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Politics trump bling as 'Housewives' move to D.C.

Mary has Dick Cheney as a neighbor, Cat's husband is a White House photographer, and Michaele is the notorious White House gate-crasher.
/ Source: Reuters

Mary has Dick Cheney as a neighbor, Cat's husband is a White House photographer, and Michaele is the notorious White House gate-crasher.

Welcome to the "Real Housewives of D.C." -- the fifth and latest edition of the popular TV franchise that has become a guilty pleasure in the United States and around the world.

Four years after the tanned, nouveau riche ladies of southern California's Orange County made their TV debut in "Real Housewives of Orange County," the reality series moves to the U.S. capital on Thursday, where status is determined not by money and mansions but by proximity to political power.

"After Barack Obama was elected president, Washington became a city where there was a lot of new energy," said Andy Cohen, senior vice president of original programing at cable channel Bravo.

"This show has a different vibe. The housewives are fighting about politics. That's a new discourse. It's one of the things we hoped would come out of this series," Cohen told Reuters.

The first episode sees the "frenemies" clash over the merits of Obama versus former President George W. Bush, as well less obvious topics like the integration of hair salons for African-Americans and white Washingtonians.

But there is plenty of time for the kind of sniping and snooping seen from their counterparts on "Real Housewives" shows from New York, New Jersey, Atlanta and Orange County.

Snubbing Salahi?Mary Schmidt Amons, a second-generation Washingtonian and granddaughter of radio and TV star Arthur Godfrey, has a biometric entry pad to her vast closet. Model agency owner Lynda Erkiletian regards socialite Michaele Salahi as "2nd tier" in the D.C. hierarchy.

The White House gate crashing incident, which became headline news last November when Salahi and her polo-playing husband entered a White House banquet without an official invitation, will play out over the course of the new series.

Cohen denied that the Salahis had used the banquet as a stunt to be cast on the show, saying Bravo had been shooting the series for months before it happened.

"We don't make shows to make people famous," he said. The Salahis have not been charged and three Secret Service officers were disciplined for the White House security breach.

Rounding out the cast of five are Stacie Scott Turner, a real estate businesswoman active in civic and philanthropic activities, and Catherine "Cat" Ommanney, a British transplant and interior designer who uprooted her fast-paced, single life in London for marriage, kids and domesticity in D.C.

Fame, spin-off shows, books and jewelry lines have come the way of many of the "housewives" since the format was launched in 2006 as a cross between TV's fictional "Desperate Housewives" and the pampered but troubled teens of "The O.C."

A sixth series in Beverly Hills is now shooting, and Cohen said the franchise has found success with viewers throughout Europe and in Australia. The format also has been licensed overseas, with a Greek version expected soon.

"It is sometimes shocking and a lot of fun. It is also dramatic, and we wink at the audience -- they are in on the fun," he said of the worldwide appeal of the shows.

"If you had told me four years ago that this was going to become a water-cooler hit, and that the women would be on the cover of People magazine and Us Weekly and on 'The Tonight Show' -- you can never predict success like that," Cohen said.

"You can only hope for it. It's like lightning in a bottle."