Monday, April 21, 2014

Washington Social Diary

Happy Easter! How about the grumpy face on the Easter Bunny?
A Reality Check
by Carol Joynt

The New York Times Sunday Style section cast some light on the Bravo channel reality TV rookie Southern Charm and I, for one, was glad to see it. I get a kick out of the show. It’s my new TV guilty pleasure, because it’s funny, has great period house porn; the cast dress well, eat and drink well, they are “real” in a way that practically never happens with the Real Housewives franchises. The appeal may be, too, that the cast members, mostly men, seem to have been raised with manners, there’s no signs of breast, lip or cheek implants and no one on the show would appear to have to crash to be included at a party. Still, it manages its fair share of dramatically bizarre moments.
The cast of Southern Charm, Whitney Sudler-Smith, Thomas Ravenel, Craig Conover, Cameron Eubanks, Jenna King, and Shepard "Shep" Rose.
That said, Southern Charm is controversial (not a bad thing in this genre) and openly loathed by some of the good people of Charleston, including NYSD’s own Charleston correspondent, Ned Brown, as well as some DC friends who hail from the Palmetto state. Fair enough. Their gripes are consistent with what’s said in the Times piece. When Bravo attempted a Real Housewives of Washington DC franchise in 2010 the locals generally loathed it, too — ditto the viewers, as it was cancelled after one season. White House “gatecrashers” Michaele and Tareq Salahi got blamed for the show’s demise, but in truth they may have been the draw. They possessed the required cartoony components — instincts for loopy personal drama, smoke and mirrors antics — which guaranty realty stardom.
When they were a pair: Michaele Salahi and Tareq Salahi, stars of the only season of Real Housewives of Washington DC.
Michaele and Tareq — together and apart — may have had long-term reality potential had it not been for their legal issues — basically, his penchant for lawsuits — relating to his family’s Virginia winery and their divorce and her romance and eventual marriage to musician Neal Schon of Journey. Michaele and Neal did take a bite out of the reality apple; their wedding was available on pay-per-view.

Here’s the thing about Bravo’s attempt at a Washington Housewives franchise. First of all, it was well meaning but had a nearly impossible mandate: to embrace Washington as the nation’s capital. The women who are DC’s power housewives, and who most likely are married to men who depend on the government dollar, are way too careful and ambitious to risk reality TV humiliation. They care what people think and in reality TV that is death. There’s also this: the only reality TV that appeals to real Washington are the Sunday morning chat shows, which are more guided missile performance art than reality.
Thomas Ravenel, ex-con, new father, new reality TV star and possible U.S. Senate candidate. Ravenel's foil on Southern Charm is Whitney Sudler-Smith, who is also one of the show's producers. The cast's dandy, his disposition is often Jason Bateman with a bad hangover.
Kathryn Calhoun Dennis.
The mandate to do “Washington” was too wide a swatch. If Bravo had attempted instead to produce something more niche, for example, Real Housewives of Potomac, Maryland (comparable to Orange County) or Real Housewives of Crestwood (DC’s so-called Gold Coast), they might have had a success. A reality TV show about Georgetown could be pulled together in a nanosecond, but it would be more Southern Charm than Real Housewives, because Georgetown as a village has more in common with Charleston than it has with the city of Washington, and, like Charleston, it’s the boys who are the less guarded and more colorful characters.
Southern Charm: it's a men's club that includes some women.
It’s worth mentioning the brief life six years ago of a mostly-Georgetown based reality TV series, Blonde Charity Mafia, which was possibly ahead of its time. BCM followed three young women, Katherine Kennedy, Sophie Pyle and Krista Johnson, as they navigated their private lives and the DC social scene — tagline: “In DC, politics can be a real bitch, and in this crowd staying on top will be a lot tougher than it looks.” They shot six episodes, according to IMDB, before the show got mired in ownership and programming travails.

Blonde Charity Mafia
was barely seen in the US but did make it to Australia and the UK. There were more similarities to Southern Charm than RHODC — for example,  the Georgetown factor — but needed a colorful character like SC’s Thomas Ravenel, whose career may be politics (he’s a former state treasurer) but who was born for reality TV (his career got shutdown by drug charges and a short prison term).
The stars of Blonde Charity Mafia stars Sophie Pyle, Katherine Kennedy and Krista Johnson strike a pose.
The secret to reality TV success is to have self-promotion in the DNA, keen self-awareness and to not care what may happen to one’s reputation. A gift for performance helps, too. Real Housewives of New York’s Bethany Frankel, who peed in a champagne bucket on camera at the Four Seasons restaurant before her Pool Room wedding, became a breakout reality star.

