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Bravo's Oral History: The Infamous RHOA Wig Shift
The Real Housewives of Atlanta producers reveal a little known fact about the famous actress who was at the center of all the Season 2 drama.
Bravo Rewind is celebrating the shows, moments, and Bravolebs that make this network iconic. Continue the trip down memory lane by getting an exclusive update from The Real Housewives of New York City's Kristen Taekman on Life After Bravo.
Allow us for a moment to take you back to a simpler time, a time before NeNe became a scripted TV star, a time before we fully understood why Kim Zolciak wore wigs, and a time before we were introduced to Chateu Sheree. Yes, we're talking about Season 2, nearly seven years ago in 2009, when The Real Housewives of Atlanta returned after a wildly successful premiere season. These 'Wives came back ready to dive head-first into the drama. While "Who gonna check me boo?" is a classic (and occured during the Season 2 premiere), the RHOA moment we're thinking of involves Kim, Sheree, NeNe...and Michael Lohan? We reached out to the show's producers and the wig-shifter herself to tell us what really happened that day, as well as the strange sequence of events that led up to the explosive argument. Here's the full story in their words:
Nate Green (Supervising Producer on Season 2): It was my first season producing Atlanta. It was my first season producing any Housewives iteration. Before I got into the Housewives, I was fascinated with the Atlanta Housewives. I remember I watched at lot of Real Housewives of Atlanta. When it came on the first season, I used to go over to a friend of mine’s house. We used to watch the show together. In fact, he’s actually a development executive at Bravo now, and we used to watch the show, and I loved [it] because it was sort of a groundbreaking show. There hadn’t been a show on TV that captured or reached African American women in that way. I remember the first time I watched Kim Zolciak open her refrigerator and there was a line of Newport cigarettes going down the side of the fridge, I thought to myself, “What is this show?” I could not stop watching it. So I was really into that cast, but I always said to myself, “Oh my God, I could never produce that show, because I’m sure those ladies are insane." Six months later my producing partner Matt [Anderson], called me up, and he said, "Hey, Bravo’s really happy with the work that I did on [The Real Housewives of New York], and they asked me to do another iteration, and I really don’t want to do the show unless you come down and do it with me.
(Nate Green with Sheree Whitfield)
Matt Anderson (Executive Producer on Season 2): I was the executive producer, so I was just running everything in the field and then I would go back to post and help put the show together. It’s like working with them and figuring out what the story is going to be for that season. I pre-interviewed all of the women before the season. I went to Atlanta to visit them at their houses, talked about what was going on in their lives, what their hopes and dreams are, what businesses they are potentially starting, what was going on in their personal lives...Anything from "What’s up with Big Poppa and Kim" and who she’s seeing now and all that kind of stuff.
Lauren Eskelin (Executive Producer on Season 2): I’ve been on the show since the beginning. I was overseeing the show mostly from the putting-the-show-together perspective. I wasn’t in the field shooting the show. I was in post putting the show together. So when the scene would be shot, it would be Fed-Exed back to post and then we would see the raw footage and we would put the scene together.
Matt Anderson (Executive Producer on Season 2): People really talked about that show after the first season so when we came into the show, we were like, "Oh God." It’s a lot of pressure to do a second-season popular show, so when we came in to do it, we were like, "What are we going to do to make this show big?" and at that time the girls had a little bit of popularity from the first season.
Sheree Whitfield (Former Housewife): Season 1 we were just kind of going in. We didn’t know what we were doing. We didn’t really have anything to compare it to. Season 2 I think we got a little too comfortable with the cameras being there. We were authentic and everything that happened was pretty authentic, and sometimes things go wrong and you kind of forget the cameras are there.
Matt Anderson (Executive Producer on Season 2): There were a lot of expectations around this particular series, because Season 1 had been so crazy. I knew with the new season the stakes were very high to come up with something really wild and fun. So it was really figuring out what their stories would be. As it turns out, in between the seasons, because it was such a huge success, right out of the box with the first season, the women were sort of experiencing their first fame. There were a lot of personalities and egos going into the second season, so we had to kind of reset the stage for Season 2, because a lot of the people who were friends weren’t friends going into the new season. If you remember, Sheree and Kim were like besties the first season, they practically had a love affair with “You look like me, no you look like me, you’re so pretty, no you’re so pretty” and they were not in a good place coming into Season 2. And Kim and NeNe weren't in a good place coming into the season, so that was really setting the stage for everything that happened that night at this restaurant in Atlanta.
