Psychology, Reality TV, Vanderpump Rules

#PumpRules: Preconceived Notions, Premature Judgements…or Prejudice?

Season 7 of Bravo’s Vanderpump Rules premieres next month and fans have expressed some opinions on one of the cast mates, who is slated to become more of a central character this time around. The show’s first transgender personality, Billie Lee, had minimal, yet significant story-lines during Season 6. She fascinated and inspired viewers with her candor about her courageous journey with a triumphant outcome, albeit one still filled with challenges.

During the off season while the show was not airing (but filming), some drama transpired in the complicated world of social media. Billie Lee claimed to have been excluded from a party thrown by a cast mate, while the others chimed in to say she had been invited. Others contradicted that by saying the party was for a specific set of restaurant workers. Billie used her platform and past experience to communicate that this current conundrum reflected the type of cliqueness and exclusion she had and still experienced as a trans women. Cast mates chimed in on Instagram to say she was overreacting and viewers came to the defense of the somewhat snobbish Vanderpump Rules queen bee Stassi Schroeder, who deemed Billie Lee to be an overreactive drama queen.

A lot of venom was spewed in that vortex known as the “interwebs.” Facebook groups, Twitter pages and Instagram posts began to pop up that were less than pro Billie Lee. They praised her journey and the fact that she was a trans spokeswoman but, without actually seeing the footage from season 7, deemed her to be a diva with personality issues.

Whether Billie Lee was discriminated against or not is something viewers will have to determine individually when the season airs. But one thing that we should all keep in mind is that she has an understandable reason to be extra sensitive. Stassi Schroeder makes for great television and has learned a lot during her time on the show, but she has made the news in the past and rubbed cast mates the wrong way for criticizing aspects of the #MeToo movement. She also impulsively made quips that were the opposite of “woke.” To her credit however, Stassi has acknowledged that she wants to do better. She has admitted to her faults and to the fact that she is constantly learning and evolving. We have come to see her as continually taking two steps forward, then two steps back and then a step forward again.

Given this context and the fact that Billie Lee has been through a trying ordeal – living most of her life feeling she was in the wrong body and having faced backlash and bias – we have extra information to truly consider once the season airs. Maybe fans will understand Billie Lee, and perhaps others will hate her due to her personality…with it having nothing to do with anything other than personality. Still, I think we need to try to abolish the memories of the social media drama between seasons. We (you and me, all of us) should keep in mind that Billie Lee had been through one hell of a ride before she was cast on the show. She didn’t get to the highs without incurring the unimaginable lows.

Before beginning Season 7 on Monday December 3rd (at 9PM), it might be insightful to read more about Billie Lee’s past, the ordeals she has been through, the trials and tribulations she faces daily and generally, what it is like for her to live as a trans woman in 2018: Billie Lee’s Website.

(Pictured: Lisa Vanderpump with Billie Lee, Photo Credit: Bustle.com)

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Bravo TV, Psychology, Real Housewives, RHOC

#RHOC: Emily Simpson Triumphantly Claps Back at Tamra Judge on Social Media

“Where has THIS Emily been all season?!” one commenter in a Bravo-focused Facebook group wrote. His remark was in response to a social media argument that heated up between Real Housewives of Orange County cast mates Tamra Judge and Emily Simpson. The group consensus was that Emily had successfully told an aggressive Tamra off. “I’m wondering what transpired at the RHOC reunion,” another Facebook user replied, “Whatever it was had to be the catalyst for this angry back and forth.”

In many of our lines of work, we’ve learned it’s best not to address negativity. I witnessed a reporter from a top news magazine demonstrate that admirably the other day when a livid TV personality repeatedly lashed out at him on Twitter. It’s a lesson to note, but “restraint” rhymes with “saint” and many have deemed that non-coincidental. In addition, being on reality television negates many of those rules and restrictions. You’ve signed the contract and that entails speaking up for yourself.

In the interest of full disclosure, I socially met up with a small group that included Emily Simpson this past Sunday. I’ve had the opportunity to meet many other “Reality TV Personalities” over the years and I bristle at egos and get easily turned off by a lack of humility. Emily was down to earth, kind, sensitive and genuine. She was someone I clicked with, who I felt comfortable with despite badly needing a haircut and wearing my clunky glasses. She is someone to whom I wouldn’t hesitate to say: “Ok, you should really ignore your cast mates’ mean barbs.”

We sensitive folks (who the insensitive call “crazy” sometimes because of just how sensitive we can be. I’m not referring to Emily here as much as myself and others like me who are continually advised to “toughen your skin.”) consider that advice easier said than done. As an attorney, Emily has the right mix of sensitivity and no-nonsense toughness.

