Reality television has been saturating our screens for a while and looks here to stay. There are productions to cater for the likes of everyone. With enough willing participants who like to cavort in front of a camera, this format is popular and cheap to make. There are shows involving cooking, dancing, real estate, renovations, rehabilitation, airports, the best tattooist, the best model, the apprentice, the best designer, marrying a millionaire, having a makeover, and plastic surgery. Even something that doesn’t fit under the laws of Australia due to having to lodge thirty days’ notice – marrying without meeting someone – was a recent inclusion to this genre.
The producers of such shows point out they are an incredible platform to establish and promote a charity or product.
It would give the late comedian Bill Hicks enough provisions for a two- hour stand up about the demise of the modern world.
The franchise began with The Real Housewives of Orange County in 2006. There are now Real Housewives in New Jersey, Atlanta, New York, Beverly Hills, Washington D.C, Miami and Vancouver. England is now part of the franchise with Cheshire the latest to be included. There is also Israel and Athens. The show is said to have been inspired by the soap ‘Desperate Housewives.’
The Real Housewives of Melbourne has two series in the can and a third currently being shown. The housewives range from the youngest in their thirties to the oldest housewife in her 50’s. The housewives are: Jackie, whose catch phrase in the show’s opening, ‘Make light of me all you want, but I’m still going to shine.’ The youngest of the group, she hails from Newcastle, is a psychic and is married to the drummer from the band ‘Silverchair.’ Her husband, Ben Gillies, makes a little more than cameo appearances these days. Jackie is marketed as the down to earth one who is honest – she calls a spade a spade.
Lydia returned for a second season. She tells us she loves tradition but is no traditional housewife. She completed her interior decorating course in the first season. It was in this season whilst in an art gallery she asks the attendant how much her favourite two pieces cost. One priced at $55,000, while the other $75,000. Wow, that’s actually quite reasonable,” she responds and comments how much she loves the louvre in London. This is the sort of television gold that makes it worth watching, being reminded that having money doesn’t equate to having culture. Lydia is marketed as the cosmopolitan housewife. In Season 1, we saw her fly in her plane with her husband as pilot to pick up some cheese from King Island in Tasmania. When the sales girl questioned the order, Lydia curtly remarked, ‘don’t question my husband.’
Chyka says ‘Style is an attitude, not something you can buy.’ She is co- owner with her husband Bruce, of a successful catering and event company. Bruce has been seen on the screen occasionally, as have her daughter and son. She projects a family person who is nice to everyone, the voice of reason. She has managed to remain inconspicuous in both seasons, though was challenged by Gina for her fence sitting.
Janet is the oldest, and says ‘Some people have ups and downs, I have roller coaster rides.’ A successful property developer, she is often referred to as the blonde bombshell or cougar. We were introduced to her in the first season when she was in the middle of having Botox, with Jackie looking on. Janet has a charity with her burns victim son, Jake who makes a cameo appearance.
Gina, is thus far the most controversial figure, she is the glamorous Barrister, who has been in both seasons. Gina deals in facts, wears an inordinate amount of makeup, is always in high heels, and dresses in dazzling outfits. In season 1, she was reprimanded for her diva behaviour of arriving late, wearing high heels on the tennis court and for leaving foundation all over the lovely white bathroom of Housewife Andrea, who angrily declared in the line of the season ‘she knows I don’t have a cleaner at the holiday house.’
The format is both appealing and repellent. It’s a guilty pleasure, or a buffer away from reality into a world of narcissism, where life is about charity events, shopping, and designing houses. Similar to a soapie, there is a lot of drama, and rightly so when big personalities are flung together in an unreal situation and expected to spice it up for the camera. There are of course alliances, fights, backstabbing and bitchiness. The only criteria it seems is to be ostentatious, or as a recent leak in the ‘confidentiality section’ of a national newspaper stated, as prerequisites, ‘interesting, glamorous, eccentric, opinionated and stylish.’ The themes that run across each season provide the catalyst for drama.
In Season 1, Gina indirectly called two of the women a ‘cunt.’ This was milked throughout every episode. However, what ensued afterwards made housewives, Andrea and her sidekick Lydia, look like older versions of the mean girls from the film ‘Clueless’ and the ‘C’ word by comparison seem paltry and apt. Team Gina came up trumps in the end with her popularity soaring and Andrea exiting the series due to, ahem….trying to run a business.
