What allows reality TV to exist so plentifully, and to be so successfully engineered, is perhaps our human tendency to experience the same event different ways. Liquoring up scared, fame-hungry young people gets you most of the way there, but it’s the producer-prodded endless parsing of what historian Daniel J. Boorstin termed “pseudo-events” that fill the hours and hours of cable programming we so happily consume: fights over who is a drunk, fights over who said who is a drunk, fights over what actually happened when everyone was drunk, and so on. (Mr. Boorstin also gave us a handy phrasing for the contemporary definition of a celebrity: “a person who is known for his well-knownness.”)
To test these theories, on Monday, The Observer embraced a full evening’s schedule of pseudo-events featuring celebrities and took a Rashomonic approach to the premiere of the fifth season of the wildly, bafflingly successful reality show, The Real Housewives of New York City. We sent three correspondents with varying degrees of RHONY knowledge to three premiere parties hosted by Housewives, and asked them to write honestly of their experiences.
What we learned: Despite perhaps being unwelcome, ex-Housewife Jill Zarin made the rounds. A couple of the Housewives will really miss their extra-large Diet Cokes (thanks a lot, Mayor Bloomberg). If you hang around with a Housewife long enough, you might run into someone actually famous (Liza Minnelli!?). And the show, when viewed with the celebrity cast members present, is even more uncomfortably hyperreal.
Thus we present: the Occasional Viewer’s Story, the Fanboy’s Story, and the Party Crasher’s Story.
The Occasional Viewer’s Story
Setting: Aviva Drescher’s viewing party at Frames
It’s always a bit embarrassing when you blindly shout cross streets to your cabbie, and more embarrassing still when the address you feed the cabbie turns out to be Port Authority Bus Terminal. But what really took the cake was when we realized that we’d be watching the Real Housewives of New York City season premiere from a bowling alley called “Frames” in the Port Authority Bus Terminal, with none other than Aviva Drescher.
First stop: the bar.
We’d been off the sauce for a week or so, and as tempting as the cheeky open bar items seemed to be, it would be Diet Coke with a lemon for us, an order we gave a leggy redhead who was quick to inform: “I’m very sorry sir, but they didn’t opt to cover sodas and juices in the open bar package. That will be three dollars.” Brilliant.
As we settled up our tab, in walked Ex-RHONY Jill Zarin, seemingly doing the step and repeat for no one. We were informed by our blonde co-pilot (an admitted fangirl of the series) that there’s no way Ms. Zarin would stay for the premiere: “She’s probably so pissed that she’s off the show.” Being totally uninformed about the past few seasons, we asked why. “These chicks love it! It’s like a bizarre little club,” our friend managed to scream into our ear above deafening club music.
We headed toward the main ball of action over by lanes 10-12, drawn by the crowd and by the absolutely insane amount of jewelry on display on party guests’ extremities. Can you say Pavé? Before we could count the carats, we were dealt a deafening blow by the sound system as the screen at the end of our lane crackled to life. The room was instantly lit up by our host’s face as she introduced herself on the show, and allegedly, to much of America.
The whole thing was rather unceremonious, no introduction, no preface to the premiere, not even so much as a big wave to the diamond studded crowd. We almost got the impression that Ms. Drescher couldn’t care less about the show, choosing instead to pop about the room, kissing cheeks, hugging all, doing almost everything in her power to not look at the screen. We noticed R. Couri Hay meandering in her direction and we decided it was time to move in for a slice of Ms. Drescher.
Seems you’re not paying much attention to the premiere, Ms. Drescher, we said. Why’s that?
Ms. Drescher replied, “Seen it, honey. Here watch this next scene–it’s great!” She pointed knowingly at a screen, a scene of her evidently making a pithy remark at a cocktail party, overemphasized by the reality show editing style we’ve come to know.
Thinking of the three dollars we’d left at the bar, we pressed Ms. Drescher, who, by the way, carries a disproportionately small amount of weight for her height, on if she’d be affected by the soft drink ban Bloomberg’s been mulling over.