Ditto Teresa Giudice, who up-ended dinner tables in her first season of Real Housewives of New Jersey, and Nene Leakes, who got parts of her body re-crafted as the cameras rolled for Real Housewives of Atlanta.  Who would have thought one day Lee Radziwill’s daughter-in-law, writer Carole Radziwill, would become a Real Housewives of New York cast member and fan favorite, who gleefully talks on camera about blow jobs and her “great ass.” We like to think she gets the joke.
Carole Radziwill, a cast member on Real Housewives of New York who is not shy about her "great ass."
Seriously, the Housewives or Southerm Charm are a challenge if you can't appreciate the joke. To see what I mean, check out the season finale of Southern Charm tonight. You may appreciate how it gets the joke and adds some fresh spin. In a mid-season episode, Ravenel had the cast over to his home for a dinner party where he lectured them on life lessons. One of the regulars, Shep Rose (an adorable floppy puppy of a man), assessed the dynamic this way: "All these idiots sitting around the table and the head idiot is telling us how to behave."

Ravenel has the potential to be another breakout reality star. He and his 29 years younger girlfriend, Kathryn Calhoun Dennis, just became parents of a baby girl. No mention yet of a wedding, but what could be better for a second season? On one of the funniest episodes yet of Bravo impresario Andy Cohen’s Watch What Happens Live, Ravenel said he may run as an Independent candidate against incumbent South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham. Here’s hoping it happens and he wins because we could use “T-Rav” in Washington. In addition to all the other potential goofball goings on, maybe he’d bring his cameras with him and DC could get another chance at reality TV success.

I can hear the good people of Charleston right now. “The horror. The shame.” Exactly!
Andy Cohen hosts Watch What Happens Live on Bravo with Southern Charm cast members Shep Rose, Cameron Eubanks, and Thomas Ravenel.
This past week was the anniversary of Emancipation Day, an official public holiday in DC. On April 16, 1862 President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Act that granted freedom to the city’s enslaved. The occasion was marked with a parade, a wreath-laying, a concert and other events.

Starting off the week, the Washington Performing Arts Society produced a concert at DAR Constitution Hall to honor Marian Anderson on the 75th anniversary of her Lincoln Memorial concert before 75,000 people, which is considered a landmark event of the Civil Rights movement.
Dionne Warwick and American Idol winner Candice Glover perform at DAR Constitution Hall.
Dionne Warwick.
The Winans Brothers in performance at Constitution Hall.
Alyson Cambridge, paying musical tribute to Marian Anderson. Candice Glover won the 12th season of American Idol.
Jessye Norman welcomes guests to the "Of Thee We Sing" concert, where she was the host.
According to the WPAS, their concert, which was called “Of Thee We Sing,” was notable for its venue, because the Daughters of the American Revolution “denied Ms. Anderson permission to use its stage in 1939, eventually leading to her recital outdoors.”

After the concert there was a cocktail reception next door at the handsome American Red Cross headquarters building in its Board of Governors Hall that features a triptych of windows designed by Tiffany and dedicated in 1923. The guests included the performers as well as members of Anderson’s family.
The American Red Cross headquarters building, where the WPAS held its reception.
The elegant marble stairs that lead up to the second floor Board of Governors Hall
Ready for the guests to arrive in the American Red Cross Board of Governors Hall, with the Tiffany windows in the background.
The Tiffany windows that adorn the Board of Governors Hall at the American Red Cross headquarters.
Framed posters on the wall at American Red Cross headquarters.
Dionne Warwick with members of Marian Anderson's family: Amber Anderson Almezy, little Isabella Anderson and Jasmine Anderson.
Candice Glover with Dionne Warwick and Paxton K. Baker, a BET executive.
Dionne Warwick and Jenny Belfield.
WPAS board member Patricia Howell. WPAS board chair Reggie Van Lee with Adrienne Arsht.
MC Hammer and Murray Horwitz.
Barbara Gordon, a founder of the WPAS Women's Committee, with and Jenny Bilfield, WPAS president.
Veronica Jones, Malcolm Jamal Warner, and Jake Jones of Daimler.
Jay Haddock, Alyson Cambridge, and Hector Torres.
Charlotte Cameron Mitchell with Malcolm Jamal Warner.
Photographs by Carol Joynt and Chris Burch.

Follow Carol on twitter @caroljoynt