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The Juiciest Reveals from Bravo Producers at BravoCon 2019

You'll love your favorite Bravo shows even more after hearing these behind-the-scenes secrets.

By Laura Rosenfeld

What you see on TV is only part of the story.

Darren Ward (The Real Housewives of New York City), Barrie Bernstein (RHONY), Lorraine Haughton Lawson (The Real Housewives of Atlanta, The Real Housewives of Potomac), Bill Fritz (The Real Housewives of Orange County, The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills), Kemar Bassaragh (RHOP), Aaron Rothman (Southern Charm), Bill Langworthy (Vanderpump Rules), and Nadine Rajabi (Below Deck, Below Deck Mediterranean) took us behind all the drama of their respective series during The Real Tea with Bravo Producers panel presented by Pure Leaf at BravoCon

Here are the biggest insider secrets revealed about some of your favorite Bravo shows.

RHONY Had a Very Different Beginning

A series by the name of Manhattan Moms was originally pitched to Bravo.

We couldn't imagine The Real Housewives without a New York City franchise today. But before the series premiered in 2008, it had a very different title while in development.

"On New York, I've been there since Day 1 of Season 1, and we pitched a show called Manhattan Moms," Bernstein explained while answering a question voted by fans prior to the panel about how an idea becomes a series. "Manhattan Moms got pitched to Bravo, and they had already had one season of [RHOC], and they say, 'Well, let's just make this part of the franchise.' So Manhattan Moms became Real Housewives of New York."

Haughton Lawson also explained that their production companies will come up with ideas and pitch those to a network such as Bravo. "Then if the network finds that idea to be viable enough, then they will give a budget to develop that into a pilot to see if that's something that they want to take into a series," she said.

Rothman called making an idea into a series "a long, arduous process." "Formally, we pitch the shows, [networks] buy them in some sort of development phase. Then we go out and explore that through the development phase, the city, the characters, the participants, the experiences. And then we make a tape that's sort of vaguely like a show. It's a lot of interviews. It's mostly interview-heavy," he said. "And then we continue to kick the tires on them. And then Bravo gets more and more involved the more they like it. And then you go with them in the field and talk to people and hopefully move forward from there."

How Producers Decide When to Break the Fourth Wall

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Most of the time, we feel like a fly on the wall while watching our favorite Bravo shows. But once in a while, we'll see camera operators get in the middle of the action or overhear cast members talking to producers during especially dramatic moments.

So, how do producers decide when to let the elements of production seep onto the screen? "It's one of the things I really like about the show, and I feel like Bravo's doing it more and more. I think it authenticates the show," Ward said. "I don't think it's something you should do every single time. I think if it plays into whatever's happening in the group at the time and their story associated with it, maybe there's someone else involved in the break of the fourth wall because they're all talking to producers. In that case, use it."

Haughton Lawson recalled Kim Zolciak-Biermann's final moments on camera in Season 5 of RHOA before she exited the show. "It was a big deal. She pretty much ripped off her microphone and pushed aside the camera, and that was the last we saw of Kim," she said. "We had to use that. We wanted the fans to know that this is real. Like, this woman had a moment and she's done with the show and you got to see it. That's exactly how it happened."

"I think it authenticates the show."

Bassaragh noted how breaking the fourth wall can sometimes give us even greater insight into these people's lives. "Everyone was hearing Robyn [Dixon]'s point-of-view of how the relationship was, but we never really heard how Juan [Dixon] felt about everything," Bassaragh said of this RHOP Season 2 moment. "So one day he was talking to just a producer, and we were like, 'We have to use this because their relationship, for people to really know what is really going on, we have to show it or else they do not really understand the dynamic of this relationship."

However, Bravolebs aren't always thrilled when these moments make it to air. Frtiz recalled how Vicki Gunvalson would try to call attention to the fact that cameras were filming during Season 10 of RHOC in the hopes that the footage would not be used, such as when she had an argument with daughter Briana Culberson about her then-boyfriend Brooks Ayers during her visit to Oklahoma.

"When I first showed the scene to Bravo, it was all removed because we didn't break the fourth wall a lot. It was like, mmm, not that interesting. The best stuff is when she yells 'camera,' and they put it in," he said. "And later in the season when we were doing the reunion, she did it again. She got into a bad habit. She was talking to Tammy Knickerbocker, an old Housewife, on camera. And at one point we were shooting her, she said, 'Camera! Camera! Camera!' So we stopped shooting, and Vicki or Tammy said, 'Why do you do that?' And Vicki said, ''Cause they can't use it.' And I'm sitting in the back listening to this going, 'Oh, just wait until Episode 14.'"

Langworthy Was Convinced Production on Vanderpump Rules Would Stop After This Iconic Moment

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Not every producer is as big a fan of breaking the fourth wall. "I think it should be done as little as possible," Langworthy said. "I think as much as people can get lost in the story, the better." 