(Matt Anderson with Kim Zolciak)
Matt Anderson (Executive Producer on Season 2): You have to figure out a way for that to make sense for the audience where you're not dragging all the machinations of production into it but still have it make sense, so that was my challenge when resetting the stage. But, from my understanding, what happened was Demi Moore, yes Demi Moore, is a huge fan of the show and she was down there filming a movie in that [period] in between Season 1 and Season 2 and she had invited some of the RHOA ladies to come and be extras in a party scene, because the movie was set in Atlanta, and she just thought it would be a kick to have them around and it would give a little Atlanta flavor to the movie. And so Kim and Sheree decided that they were going to do it. So they went down and they were extras in this movie. So Kim and Sheree go down to set, and I guess Kim just starts talking all kinds of trash about the show, the other girls on the show, and about [them] not having any money and at the same time there’s an alternate scandal going on with NeNe and there’s a lot of speculation like, "Did she lose her house? What was going on?" because her house between Season 1 and Season 2 is different and there were all these gossip items that Greg and Nene had lost the house and Kim was doing all kinds of talking about that. As we see when we join for Season 2, NeNe did just move into a new house, and it wasn’t like she was homeless or anything, but something happened. She was living somewhere and then she wasn’t and then she was, but anyway Kim did all kinds of talking to Demi Moore about this, and Sheree was there to hear all of that, so then Sheree took that information back to NeNe and NeNe was not happy about that, and so that’s sort of what sets the stage for this whole fight that they have at FAB Atlanta, which is the name of the restaurant.
Nate Green (Supervising Producer on Season 2): I remember when we came in, NeNe and Sheree--believe it or not--filmed in a Demi Moore movie. It was called The Joneses I think. They were kind of like extras on the movie, but they were also like cast because people knew about them at that time. Of course the girls, who are just now on the scene of a Demi Moore movie which was massive for them, so they think they’re like big Hollywood stars. So they go in to this movie and apparently Kim was talking sh-- about NeNe saying, "Oh well, you know, NeNe really doesn’t have any money. She lost her home" and blah blah. Of course she’s doing this in front of Sheree, so as you probably know in these shows, friendships are very fluid and they change and relationships go back and forth, much like in any friendship I would suppose. And apparently off season Sheree had gone back and forth with NeNe, so of course Kim and NeNe weren’t talking, but Kim didn’t really know why NeNe wasn’t talking to her, so we are landing in on the show at this time, and there’s a lot of tension between the women, so we were like God, we have to tell this story: A, because it’s kind of humorous that the girls were on the Demi Moore film, which we thought was really funny and then of course what was born out of being on that movie was this moment where Kim, as she has done in the past, shares information that she probably shouldn’t have been sharing, whether it was true or not, to people that she didn’t even know, and so then of course we need to back track this story. How can we get the back track over this story so we can move the story forward on the show and explain to the viewers this is why they’re not talking, this is what’s happened since the show has been off the air, and then of course get the relationship story to move forward.
Lauren Eskelin (Executive Producer on Season 2): Whenever footage comes in, we have to put a card up on the wall. I made it, and it was called “Come to Jesus," and it was meant to be a "come to Jesus” with Kim and Sheree. So, we knew that this was brewing. NeNe knew it was brewing, and she helped bring them together [to have the conversation].
Nate Green (Supervising Producer on Season 2): Somehow we convinced them to meet at this restaurant in Atlanta, and at the time it was a popular restaurant. I don’t think it’s around anymore. It was a French-American bistro. It was called FAB Atlanta. I remember it being sort of like a difficult restaurant to clear. One thing you have to remember, these were the days before anything sort of physical or any sort of altercation...this was before those kind of things happened on reality TV. So we got them to all agree to come, and they sit down. We didn’t really know what to expect, but I did remember waiting for Kim to come and thinking, "Oh God, what’s going to happen?"
Sheree Whitfield (Former Housewife): I do remember going into that sit-down where I was fine with everybody, and I was told to help bring NeNe there, and then it kind of got turned on me. I don’t know how that happened.
