageous, if not just wrong. But actually, it's simple economics. Ball players bank millions because they attract scads of fans (and stadium and TV ad revenue) to their games. The Housewives series, which chronicles women behaving badly, is also out to attract fans. Leake's job is to entice you to watch her re-create the nasty machinations of your high school social scene—or at least your worst memories of it. She does this skillfully.
So does Ramona Singer, the New York Housewife who's never met a cast mate she couldn't goad into a fight. (Jill Zarin, Heather Thomson and Aviva Drescher have been among her favorite sparring partners.) Singer makes north of $500,000 per season, plus bonuses, while other original cast members have been shown the door. Why? Everyone loves to hate her.
Ocean County Housewife Vicki Gunvalson is known more for her dramatic plastic surgery than for her back-biting, but she's also a practiced gossiper through Twitter.
One thing's for sure: This salary information is news that the Miami Housewives can use. The franchise's lowest-rated show is also the one with the lowest-paid stars, with compensation ranging from $55,000 to $75,000 for its top earners, Adriana De Moura, Marysol Patton and Joanna Krupa. The lesson here? Stop pulling your punches, ladies. There's money to be made in the ring.
A version of this story originally appeared on iVillage.