I think she handled Tamra properly and I hope she realizes that she effectively got the last word in their terse social media exchange (pictured above). I think she can spend today feeling content. From a production standpoint, and as one still rooting for the longevity of this franchise, Evolution Media can use the above exchanges in their opening footage sequence next season. As many viewers have opined on Twitter and Instagram, Emily has solidified that she’s earned the right to a spot as “Housewife” next season.

(Featured Photo Source: Reality Blurb)

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Books, Celebrities, Psychology, public figures, Uncategorized

“Stuttering John” Melendez Wrote a Memoir and True to Form, He Doesn’t Hold Back (An Interview)

I’ve always wondered how people roasting one another truly feel when they are the butt of the joke. So the Howard Stern Show was sort of an enigma to me while I was growing up. About 20 years ago, I briefly hung out with a guy who was one of the show’s writers and on-air personalities. In my limited time in his presence, he seemed as sweet as can be. As soon as he told me he was part of Stern’s crew, I was on high alert for some shrewd, blunt and embarrassingly brash observations. I’m sensitive, but somehow he really took it easy on me. The “persona” I later heard (and saw on the E! show) was far different from the one I had gotten to know.

This was during the 1990s and one of this man’s colleagues was “Stuttering John” Melendez. All I knew about him at the time was that he was one of Howard Stern’s whacky in-studio crew – not to be confused with “the whack pack.” I knew that he began as an intern, intent on working with the legendary Howard Stern and that he went on to acquire a minimum wage salary as an employee of The Howard Stern Show. Successively, yet meagerly, his salary increased and he remained there for 15 years, becoming notorious for his oddball interviews with celebrities. In those, he asked the most impertinent, rude and outrageous questions – sometimes with a stutter. I have to say that the questions he asked would make a non-stutterer stutter.

As a child, one of Melendez’s teacher noted that he had an inclination – and the chutzpah – to ask brazen questions and a tendency to stutter when excited. As Melendez explains in his new book Easy For You To Say, he never imagined that the teacher was somewhat of a clairvoyant. When he began working for Stern, he was determined to keep the OCD that greatly challenged him a secret. Little did he know that the “King of all Media” also struggled with OCD, and to some extent, so did his boss later on at The Tonight Show, Jay Leno.

Easy For You To Say is the story of a boy scarred by the abuse in his home at the hands of his father, how he developed a stutter as a result, but was determined to never acquiesce to the mindset of “I can’t.” From an intern at The Howard Stern Show overly eager to please, to a comedian doing field segments and writing hilarious and ballsy material for show segments, to an announcer and writer for The Tonight Show, John’s story proves that with the mindset to overcome hurdles, there are incredible things one can achieve…..

(Even getting through to the president of the United States by phone – while he’s on Air Force One!)

Following is my interview with the man widely known as “Stuttering John.” If you are a Howard Stern fan, bear in mind that the opinions expressed are John Melendez’s. The perspective shared reflects anecdotes in his new memoir. The answers to my questions are in his own words:

You start out by talking about your OCD. You discuss making Howard’s “potato sandwiches,” how it was a whole complicated ritual of preparing the potatoes from the early morning and later placing slices of turkey between the two potato halves. Then you discuss how certain tasks took a lot of effort and redoing because of your OCD. The origins of your OCD can be traced to when you were a child living with an abusive father. I was curious if your father lived to witness your success.

Oh Yeah! He just passed away two years ago. He would listen to every Howard show and later on, he would tape every Tonight Show. Every time I would wave, he said he would wave back. You see, that was the problem: He could be a really nice guy, but then unpredictably fly off the handle. As a kid, that gives you no security. You don’t know which dad you’re going to get. Coincidentally, I experienced the same with Howard.

When you’re at Howard’s show, you don’t get any accolades. I remember hooking (fellow Stern writer) Benjy Bronk up with my accountant and he was scared to ask for a raise because Howard would get pissed off at him. It was the exact opposite with Jay Leno. There are so many different things about Howard and Jay that indicate they’re almost complete opposites.

I know that you began as an intern, so at what point did Howard start paying you a salary?

In 1988, I was still in NYU and didn’t finish until 1989, so I didn’t get paid for over a year. I didn’t make a dime and I came to Howard and said that I’d have to leave. I just couldn’t afford to be there anymore.  That’s when he said that there was the channel 9 show coming up, so then I worked on that show making $750 a week. Shortly after that, I got my first paycheck from K-Rock that Tom Chiusano called a ‘stipend’ and it was 10k per year. The second season of the Channel 9 show, Don the douchebag Buchwald got me 15k. Then Mel Karmazin doubled my salary to 20k. From there, there were normal raise increments. I remember standing behind Gary Dell’Abate at a ‘Best Breast’ contest where there was an appearance fee. I was thinking ‘wow, this is the producer of the biggest radio show and he’s got to do this!’