Matt Anderson (Executive Producer on Season 2): Kim was saying she didn’t say any of these things and obviously we didn’t have cameras [filming during the break], so we don’t know who said what, and Kim said she did not say these things about NeNe, and Sheree is like, "You absolutely did, you’re a liar," and then things really escalated. Oddly things got worse between Sheree and Kim than it did between Kim and NeNe, even though NeNe was originally the slighted one in this whole scenario. So it was kind of funny that it was all because of Demi Moore.
Nate Green (Supervising Producer on Season 2): I remember [Kim] storming out of the restaurant, and I do remember having a problem with our monitors. In that moment we lost our signal, and I remember Kim leaving and then I’m like, "We have to follow her out," and we didn’t have a signal, and I just remember Sheree being like, "I’m going to go after her," and I’m like, "Oh my God this is not happening, like this is not happening." And then Sheree is going after her. I don’t think I made it out there until after the wig tug. It was back when we had tape and now everything is tapeless. Matt and I, after our shoots, a lot of the times if we were on set, would watch back a lot of footage. We would back track and we would put the tapes in the decks, and I remember we had to watch that back really closely so we could see. Did she really push her? What really happened? I remember watching back the wig tug.
It wasn’t actually until I went back and looked at the footage, and I’m like, 'Holy sh--!'”
Matt Anderson (Executive Producer on Season 2): So these girls just start getting into it, and it starts getting like super loud. The restaurant's a full shop. It was not empty. And you see when they run out, there are people looking out the window like, "What is going on?" They really drew a lot of attention when their voices started to raise. So you know, Kim gets up to get away, and NeNe decides to chase her. It’s so hysterical, because she’s in these seven-inch heels, and she’s like walking/running through the restaurant in her heels and yelling “Kim, Kim come back!” So they go off to the sidewalk, so a lot of the stuff that happens with the screaming and pointing in the face our cameras [captured] before we even got there. I’m holding the monitors trying to catch up with one of them, we’re going in and out and in and out, so I’m not seeing anything, and then all of a sudden I see them out on the street screaming, and Kim’s like, “She pulled my wig” and I say, "She did not pull her wig," because I didn’t see it initially as it happened, because it happened so fast, and the monitors went down, so it wasn’t actually until I went back and looked at the footage, and I’m like, “Holy sh--!” And you know the wig and the hair was a big topic of discussion in Season 1, so the the fact that she dared to get near Kim’s wig was such a topic of fascination.
Sheree Whitfield (Former Housewife): I think I might have blacked out a little bit. I do remember shifting her wig a little bit. It was more of a [laughing], 'Girl, your wig is crooked' kind of thing.
Nate Green (Supervising Producer on Season 2): She really did [pull her wig]. I remember getting out there, and it had already happened. It’s always really uncomfortable when things escalate. A lot of times people who don’t really work in reality television say, “Oh my God you must be like, 'Yes I got this moment.'” I’m never like that, because unless it’s more of a comedic nature, I‘m always more like “Oh God.” We get to know these people so well. We get to live and breathe their lives, we really do. I mean we fight with them, we cry with them, we’re on the phone with them every single night. So when something happens and things really escalate, it’s not like we’re like “Oh yes! We had a moment.” We’re like, “Oh God, where’s this going to go? What’s going to happen?”
Lauren Eskelin (Executive Producer on Season 2): I had heard from the field what had happened and how mind-blowing it was and what a difficult scene it was to get the ladies together to do and how it all started unfolding between Sheree and Kim with NeNe more or less not taking sides, being...she wasn’t instigating, but she was in a way what the viewer was--watching this go down and being shocked. It was some good TV when you’re sitting back watching the footage and eating popcorn.
Matt Anderson (Executive Producer on Season 2): And [Kim] had invited Michael Lohan for dinner, because he wanted to get in on some business selling e-cigarettes with her, and I was like “What?” And it just makes me laugh every time NeNe would refer to him as Lindsay Lohan’s daddy. She wouldn’t even call him Michael Lohan. And then one of the 'Wives said (which got cut out), “You know what? This is my show, Lindsay Lohan’s daddy. You go find your own show. Go back to California.”
