The History of Bravo’s Real Housewives Franchise

Putting basic stay-at-home moms to shame for almost a decade.

By Danielle Henderson

It feels like they’ve been around for centuries, but the Real Housewives franchises have been entertaining us for less than a decade, since 2006. How is that possible when they make up 80 percent of my brain and my whole heart? From leg-throwing fights to heartbreaking departures, these G.L.O.Bs (Gorgeous Ladies of Bravo) have redefined reality TV and given us some of the most memorable quotes ever uttered on screen. As we clasp our hands and pray that it will go on forever, here is a brief history of the greatest reality TV show to grace our eyeballs.

  • The Real Housewives of Orange County

    Bravo

    Premiere date: March 21, 2006

    Current cast members: Vicki Gunvalson, Tamra Judge, Heather Dubrow, Shannon Beador, Meghan King Edmonds

    Former cast members: Jeana Keough, Quinn Fry, Lynn Curtain, Kimberly Bryant, Gretchen Rossi, Lauri Peterson, Jo de la Rosa, Peggy Tanous, Alexis Bellino, Lydia McClaughlin, Tammy Knickerbocker

    Spinoffs: Tamra’s OC Wedding, Date My Ex (the weird, fame-hungry dating show featuring Slade Smiley and Jo de la Rosa. Who wants their ex picking their next fling?)

    Best tagline: “Am I high maintenance? Of course I am, look at me.” —Alexis Bellino

    Best fight: It’s tough to choose, but Vicki screaming at Gretchen at the ’80s-themed Bunco party takes the cake. The crimped hair really took it over the top.

    What seemed to start as a sociological experiment about women who live in the gated community of Coto de Caza ended up giving us gems like “Jesus Jugs” and “Do I need vaginal rejuvenation?” The OG Real Housewives has changed a lot, but high drama has been the mainstay over the past 10 seasons. We’ve watched the cast get divorced, get remarried, start new businesses, and become grandmas, all while tottering around on sky-high heels and “whooping it up!”

  • The Real Housewives of New York City

    Bravo

    Premiere date: March 4, 2008

    Current cast members: Ramona Singer, Luann de Lesseps, Bethenny Frankel, Sonja Morgan, Carole Radziwill, Heather Thomson, Kristen Taekman, Dorinda Medley

    Former cast members: Alex McCord, Jill Zarin, Kelly Bensimon, Cindy Barshop, Aviva Drescher

    Spinoffs: Bethenny Ever After, chronicling Bethenny Frankel’s first pregnancy and marriage to Jason Hoppy. They filmed three seasons, and then got divorced.

    Best tagline: “I’m living the American dream, one mistake at a time.” —Kelly Bensimon

    Best fight: Was it a fight, or a moment of clarity? Whatever you call it, Bethenny screaming at Kelly Killoren Bensimon to “Go to sleep! You’re crazy!” while she cringed and chomped on jellybeans during their trip to the Virgin Islands was burned into my brain forever. Sonja saying, “Don’t yell at her, she has problems” in the background was just the most delicious icing on the world’s craziest cake.

    With a countess and a princess fighting about whether or not it’s OK to have casual sex on vacation, this is easily the best of the franchise. They mix elegance with drama into a beautiful froth of madness, tears, and laughter. Sonja Morgan’s legal scandals, Jill Zarin’s backstabbing, and Ramona Singer’s wild-eyed catwalk moves are just fuel for the New York-centric fire.

  • The Real Housewives of Atlanta

    Bravo

    Premiere date: October 8, 2008

    Current cast members: Kandi Burruss, Cynthia Bailey, Phaedra Parks, Kenya Moore

    Former cast members: NeNe Leakes, DeShawn Snow, Lisa Wu, Sheree Whitfield, Kim Zolciak-Biermann, Claudia Jordan, Porsha Williams

    Spinoffs: Don’t Be Tardy, The Kandi Factory, I Dream of NeNe: The Wedding, Kandi’s Wedding, Kandi’s Ski Trip

    Best tagline: “I don’t keep up with the Joneses, I am the Joneses.” —NeNe Leakes

    Best fight: Sheree thought she and NeNe were about to have a “grown woman conversation” about some money matters, but it quickly devolved to NeNe epically screaming “I am very rich, bitch!” and storming away. There have been tons of fights on this show, but this is the one that you remember thanks to antics like both of them simultaneously calling people to verify their stories; it was hilarious chaos, absolute mayhem.

    Wait, maybe this is the best series in the franchise! It has the best quotes (“Who gon’ check me, boo?”), the biggest fights, and the most spinoffs. Larger than life personalities made the clashes more extreme, but absurd moments like Kim driving around with a cocktail and dating a loaded mystery man named “Big Papa” heightened the insanity. Love it or hate it, this is the show that gave superstar NeNe Leakes to the world. Attorney Phaedra Parks married an ex-con (currently back in jail), had a child, and then had the most over-the-top christening in the history of the world. NeNe divorced Gregg, only to remarry him in a spinoff. Porsha Williams, granddaughter of civil rights pioneer Hosea Williams, had the nerve to ask WITH A STRAIGHT FACE who drove the Underground Railroad. There is literally never a dull moment with this crew.