“Oh god no, we haven’t allowed any soda in our house for years. It causes cancer, you know. I used to be a total Diet Coke fiend, though…” Ms. Drescher trailed off.
Mr. Hay piped up. “If we’re talking about cancer, you know what else is scary–all these poor kids getting autism from their injections!”
Ms. Drescher and The Observer replied, almost in unison, “Hmm, not so sure about that, Couri.”
We elected to move the topic of conversation away from possible carcinogens, where it inevitably and somewhat thankfully petered out. We creeped for the exit with our minds slightly scrambled by the odd chorus of Ms. Drescher trying to speak over her own televised voice.
The Fanboy’s Story
Setting: The Countess LuAnn de Lesseps’s party at the Lantern’s Keep, and later, Liza Minnelli’s arms
“I can’t believe she showed up.” A middle-aged woman whispered spitefully about an unknown “she” to her companion in between sips of chardonnay. From head to toe she was a walking talking Louis Vuitton ad. Never in my life had I seen so many red soles in one room.
I was in housewife heaven. The Countess, LuAnn de Lesseps, stood towering in the middle of the room greeting her guests with grace and poise. Her gold-sequined dress shimmered through her champagne glass as she made rounds. The mood in the bar was nowhere near as tense as I had prepared myself for, knowing that just a few blocks away Ramona Singer and Sonja Morgan were hosting their own premiere party.
“I will not be attending Ramona and Sonja’s party because I’m an honorary chair tonight at the Fred and Adele Astaire awards.” Ms. de Lesseps confided. “Ramona told me she didn’t even know I was hosting a party tonight.”
I was waiting for Ms. Singer to jump out from behind the bar and start defending herself. Andy Cohen would bust in and an impromptu reunion would take place in the middle of Lantern’s Keep. A boy can dream, right? The Countess started talking to us about her single “Money Can’t Buy You Class,” as if I didn’t know every word to the song. Waiters circled the small space offering hors d’oeuvres and glasses of champagne. A small camera crew filming for Bravo shadowed the Countess.
As I reached for a mini hamburger, Heather Thomson, one of the show’s new cast members walked in. I approached, hoping to get some dirt on Ramona, and judging from the promos I knew that Ms. Thomson would be the perfect source. I’d been dying to know what new alliances might occur and who among the cast would be deemed an alcoholic this year. (It’s an annual tradition.) Heather was extremely careful with everything she said about the other housewives and only made one pinot reference.
I was beginning to become disappointed with the lack of drama in the air. Just then I was sent a gift from the Bravo gods, a gift in the form of Jill Zarin. The ex-Housewife stormed toward the bar in a bright blue corset and demanded a Diet Coke. She recognized me from a past event and, grabbing my hand, introduced me to her husband.
“Look at the shapewear!” He pointed to Ms. Zarin’s corset.
Ms. Zarin continued, “Yes! My shapewear, that’s what I’ve been focusing on. Skweez Couture.”
The intro for the new season played on a flat screen behind her. Pursing her lips, Ms. Zarin confided, “I’m not going to Ramona and Sonja’s tonight. I have plans.”
As the night continued, we found ourselves at the Fred and Adele Astaire Awards watching Ms. de Lesseps present as an honorary chair. I sat in awe as icon after icon walked across the stage. Marvin Hamlisch, Tony Danza, Chita Rivera, Albert Maysles, and Liza Minnelli. That wasn’t a typo, Liza and the Countess were on the same stage. I just about died. After the awards ceremony, I joined Ms. de Lesseps at her table for the reception, which just so happened to be the table next to Ms. Minnelli’s. Singer Sylvia Tosun, a guest at Ms. de Lesseps table, introduced me to Ms. Minnelli. I couldn’t resist fawning over her like a schoolgirl when she grabbed my arm and told us our jacket was fabulous. While we never did get to witness any true housewife drama as hoped, I did spend the rest of the night gabbing with all of the guests at Ms. de Lesseps table in true housewives fashion.