But sometimes you can't avoid breaking the fourth wall, as Langworthy found out during Jax Taylor's infamous fight with Frank in Season 1 of Vanderpump Rules. "The ultimate goal is to provide as accurate a story of that day's truth as you can. If for some reason, that happened and there is a camera in the shot or someone's referencing production, you have to do it," Langworthy said. "We're in Vegas. When that's going down, in our mind, not only is of course none of this going on TV because it was just so raw and awful, and I just wanted it to stop. I also for a couple of reasons was very sure that it would be the last day of production. Clearly, this is not working out."

"That was the story of what happened, and you couldn't tell it without it."

Langworthy said that Bravo was "having a hard time following the fight" after seeing the rough cut of the episode. "'Jax is over here, and then you cut to over here. It doesn't really make sense. If there's other stuff, put it in.' I'm thinking, 'Oh my god.' If you go back and watch that, you'll see then the cut that we did, which is me sprinting through the footage like an idiot kind of trying to stop Jax, but not really, still holding onto my monitor. A PA very bravely gets in between Jax and the guy he's trying to fight. Me, maybe not so bravely," he said. "But that was the story of what happened, and you couldn't tell it without it. That was one I would have just as soon left on the cutting room floor, but we had to do it."

Could The Real Housewives Become Even More Star-Studded?

"She reads the girls, she gets it together," Haughton Lawson said of Vivica A. Fox.

The Real Housewives is full of famous faces, including women who were household names even before they were on Bravo. And if these producers could cast another celebrity on their respective series, they definitely have some big names in mind.

Haughton Lawson would love to give Vivica A. Fox a peach on RHOA. She's already had experience beefing with an Atlanta Housewife. "She reads the girls, she gets it together," Haughton Lawson said. "But unfortunately, she doesn't have children, and I don't think she has a husband at the moment. But, you know what, we could help her with that if she came around."

Bassaragh would give Michelle Obama or Gabrielle Union a warm welcome to RHOP, and Ward thinks RHONY could use a Broadway star, such as Bernadette Peters, or the Big Apple version of Lisa Rinna. "I don't think we should include a celebrity for the sake of including a celebrity. Lisa Rinna works because she's connected to the cast, she knows the cast. Same with Denise Richards. She knew some of them," Ward explained. "So in theory, it's a fun idea, but I think if we're gonna sort of follow through with that, it should be someone who's connected with the cast."

As amazing as it is to have women who are still actively working in show business as part of the cast, Fritz said that it can also be "a downside" for production as they try to "carve out time for them" amid their busy schedules. He cited working around Denise's schedule while shooting The Bold and the Beautiful and Garcelle Beauvais filming Coming 2 America in the upcoming season of RHOBH as examples of the challenge having celebs in the cast can bring.

There's One Thing Gizelle Bryant HAS to Have While Filming Her Interviews

"If I wasn't paid to do this show, I would literally beg to just go talk to Gizelle," Bassaragh said.

Some of the most memorable moments in each episode of The Real Housewives happen in the interview chair, and these producers definitely have their favorites when it comes to cast commentary. 

Bernstein loves Dorinda Medley and Bethenny Frankel, Ward is a fan of Sonja Morgan, Haughton Lawson said Nene Leakes always brings it, Fritz was always amazed by what came out of Kim Richards' mouth, and Bassaragh can't get enough of Gizelle Bryant

"If I wasn't paid to do this show, I would literally beg to just go talk to Gizelle. She is just naturally funny, and it's like I would say when you talk to Gizelle when she's in her confessionals, it's really a real conversation, and that's how she is. She always needs her snacks. She always has to have a snack while she's doing her confessionals," Bassaragh said of the Potomac Housewife. "Gizelle, I think is absolutely the best one."

Aside from providing food, the producers said they go about conducting the actual interviews by jogging the cast members' memory and asking them how they felt during the moments filmed throughout the season. Sometimes, that can stir up drama all over again. "We did an interview with Shannon Beador, who is brilliant. I think she had a fight with [her husband David Beador], when they were together, she had a fight with David maybe three months earlier and we're finally asking the questions," Fritz said. "And she gives us these great answers and then she goes, 'Could we stop for a second?' And she gets on the phone and she calls David and she's like, 'What the hell?!' She got mad at him, and he's like, 'What are you talking about? We made up three months ago.'" 

Lisa Vanderpump Styles Her Own Interview Looks

"If you see something and you love it, then that's all them," Langworthy said.

Interviews are filmed while the season is still being shot, as well as after production has ended when producers realize what they're missing or need more of from cast members. And every new interview filmed means a new interview look, of course.

Many of the Atlanta Housewives have their own hair stylists and makeup artists to get their looks together, but that doesn't mean they always land. "We have had so many tragedies over the years with confessional looks," Haughton Lawson said.

Their interview looks have to be approved by production before they can start rolling. "And then you have to balance between like, 'Girl, you look crazy,' but the fans might laugh and it'll turn into something. Sometimes when they go super crazy, I'll be like, 'No, she needs to change her eye color or eyeshadow.' Or, 'Tell her to tone down the lipstick or something,'" Haughton Lawson explained. "We try to help them, but at the end of the day, they're their own brand, so they really want to present themselves the way they want to present themselves."  

