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REALITY TV

They're busting out of the O.C.

How're you going to keep a `Real Housewife' down once she cleans up in Hollywood?

March 11, 2007|Lynn Smith | Time Staff Writer

LIKE his neighbors in Coto de Caza, Slade Smiley is used to making things happen. He co-founded a title insurance company, bought a home in the planned, gated community, invited his girlfriend, Jo De La Rosa, a student and loan officer, to move in and proposed they sign up for Bravo's docu-soap "The Real Housewives of Orange County" because he figured it would be good for business.

When the show took off and the calls starting coming in, he wasn't one to sit back and let network executives decide what to do with their fame. "All of us made it happen. I won't let my success be handled by someone else," said Smiley, one of the more outspoken cast members who've created a modest but intense cadre of fans fascinated by their successful -- and sometimes arrogant, shallow and self-absorbed -- personas on the reality show, which will conclude its second season Tuesday.

Smiley has produced De La Rosa's first record, as seen on the show, but behind the scenes he has also joined her on TV talk shows, red carpets and promotional events not allowed by Bravo.

He said publicists called to "reprimand" him. And he spoke to the Los Angeles Times without a Bravo representative -- really not allowed.

"They hate the fact we've figured how to take exposure from the show and turn it into something," said Smiley, who argues that the appearances that he and De La Rosa make are not for press or promotion. "We're about making personal relationships in the industry. It comes across when we meet people," he said. "We're not hungry for it. We're not pushing too hard."

A spokesman for the network said, "Bravo doesn't discuss the terms of its talent contracts, which are standard for the industry," and declined to comment on the activities of Smiley and his cast mates. "The talent contracts are all designed to protect the confidentiality of the plot development," the spokesman added.

Typically, the stars of low-cost reality shows agree to network contracts and small paychecks hoping to get a foot in the door of the entertainment industry. And the promise looms large. The young cast of MTV's first season of "Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County" moved from high school to Hollywood to live the life and pursue careers in entertainment. Elisabeth Hasselbeck, eliminated from "Survivor: The Australian Outback," went on to co-host "The View." "American Idol" loser Jennifer Hudson won a career and Oscar gold in the business through the exposure.

While there's always a loose cannon or two, most reality cast members appear one season only and comply with the networks' often strict regulations.

But when it comes to successful Type-A suburbanites with their own ideas about running things, it's a different story. "Nobody at Coto de Caza needs anything from Bravo TV," Smiley said. "The other shows are competitive in their nature. People trying to make something of their lives. We're already there."

Not your average millionaires

CREATED and produced by a resident of Coto de Caza, Scott Dunlop, "Housewives," similar to "Laguna Beach," has followed the melodramas of the enclave's families, capturing some jaw-dropping moments of materialistic excess (a house for every child in one family), alcohol-fueled parties with inane conversation ("Do you speak Canadian?") and increasing strangeness -- rabbit shooting, daughters turned into sexy spokesmodels for an energy drink, a catfight, pit bulls and naked jealousy over men, cars and bling. And that's just what shows up on-screen.

"Housewives" draws about a million viewers per episode, respectable enough for pay cable but a tiny fraction of what "American Idol" draws. Still, the "housewives," their children and husbands, ex-husbands and their ex-wives are recognized in the grocery stores, restaurants and hospital emergency rooms, not to mention a number of foreign countries that also air the show.

Like Smiley, real estate agent-"housewife" Jeana Keough said she hoped the exposure would help her business, though she also wanted to promote an acting career for her daughter, Kara, who had appeared in some movies as a child. And like Smiley, she's taken advantage of opportunities as they appear. She said she and three other "housewives" set up an online shopping center, www.TheRealOCBrand.com, to fulfill requests for the clothes and jewelry they wear and the products they use. "We asked Bravo to partner, and they weren't interested," she said.

"They threatened to sue if we didn't remove all pictures of two or more of us together from the website. They didn't want us to mention Bravo in any of our ads or to link with us."

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