The Party Crasher’s Story
Setting: Sonja Morgan and Ramona Singer’s party at Serafina Upper West
At the door: a throwback, young girls with clipboards instead of iPads. They look overwhelmed and barely put up a fight as several of us brush past, shouting out our names as we nudge through. “R. Couri Hay, Cassandra Seidenfeld, and this is Drew Grant, she is from The Observer!” No, no, don’t say that! Technically, we are not supposed to be here. The party for Ramona Singer and Sonja Morgan is fraught with social peril due to some choice quotes we ran in a recent blog post. We are Not Invited. We have never seen The Real Housewives of New York City except in Real Life, where they are not as fun when they fight. And yet, here we are.
Front room is bare, despite presence of bar and a screen, showing the premiere of The Real Housewives. There is no audio, but if we wanted to hear what the Housewives were saying we could always move into the back room, where hundreds of identical blonde women seem to be talking at once, snapping photos, having their photos snapped.
We hear: “Is that Ivanka?!” (It is not Ivanka.)
We are scared. The men here are strange. Are they on the show as well? Ms. Singer sees us, and her eyes open, like, “Wuh-oh.” She knows we are Not Invited. But it is okay! Ms. Singer is nice to us, and we are grateful when she grabs our hand and leads us over to the white wine station.
Nobody is servicing. Too busy networking, perhaps, those actors and reality-show stars in catering apparel, only proffering the shrimp-pineapple skewers to the important and famous. Follow them, and you will be able to map out the trajectory of Those Who Matter as they air-kiss around the room.
“It’s my party, I will open the wine myself!” Ms. Singer laughs. We have a glass poured; the moment we set it down, it is whisked away. Still, we are grateful for something to do, like wait around for someone to pour us another.
It is Sonja and Ramona’s party. We are Not Invited. But we are here. So are Caroline Radziwell and Heather Thomson, because people say they are. We cannot be sure. At least Ms. Radziwell is a brunette, easier to pick out in the sea of blondes.
Many people here have been on the show in some capacity, and the rest would like to be. Including us? Possibly. Kelly Rowland, from Nuke ‘Em High 2, addresses rumors that she’s the 6th Housewife this season.
“No, but I’ll be on a couple episodes,” Ms. Rowland said.
“I was also on a couple episodes,” Ms. Seidenfeld told us.
We are the only ones who have not been on “a couple episodes,” or so we think. Since we have never seen the show, maybe we have been on an episode already and don’t even know it. Maybe this evening will be an episode. Maybe this is all reality TV.
We check the sprinklers for hidden cameras.
Mr. Hay introduces us to Dr. Howard Sobel, a famed cosmetic dermatologist. He tells us to give him a call tomorrow. We are flattered! Wait, should we be flattered?
There are children here, and men, and one dog. Some girls are the children of the Housewives and their friends, some are merely their assistants. We meet one who is an ex-assistant to Ms. Morgan.
“It was not that bad,” she said. Now she is at school to be a fashion buyer at LIM, which, according to her, doesn’t stand for anything.
Who are the men? Some, we assume, are husbands or boyfriends. A tall, dapper man wears a hat with crazy feathers in it, so we follow him around for awhile. Later we find out he’s Andretti Andretti, but what does that mean?
Leesa Rowland hugs us several times. Wendy Diamond invites several people to the July wedding of her dog, Lucky. A woman claiming to be friends with Ms. Radziwell says that she thinks we could write the script for her friend’s movie about drag racing. “It’s a sequel, and also it will be a reality show,” she says. Her boyfriend is an extra virgin olive oil baron.
We have had two drinks. We were Not Invited. At this point, it doesn’t matter. Ms. Singer smiles at us, while flickering on the screen in the back corner, her visage is yelling at Ms. Thomson. In real life, the two of them embrace. No one is paying attention to the show. Everyone is watching real life.