The Bravo network is facing mounting scrutiny amid claims by Russell Armstrong's surviving family and friends that The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills is partially to blame for his suicide Monday.
Armstrong, 47, was found hanging by electrical wire in a friend's Mulholland Drive home, where the businessman had reportedly been staying since separating from his wife, Taylor Armstrong. He did not leave a suicide note.
Russell Armstrong's mother, John Ann Hotchkiss, blamed her son's involvement in reality TV for his untimately death. But she was careful not to point a finger directly at her estranged daughter-in-law.
Hothckiss told Headline News on CNN that her son and Taylor's marriage had been happy prior to joining the Bravo series.
I don't wish to bash my daugher-in-law...I truly believe when they were married and for years thereafter their union was happy. It seemed blissful, Hotchkiss told HLN.
I began to notice things starting to fray when the television [inaudible] came into being...The program itself just really brought him down, Hotchkiss continued, 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.
Hothkiss 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.'
The second season of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills was scheduled to premiere on Sept. 5. Bravo network executives have not yet made a decision about whether the show will go on, and have largely demurred media requests for more information.
Andy Cohen, a senior Bravo executive and host of the The Real Housewives reunion shows and Watch What Happens Live, addressed Russell Armstrong's death in a Twitter post on Tuesday, and again in a blog post Thursday:
We're all still trying to process yesterday's very sad news, and looking at how to proceed with the series, which has finished primary production and was set to premiere on Labor Day, Cohen wrote on Bravotv.com. We'll let you know what we decide when we do. In the meantime, we're sending our thoughts and prayers to Taylor and the rest of Russell's family.
According to the schedule posted on Bravotv.com, Watch What Happens Live is not scheduled to air on Thursday evening. (Its regular schedule is Thursday and Sundays at 11 p.m. EST, but it does not air every week of the year.)
Teasers for the second season of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills -- released before Russell's suicide -- indicate that Russell and Taylor Armstrong's marital difficulties will be a storyline. 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.
I...talked with him, and he said, 'I don't know why [Taylor is] doing this. Why can't she do this off the show?' Ratner said. He said there were still two weeks left of shooting and he didn't want to be in it.
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, Ratner said. 'The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills,' I think, was [Russell's] downfall.
An indentified source from the network told Entertainment Weekly that Bravo is considering postponing the second season of the show, adding, No decisions have been made and there is no time frame on when they might.
Russell Armstrong's nephew told ABC that he feels The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills should go on as planned -- with an important condition.
I think, in my opinion, Russell should be edited out, in respect to Taylor and the family, Austin Kelsoe said on Good Morning America Thursday morning. In my personal opinion, Bravo should take the high road and do what they think is the right thing to do.
Russell's stepmother, Gladys Armstrong, also spoke to GMA. I know the show ruined his life, she said.
I think that Taylor was a little bit responsible, Gladys Armstrong continued. He [Russell] was just pushed to the limit and trying to keep up with the Jones's.
Taylor Armstrong reportedly still has not told her five year-old daughter, Kennedy, that her father is dead.
She's not emotionally ready to do so just yet, a friend told TMZ earlier this week, and Russell's business partner Francisco Martin confirmed to GMA Thursday that Kennedy is still in the dark.
She doesn't know yet, and we want to keep it that way for a while, Martin said.