Bravo executives have decided that the show must go on after the suicide of a reality show cast member. The cable network announced Wednesday the season two premiere of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills hasn't been postponed and will air on schedule Monday.
Taylor Armstrong's estranged husband, Russell Armstrong, 47, was found hanging by electrical wire in a friend's Los Angeles home on Aug. 15, shortly after he completed filming the second season of the reality show, and a month after Taylor Armstrong filed for divorce.
Bravo had previously announced plans to re-edit the second season of the The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills amid claims by surviving family and friends that the reality show is partially to blame for his suicide.
The network appears to be having its cake and eating it too: While we can expect (or hope) that actual footage of Russell Armstrong will be edited out of the season two premiere, the tragedy will undoubtedly boost viewership of the show -- a likelihood that's being exploited by Bravo with a special introduction featuring the Housewives (sans Taylor) reacting to Russell Armstrong's suicide in an interview. Of course, the requisite antisuicide public service announcements will be sprinkled throughout the premiere, lending Bravo a veneer of responsibility.
While there's room for an argument that audiences should take responsibility and refuse to watch the show, reality TV viewers may have lost their ability to distinguish between a fictional character and a person who appears on a reality show.
Reality TV is ... an actual toxin that erodes the capacity of human beings to empathize with other human beings, Keith Ablow, of the Fox News Medical A-Team, wrote in an analysis published Wednesday. It does this by fictionalizing real people so that no one cares about them any more than they would scripted characters.
Russell Armstrong's tragic death was very real for those he left behind.
Russell's mother, John Ann Hotchkiss, was dismayed that Bravo decided to go ahead with the show and the suicide special. When I was informed of this, I thought, 'I hope Bravo will take the high road and keep it tasteful,' Hotchkiss said in a statement to HLN's Jane Velez-Mitchell. Let's not murder my son twice.
Earlier in August, Hotchkiss spoke to HLN about the effect the reality show had on her son's well-being.
I began to notice things starting to fray when the television [inaudible] came into being...The program itself just really brought him down, said Hotchkiss in the HLN interview, referring to the on-camera criticism of her son by Taylor's fellow cast members. By the end, he was just so distraught by it.
Hotchkiss said Russell told her, 'Mom, they're just going to crucify me this season... I don't know what to do. I'll never survive it.'
Others close to Russell Armstrong agreed that his involvement in The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills had taken a serious toll on his marriage and his mental health. The struggling businessman was overwhelmed by pressure to keep up with the lavish lifestyle of other Real Housewives who're wealthy. The strain may have contributed to the demise of his marriage.
Russell's lawyer Ronald Richards told TMZ his client had tremendous financial problems and was extremely bummed out about the divorce with Taylor when he took his life. Richards said his client's credit cards weren't working.
William Ratner, a friend of Russell's, told The Los Angeles Times that Armstrong was anxious about playing out the breakup of his marriage on TV.
He [Armstrong] said the producers at Bravo told Russell and Taylor that they picked them as the 'disaster couple,' and if they weren't going to have drama in the second season, they would cut them and replace them with someone else, said Ratner. 'The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills,' I think, was [Russell's] downfall.