Nate Green (Supervising Producer on Season 2): I just remember what really made me laugh, which was so bizarre, was Kim bringing Michael Lohan to the dinner and being like, "Why is Michael Lohan here? This is so weird." The funniest part was when NeNe was trying to catch up to Kim, and she’s like, "This is Lindsay Lohan’s daddy." I just remember dying laughing. NeNe was and will still always be the most quotable Housewife out of all of the Housewives...Maybe her and Bethenny compete for that."
Lauren Eskelin (Executive Producer on Season 2): I think [Michael Lohan] probably had already signed a release and anticipated that we were shooting. I didn’t think he knew what was going to happen.
Matt Anderson (Executive Producer on Season 2): We interviewed both Sheree and NeNe right after it happened right there on the street. In the middle of the interview with Sheree, Kim’s screaming down the street and Sheree continues to fight with Kim while I’m interviewing her, and I turned to Nate, who was my supervising producer at the time, like “Oh my God, this is crazy. This is like a whole new world we’re in right now." It was highly entertaining, and I appreciate their ability to go forth.
Lauren Eskelin (Executive Producer on Season 2): Kim was really upset about it. I think she lost a bracelet, and I think you can see it flying off in the footage. She was very bothered by it. We never had any physical confrontation. Kim had been very friendly, so it was surprising that it would come to this and for them to have a physical component which wasn’t something that was even happening in these shows. Not that it was violent, but there was something about it...like she touched her. I think I interviewed Sheree when she said, "I didn’t mean to pull her wig. I just wanted to shift it." It really wasn’t a shift. It was messy.
Sheree Whitfield (Former Housewife): Was I upset that they showed the wig pull? No, this is what I signed up for, and it happened while the cameras were rolling.
This was the first week of working with these women. We were like, 'What have we gotten ourselves into?'”
Nate Green (Supervising Producer on Season 2): This was the first week of working with these women. We were like, "What have we gotten ourselves into?" but we knew right away we were going to have a great series, because they were so very special. They really were, and funny fact: I thought we would never be invited back to that restaurant and we ended up shooting back at that restaurant in the same season. We shot Kandi and AJ’s engagement party on the rooftop.
Matt Anderson (Executive Producer on Season 2): In a way, it was easier to produce [RHOA] than [The Real Housewives of] New York because the New York women could sometimes be hard to catch, you know? They have a New York edge to them where they’re just going to do it their way. Atlanta is kind of a small city, the perspective of fame is shifted. They were really famous at that point for one season on TV, so they were really experiencing that first fame. It kind of rocked them as a group and shifted the DNA of the friendship. You know, anyone that’s famous can tell you it’s a trip to be famous. It’s definitely a heavy experience for anyone who gets that kind of attention, and it takes a while to break through a little bit of that first phase to get that certain authenticity.
Nate Green (Supervising Producer on Season 2): I have a special place in my heart for those girls and that show, because A) It was my first Housewives show that I have ever worked on and B) It was the first show that I ever got an executive producer credit on, so I have a lot of special memories with all of them. I watch the show, and I watch Kim’s show, which is really funny. I’m happy for all those girls, and I’m glad Sheree is back.
Matt Anderson (Executive Producer on Season 2): I mean Kim has six kids and is married now. I remember when she was single and hanging out with Big Poppa, recording "Tardy for the Party." In a way it’s crazy to see that life for her, but in the same way it’s still the same old Kim. NeNe’s really gone on to show that you can do Broadway, you can do TV, you can do musicals, so it’s very impressive to see.
Lauren Eskelin (Executive Producer on Season 2): I think in some ways Kim and NeNe are exactly the same. Their lives have definitely changed. Kim got married and had four more kids. She’s not the party girl anymore. She’s probably changed the most because of that, but personality-wise I fee l like they’re the same. When you put them back together, you’ll get something pretty similar in terms of their having fun together. I definitely long for the days when everything felt fresh and raw and real and people could be vulnerable on camera and they weren’t thinking too strategically about how things would play out. Those were the days when things just happened without any premeditation. So yeah, some things change and some things don’t. I still think they’re basically just really seriously funny, confident women who in some ways don’t give a damn about what people think, and that’s what drew me to them.