Perhaps it was when Jennifer Lawrence reenacted a scene from The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City season four closer on the red carpet at the Golden Globes, calling the episode “the best finale I have ever seen on reality TV.” Maybe it was when California Congressman Robert Garcia quoted Housewife Heather Gay’s diva-caliber finale soliloquy, “Receipts! Proof! Timelines! Screenshots!” to make a case against Donald Trump on the floor of the House. Or maybe it was when dance videos began emerging on TikTok using Gay’s percussive delivery as both backbeat and creative inspiration.
Whenever it happened, the executive producers behind The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City are now fully aware that their show is having a moment. Ahead of RHOSLC’s third and final reunion episode, which airs on Bravo on Jan. 23, NBCUniversal Television and Streaming senior vp production Noah Samton, Shed Media senior vp programming and development Lisa Shannon, and showrunner Lori Gordon spoke with THR about the franchise’s dramatic fourth season.
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The trio say they were just as blindsided as the audience when a private investigator Gay hired revealed that rookie Housewife Monica Garcia was one of the people behind an Instagram account that had been trolling the show’s cast for years. They also dish on the backstory of Gay’s mysterious season three black eye, Garcia’s future with the franchise and the one thing for which the audience will not forgive a Real Housewives star. (Hint: It’s not going to prison.)
Did you know as the finale was unfolding what a phenomenon it was going to be?
NOAH SAMTON I certainly didn’t know. Lori called the network after that Bermuda weekend and was just gushing about this amazing situation that had unfolded and how incredible it was and shocking. I was just totally confused by exactly what had happened and trying to understand. I didn’t get it.
LORI GORDON The way Heather found out that day, it was such a rush and it was so sudden, and she was processing a lot. When she told me what she had found out, we knew that she had to tell the women— Lisa [Barlow], Whitney [Rose] and Meredith [Marks] specifically — and we knew it was big. The girls had no idea [about Monica]. I had no idea. Shed and Bravo, nobody had any idea. Heather had gotten that call that last day. She was really flustered and upset. And as she started to process that out loud with me privately, it became, well, then that’s how we’re going to tell this story and the viewers should really go along for the same ride as she did. Did we know that it was going to be huge? I think we knew that it was shocking to [the cast]. So because they were so shocked by it, it was almost inevitable that the viewers would be too, because it was just a ride. That last 24 hours was just crazy.
Just to be clear, the production really didn’t know Monica’s connection to the Instagram account RealityVonTease until Heather uncovered that. Is that accurate?
LISA SHANNON We didn’t even know what RealityVonTease was. Lori called me and gave me a heads-up and I was like, “What even is that?” It wasn’t this big blog to us, and we would have bread crumbed it more throughout the season if it was something that we knew and we were leading up to. Our big concern was like, “Sure, it means a lot to the ladies, but we don’t know what this blog is, so is this going to be this big ‘a-ha moment’ for a viewer?” Lori and the team did an amazing job making the viewer feel as shocked by it as the women were and as impacted by it as the women were.
What was your reaction to finding out one of your castmembers had hidden this from you?
GORDON It’s two parts. One part is like, “How did we miss this? How did we not know,” obviously. And the second part of that was, “Well, we’ve got to let Heather embrace this and tell this story.” There were a lot of thoughts going through my head personally as a showrunner, like, “What do we do with this? Are people going to think we knew? Are people going to think we lied?” The most important thing to us was to tell the story as authentically as it came out so that people would realize that we had no idea. But it was upsetting because [Gay] was so upset, and as she started to walk me through all the evidence that she had gotten in those hours, it was really quite shocking, and more and more flooded in as the editing process went on.
How much in casting are you dependent upon potential Housewives being reliable narrators of their own lives, and how much are you background checking?
SAMTON We do extensive background checking on cast, but a fake profile troll account wouldn’t come up. There’s no record of that account through her name. So yeah, there are things that can slip through and do, and it’s certainly not something we love when we have a surprise like that. It turned out well, I guess, creatively for the end of the season. But it was pretty shocking for all of us, and certainly we would not have brought Monica on the show in the first place if we knew that that was going on.
In so many ways Monica was a great castmember, in the sense of story and drama. Will she come back? Do you want to continue working with her after she deceived you?
SAMTON I would say that Lisa and Lori and I have had about 7,000 conversations about that subject. We probably have another few hundred ahead of us still. She is a great castmember. She’s open and vulnerable and she represents a different kind of person in Salt Lake than we have on the show. She comes from a different background and there’s a lot about her that the audience can relate to in a way that’s different from the other women. But at the same time, there’s the deception, there’s the relationship with the other castmembers. It’s a really complicated puzzle. From a rating standpoint, you would want to find a way for her to come back. But it’s really challenging in this situation. We’re just trying to figure it out.
SHANNON It’s a situation we’ve never been in before. I mean, it was one thing with Lisa and Meredith and the “piece of shit garbage whore,” all of that [a hot mic moment from season two in which castmember Lisa Barlow shreds fellow Housewife and longtime offscreen friend Meredith Marks]. But this is a different beast than I think any of us have dealt with. So we’re kind of moving our way through it.
Will you change anything about your casting process post Monica?
SAMTON It’s a good question that we have not discussed. I don’t really see how you protect for something like that. I mean, it’s not my area of expertise, but it’s certainly something we should look into.