The whole Vanderpump Rules cast styles their looks from head to toe, including Lisa Vanderpump. "If you see something and you love it, then that's all them," Langworthy said. "And if there's something you don't love as much, that's all them, too." 

So This Is Why Cast Trips Are Always So Wild

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There's something about taking casts to another city or country that just seems to intensify the drama, isn't there? "All of a sudden you have these things that you don't have in the day-to-day. You have the compression of it. It's around the clock, so it is relentless. It feels like we shoot pretty thoroughly as it is, but this is like a producer might leave your room at 4 a.m., 8 a.m., knock, knock, and we're right back in there," Langworthy explained. "And there is the stress of traveling, so we do always get amazing stuff."

"There's so much pent-up energy, that when they get out, it's like, spring break!"

Some of the most memorable cast trips the producers recalled during the panel include the Vanderpump Rules guys going out in drag for Tom Schwartz's bachelor party in New Orleans in Season 5, when Nene turned the Atlanta ladies away from her house party in Los Angeles in Season 5 of RHOA, and Whitney Sudler-Smith admitting he hooked up with Kathryn Dennis at Shep Rose's family farm in Season 1 of Southern Charm. "I think what happens is there's so much pent-up energy, that when they get out, it's like, spring break!" Rajabi said, noting how "crazy" things got during the Below Deck Med crews' days off in Seasons 2 and 4.

Here's How Practically Every Bit of High-Seas Action Is Captured on Below Deck

Production now uses about 18 surveillance cameras to film a season of Below Deck and Below Deck Mediterranean.

The biggest way Below Deck has evolved over the years is in the production of the series, namely how many cameras are used to capture the charter season. "Back when we first started, we didn't have that many surveillance cameras because the boat's not that big. How much can you actually cover? We had like eight to 10 surveillance cameras. And then we started missing things. We realized if we put more cameras and the boat was always running audio, we could hear everything," Rajabi said. "You guys have seen the show has grown and there are more stories coming out because we're able to hear more and more stuff's happening. Before it was happening, and we just couldn't hear it. Now we have close to 18 surveillance cameras, so we're always rolling 24 hours a day, and we don't miss anything."

Season 2 of Below Deck Med particularly changed everything when Rajabi said she had a feeling that Malia White wasn't being completely honest when she said that she had not hooked up with Adam Glick or Wes Walton. "I didn't trust her, so I put a camera up in the bridge, which is where they do their anchor watch. The reason there's a camera now in the bridge is actually because of that one season. So we put a GoPro before I left the boat, and we planted a mic, and we see Malia and Wes [kiss],'" Rajabi said. "I was like, I knew it! I was so disappointed in Malia for not telling me the truth. I was like, god, I trusted her! And so it was this whole thing."

They Never Shy Away from Showing Cast Members' Legal Issues

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Reality TV documents what's really going on in the cast members' lives, including all of the ups and the downs. That means even showing their legal troubles. "We have to go through a legal department in [post-production] just to see what we can — literally — what we can and cannot play as far as legally. But we try to play it all," Bernstein said. "We play as much as we can, I would say. We just try to keep it as real as possible. And then you have to ask them questions, and they have to answer."

Ward praised Luann de Lesseps for being so open about the aftermath of her arrest in 2017. "I just want to give props to Luann because what she's been through the last few years has been a harrowing experience for her. She showed up, and she put it all out there. And she's an example of what this is about, what we really do, and I appreciate her for that," he shared. "She's having an amazing season this season, which you'll see in the spring. And I think you're gonna love her. I think it's a new and improved version of Lu this season. But I just want to give her props because I think that she, she wound up having to deal with something that most of us will never have to deal with, and she did it in a public forum on television."

"We just try to keep it as real as possible."

As difficult as being an open book can be, Haughton Lawson said that the cast members know it comes with the territory of putting your life out there on reality TV. "It's unfortunate, and it's a difficult situation. They're going through real issues, but they've also signed up for a show, and they have to be transparent. Right now, we're going through a situation with Potomac with Monique [Samuels] and Candiace [Dillard Bassett], and it's a very real issue that's turned into a legal issue, and so there's a sensitivity there, and we still need to cover it every step of the way," she said. "The women know that that's what they signed up for."

How Producers Respond to Cast Members Who Think They Had a "Bad Edit"

"It's you watching yourself in the mirror," Bassaragh said.

Though we love every second of our favorite shows, the Bravolebs aren't always so happy with what they see on screen. Sometimes that dissatisfaction can cause cast members to proclaim that they've had "a bad edit" that season to explain their more unflattering moments.

But what we see on TV is what really happened, according to the producers. "It's equal editing for everybody," Bernstein said.

Bassaragh put it this way: "It's you watching yourself in the mirror. Some days you will like what you see, some days you don't. Maybe one day you wear an ugly sweater. You're like, 'Oh my god, why did I wear that' when you see the picture posted on Instagram. Then you blame the filter, then you blame, it's Instagram's fault... You start finding different reasons."