  • The Real Housewives of New Jersey

    Bravo

    Premiere date: May 12, 2009

    Current cast members: Teresa Giudice, Dina Manzo, Melissa Gorga, Teresa Aprea, Amber Marchese, Nicole Napolitano

    Former cast members: Danielle Staub, Caroline Manzo, Jacqueline Laurita, Kathy Wakile

    Spinoffs: Manzo’d With Children, since Caroline is the real superstar of this show.

    Best tagline: “I’m back to bring the zen. Namaste, bitches.” —Dina Manzo

    Best fight: It would be easy to point to any of the million times Teresa Guidice flipped out, but the brawl between her brother and husband last season took the cake. They leapfrogged over screaming into real, physical violence, crashing together so intensely Joe Gorga’s spray-on hair dye rubbed off on everything it touched.

    This show takes family drama to the extreme. Everyone is basically related, and they vacillate wildly between love and “you’re dead to me” style hatred. Danielle Staub was immediately ostracized and steadily assaulted for being a “prostitution whore” (see video above) and a weirdo who was somehow involved in the mob? It’s complicated, but she’s featured in a book, so you can read all about it. Family struggles are real, though: Caroline and her sister Dina had a major falling out that made Dina leave the show and kept them from speaking for years, and Jacqueline Laurita tenderly shared her journey when her son was diagnosed with autism. Teresa Guidice famously said she couldn’t stand the thought of living in a “used” house, and we watched her spend wildly for years before she and her husband Joe were incarcerated for fraud…or was it shchadenfreude?

  • The Real Housewives of D.C.

    Bravo

    Premiere date: August 5, 2010

    Former cast members: Mary Schmidt Amons, Lynda Erkiletian, Cat Ommanney, Michaele Salahi, Stacie Scott Turner

    This show only lasted one season, and thank goodness. It was full of intense business women, a bitchy British designer, and the most deceptive couple to ever grace the screen. Michaele and Tariq Salahi made national headlines when they crashed a White House state dinner, and that’s just the tip of their lie-filled iceberg. Good riddance.

  • The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills

    Bravo

    Premiere date: October 12, 2010

    Current cast members: Kyle Richards, Lisa Vanderpump, Yolanda Foster, Lisa Rinna, Eileen Davidson

    Former cast members: Adrienne Maloof, Taylor Armstrong, Camille Grammar, Carlton Gebbia, Joyce Giraud de Ohoven, Kim Richards

    Spinoffs: Vanderpump Rules

    Best tagline: “I’m not a bitch, but I’ve played one on TV.” —Eileen Davidson

    Best fight: Nothing on this green earth topped the dinner party from hell at Camille’s house. Her friend, psychic Allison DuBois, sashayed in with her e-cigarette and apple martini, then eerily laughed and poked at Kyle until she ultimately told her she knows how Kyle and her whole family will die. As you can imagine, it was all downhill from there.

    Is this a documentary about how money will ruin your life? An actual suicide happened on this show! Kelsey Grammer pushed his wife Camille on the show and then had a very public affair right before they got divorced; Paris Hilton’s aunts, Kim and Kyle Richards, seem to have been having the same fight for 30 years about Kim’s (lack of) sobriety and the fact that Kyle and her real estate mogul husband bought their mom’s house; Yolanda got Lyme’s disease, and we had to watch her husband aggressively play piano at every guest who crossed the threshold of their house; Carlton had that weird mermaid party; and Lisa made out with her dog every chance she got. For such a bleak show, it’s pretty hilarious.

  • The Real Housewives of Miami

    Bravo

    Premiere date: February 22, 2011

    Current cast members: Lea Black, Adriana de Moura, Alexia Echevarria, Marysol Patton, Lisa Hochstein, Joanna Krupa, Ana Quincoces, Karent Sierra

    Former cast members: Larsa Pippen, Cristy Rice

    Best tagline: “I speak five languages, but I can get a man with no words.” —Adriana de Moura

    Best fight: After insinuating that Joanna slept her way to the, uh, middle, Adriana de Moura punched Joanna in the face! In a moment of instant karma and horrible boxing techniques, Adriana’s top immediately fell down.

    Marysol has a psychic (drunk) mom, Elsa, and that’s the best thing about this show as far as I’m concerned. There have only been three seasons, but they covered a lot of ground and slipped right into the Real Housewives mold in no time! Galas, clubbing, ignoring the dangerous behavior of their underaged children, drunken brunch fights, weddings, mothers and daughters bonding, a possibly fake marriage certificate, and a surprise ambush lunch where everyone has to go to an organic farm and pick their own food. It hasn’t been formally cancelled, but Bravo has no plans to bring it back at the moment.