On this show you’ve had a castmember go to prison, but none of Jen Shah’s fraud victims were her castmates. So, how do the women feel about it? What have the other housewives said about whether Monica ought to be allowed to stay?
GORDON Their starting point is different because of what they went through with Jen Shah. They felt like this is kind of reminiscent of that. They’re just burned.
SAMTON You’re going to see a lot of what they felt in that third part of the reunion where we really get into this and then they have their chance there to say exactly what they feel.
How did the Monica reveal not leak in between shooting in Bermuda last May and the airing of the finale Jan. 2?
SHANNON I give credit to the cast, because this is, in my memory at least, a reality first, where this was such a big bombshell that did not leak in any way.
GORDON When we did the beach scene, we knew that we wanted to be private. I only had two cameras and one audio and me and the women, and they came down and Heather told them, and we locked up the house. Monica was getting makeup done for dinner, Angie was getting makeup done for dinner. We just kind of made it super private. Really, nobody knew what was happening. When we were editing the show, everyone was just really good about not letting it out.
What happened behind the scenes after that dinner?
GORDON We kept the women separate. I just sat with Monica for an hour, in silence. Not even kidding, didn’t even talk. She just cried. I think it was a real wake-up call for her. She kept saying, “I’m so embarrassed.” She flew out with me on a separate flight and some other of the crew the next morning.
One of this show’s unsolved mysteries has been Heather’s black eye from season three, which she revealed during the finale happened at the hands of Jen Shah. Can you tell me what the production knew about that black eye at the time?
GORDON We didn’t know. It was always Heather’s story to tell, and we didn’t know what had happened. We didn’t have any [camera] coverage of it, and so we were operating from a place of needing to trust her word on it and the two of them. But when she came clean in the finale, she finally connected the dots, which you’ll hear more about in the final reunion. If she was going to come clean and tell the women about Monica, she knew that she had to come clean about that. She’s a different person than she was a year and a half ago, two years ago. Everything that happened with Monica was just like: “I can’t do this again. I can’t have a relationship that has toxicity surrounding it.” That’s why she chose at that final dinner to tell the women and all of production. Nobody knew that Jen had done that, and this reminded her of that. It was a punch in a different way — or, not a punch, but she ended up with a black eye in a different way.
SHANNON The key word for them is deception. Everyone keeps saying, “Was it really that bad what Monica did?” and comparing it to Jen. But I think for them it was just the deception of it all. It would’ve been very different if she would have started the season and said, “Listen, I have this account and here’s what I was a part of, in full transparency.” For them, they were so burned by so much of the deception that had happened in prior seasons that it just triggered things all over again.
In part three of the reunion, there’s a pretty revealing, raw, surprising moment with Heather really talking and breaking it all down with Andy [Cohen] that is incredibly vulnerable. Heather at the reunion from season three was a completely broken person and seeing where she is now, just everything that she’s accomplished in her life and just how she was carrying herself and everything, it just feels like it was a very healing year for her.
Where did the idea come from to set a Real Housewives in Salt Lake City?
SAMTON It originally came to Bravo through [original castmember] Mary Cosby. Somebody had discovered her as a great character. She was pitched, and we started to find other characters along with her. Once the development team started to dig in and meet people there, they realized that it was just such a hotbed of interesting, unique personalities. It wasn’t planned as a Housewives. We kind of just fell into it. I went out to Salt Lake with our development team and our other executive at the time, Sheonna Mix, and we met all the women. I’d already been blown away by the casting tape that I saw, and every woman that I met was even better in person. We met everybody for drinks at a bar, and then Sheonna and I left, and the Housewives all stayed there. And then we heard all these stories the next day where a huge argument broke out and somebody got thrown out of the bar. They were Housewives already before we even started filming them.
What are the ingredients of a great Housewife?
SHANNON A sense of humor, whether intentional or not. A vulnerability and an ability to evolve and change and grow, and an openness and a willingness to really bare it all. Letting the audience into your life is a very intimidating thing. But the best Housewives are just, they’re open books.
As the franchise has become more of a phenomenon, how does it affect casting? People are walking in knowing exactly what it is, which could potentially make for people trying to create what they think you want.
GORDON The women, as much as they may plot and plan in their head of how they want to be and who they want to be, it never turns out like that. Because it’s human nature that eventually your true side comes out. They may try to be perfect, but eventually they can’t help but just become exactly who they are and that’s why they’re on television. They’re naturally extroverted. They naturally share their opinions, have things to say, are comfortable talking about their sex life with their husband. They don’t mind yelling at their kid on TV or laughing with their friend. They just run the gamut, and that’s how they get through the casting process. They may try to fit a certain role or be a certain person, but it never turns out like that.
SHANNON With Monica, she was very, very front and center about her relationship with her mom and the difficulties and challenges of that and what she had been through with her ex and the affair she had had. As the season is progressing, you’re constantly reminding them, “We cast you for who you are. We don’t need you to play some role.”
SAMTON One of the things we tell Housewives when we first meet them is, you have to be yourself. If you are trying to pretend to be something that you’re not, it’s going to come out. The audience is not going to like you. The audience actually likes all different kinds of housewives. You can do terrible things, you can say terrible things, but if you own it and you are yourself, the audience will forgive you. If you’re pretending to be somebody else, that’s what the audience doesn’t forgive.
The three-part Real Housewives of Salt Lake City reunion concludes Jan. 23 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Bravo, with the uncensored, extended episode available to stream the next day on Peacock.
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