Two new housewives entered the coterie. Gamble, who tells us to gamble on her and you’re sure to win. Picture Reese Witherspoon and her Pomeranian from the film ‘Legally Blonde’ and it might as well be Gamble. She is originally from Sydney, having worked as an art consultant for the Billich Gallery. Well known artist Charles Billich and his wife make an appearance when the housewives head north to Sydney in an embarrassing sequence of events in Season 2.
The other new addition is Property Developer, Petti-fleur, whose name means little flower. She assures us she is no shrinking violet. Petti-fleur projects a woman full of confidence who says the word ‘bitch’ a lot. She doesn’t come across as very humble, but editing, like Botox, can do wonders. In the second season not much of Lydia was seen, because she went to Florence to see her son get married. When she did appear on screen, it was to show off her skills as an interior designer and invited all but two of the housewives to her Malvern house for dinner. She mocked the way Gamble pronounces certain words only to be put back in her box when she found out that Gamble spoke the way she does due to a hearing impairment. We got to see Lydia’s smiling face when a few of the housewives came along with her to a charity game of poker with friend, Shane Warne – she is ambassador for his charity. Her advisors were media savvy as she refrained from the bitchiness in this season, and was far more cautious before speaking.
We saw a more aggressive Gina in Season 2, with newcomer Gamble fawning over her and the two always together. A rumour that Gamble was a stripper was the thread that created the most drama in this season. Gamble protested a little too much and we heard about it way more than was needed, with her sister from Sydney getting in on the action. Janet received the vitriol for relaying the rumour to Gamble who insisted on knowing.
Apart from a trip to Sydney the other highlight of Season 2 was the episode where the housewives were invited to the Philippines, by Janet, who was sourcing tea for her charity. The claws came out between newbies Pettifleur and Gamble, with Pettifleur asking embarrassing questions about what sort of allowance Gamble gets from her rich fiancé. At dinner Gamble and Gina questioned Pettifleur over the legalities of the name of her impending book ‘Switch the Bitch.’ Apparently Amorosa, a contestant on Donald Trump’s Reality show ‘The Apprentice’, wrote a book called ‘The Bitch Switch.’ Gina said of Pettifleur ‘you know you meet little people that try and compensate – she’s not that interesting.’
Pettifleurs 50th Birthday celebration was a cringe worthy episode. The amazing panoramic views of her Melbourne Penthouse didn’t deflect from the eruption that took place between some of the housewives. Gina called Jackie a ‘bogan’, an embarrassingly earnest performance of the tango with Pettifleur and a professional dancer with her son, playing piano, whilst the housewives looked awkward. Gamble and Gina sporting faces like a wet weekend, and Gamble calling Janet’s friend some choice names, with a few of the housewives leaving early. Gamble and Gina attempted to belittle Pettifleur and steal the limelight at her book launch when they asked who the publisher is of her book, knowing it was being self-published. Pettifleur responded that she hopes there will be a movie made with ‘ this no shrinking violet as the lead.’ This must have been exactly what the producers were hoping for. The bad blood between Pettifleur and Gamble reaching a climax. The question of ‘have you checked out the copyright laws?’ was asked of her by Gamble and Gina on the night of her launch.
In season 2 Gamble was faced with the having to decide which diamond ring from her fiancée she needed. In the end the decision was too hard so she was afforded the opportunity to take both rings worth a respective 100k home to decide. Her longsuffering fiancée Rick suggested they weren’t young anymore and was it really necessary to spend a lot on a ring. He was told in so many words, he will need to spend more on her than was spent on his previous bride.
When Gina hinted that perhaps Gamble’s make-up artist started the stripper rumours, it was again television gold ‘I’m absolutely horrified, says Gamble, I’ve got the top make-up artist in the country – she does Julia Gillard.
Branding is a marketing tool that has its foot nicely entrenched in this franchise and already in The Real Housewives of Melbourne, we’ve seen ‘it girl’ for the moment ‘Gina launching her own shoe range using the names of the other housewives, who at first were offended that a shoe could be named after them, but soon realised this might work in their favour. Gina has also had a book launch regarding her cancer journey and survival. Jackie has had an alcohol launch, and some of the series was spent looking for the right model to sell the product. Chyka has had ample opportunity to flog her product – her big event company. Pettifleur used her company to decorate her house for her 50th celebration. We also saw Chyka and her husband involved with a new venue with Collingwood President Eddy Maguire.
There are also paid guest appearances, chances to judge other competitions or to appear in celebrity type shows such as ‘dancing with the stars.’ There are radio interviews, television appearances magazine spreads, an appearance on American morning shows.