Three castmembers and a producer of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills appeared on NBC's Today to discuss Monday night's season two premiere and special devoted to Russell Armstrong's suicide. Bravo announced last week that the network had decided to air the reality show on schedule after re-editing portions of the season's episodes.
Taylor Armstrong's estranged husband hung himself in a friend's Hollywood area home on Aug. 15, shortly after completing filming the second season and a month after Taylor filed for divorce. The Armstrong's failing marriage was expected to be one of the primary storylines of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills until the tragedy forced executives to recalculate the show's direction.
Adrienne Maloof, Kyle Richards, Lisa Vanderpump and executive producer Douglas Ross sat down with NBC's Savannah Guthrie Monday morning. (Bravo is a property of NBC Universal.)
Until now, most belived that Russell Armstrong would be completely edited out of any episodes that would air, but Ross indicated that might not be a guarantee.
In the first few episodes that we've completed editing, Russell is not included in those episodes, Ross said, before adding: But it is important to note that Taylor's story is told throughout the season. Taylor's marriage was a major component of her story in the first season.
When Guthrie asked if the producers ever considered just not having the show continue because of this tragedy, Ross provided a canned response.
When we heard about the tragedy, of course our hearts went out to Taylor and all of our thoughts to support her, he said. Be we along with the network took a hard look at the show and looked at it very thoroughly. And we decided to make some adjustments where appropriate in light of the circumstances. Our goal has always been to make an honest and accurate story about the ladies and what goes on in their life, and we wanted to be how we always are - respectful and responsible.
Maloof said that calling off the show altogether would be sweeping suicide under the rug, and that's what we didn't want to do. We wanted to bring it to forefront. (More after the jump)
All three of the 'Housewives' interviewed insisted that no castmembers feel pressured to create drama in order to satisfy producers' expectations.
We lead and they follow, said Lisa Vanderpump. We create and they document.
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 last week. 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 reportedly overwhelmed by pressure to keep up with the lavish lifestyle of other Real Housewives who are genuinely wealthy (like Maloof).
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.
Richards maintained that the show was not responsible for intentionally compounding Armstrong's troubles.
He...signed up for this season one, and came back for season two, she said in the Today interview. When we started this show they cast six strong women and they didn't really know anything about our stories. ... We certainly didn't know the troubles that he had.
The season premiere of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills will be preceded by a special segment featuring cast interviews devoted to discussing the suicide, beginning at 9 p.m. EST Monday.