In the book, you detail some negative experiences with Gary and refer to him (he was known as ‘Baba Booey’) as ‘Baba Backstabber.’ Is there any chance of a reconciliation for the two of you?

I say in the beginning of my book that I love all the guys there. I don’t hate the guy. I don’t hate anybody, but the problem with Gary is that he’s too stupid to understand that a lot of people there, even now, are disgruntled. People would tell me not to trust Gary, that he would be nice to my face, but then bad mouth me when I had my back turned. He was two-faced and God knows, with that face you only need one!

In the book, I give an example of how we were going to do some plugs and we mutually agreed that we would email Howard together about it and say it came from both of us. Then Gary ended up saying that the email was just from me. That was wrong. I had to hear about it from KC…that they were talking about me in the studio.

In the book, it really sounds like an awfully hostile work environment over at The Howard Stern Show.

Comedian Tammy Pescatelli witnessed the dynamics between me and Artie Lange (Artie and I were together at Stern) when I did Artie’s podcast and she said it was like watching two survivors of Auschwitz. We lived through such a toxic environment that it’s like we both have PTSD. It seeps over to the rest of your life.

I’ve been enjoying your podcast (aptly titled The Stuttering John Podcast) since reading the book. I love how you had AJ Benza on because I remember that the two of you had really bad blood. He slapped you and was banned from the studio. How did you two overcome your negative history?

After that incident, he emailed me a long apology letter and I was OK with him. When I was out in LA, I thought it would be cool to have him on my podcast as a guest. He made me slap him back so we would be even.

I saw some of the cringe-worthy interviews that you did. Some made me laugh, but others made me want to hide even though I wasn’t the interview subject! I remember when you asked Raquel Welch about her sagging boobs and she punched you. You talk about that interview in the book and you discuss the interview with Liz Smith and feeling remorseful about that one. Were those questions that were written for you, or did you write those yourself?

Let me address the Liz Smith thing. I never felt so bad after conducting an interview than I did with that one. It was Andrew Dice Clay’s idea to ask “Why are you such a fat cow?” because she had given him a bad review. Howard was like ‘Yeah, ask her that.’ She played along, but I regretted it. The next time we were at an event and she was there, I asked Howard if I could apologize to her. I did and we recorded that. I look back at that and think: it wasn’t a joke, it was an insult. I don’t mind asking Chevy Chase how he picks movie scripts – Does he go ‘eenie meenie mieni moe?’ It’s clever. Or when I asked baseball great Ted Williams ‘Did you ever accidentally fart in the catcher’s face?’ That was crude, but there was a sense of humor to it, whereas the Liz Smith one was mean.

In the beginning, Jackie and Fred were writing the questions and Howard would contribute some too. Then, I started writing some and then it was a pool of a lot of people on the show – Benjy Bronk and everybody. In the beginning, it was Jackie and Fred and I really thank them because they had great questions! They wrote the question for Ringo Starr: ‘What did you do with the money?’ He responded: ‘What money?’ and I answered: ‘The money for singing lessons.’ He said ‘I bought fish and chips.’

I never had a problem asking people questions from a very young age, so this was the perfect job for me!

We learn in this book that you’re a sensitive guy at heart, so is there anyone that you would want to apologize to now for your questions?

I felt bad after asking someone how many times he had seen Haley’s Comet because that was picking on the fact that he was old. Let’s see…I went to an SNL thing that Charles Barkley was hosting. He was doing a Q and A and it was right after Michael Jordan’s dad died tragically in a car accident. There was a ‘joke’ written for me ‘Are you going to ask your dad to stay out of a car?’ I used my discretion and I did NOT ask that!  There were times when I would have to make that call.

Other than that, I didn’t ask anybody anything that I would feel bad about. To me, it was like an SNL skit. The celebrities I goofed on would suffer the same way at the hands of other comedians. I always felt it was a comedy bit.

Then after me, as you know, there was Ali G.

Yeah, I was actually thinking about how you were doing your bits before Sacha Baron Cohen came along. Did he ever acknowledge you as some sort of inspiration or talk to you? 

That actually pissed me off. He was on The Tonight Show and didn’t even acknowledge me. To be quite honest, he seemed very arrogant when he was on the show. I also feel like Triumph the insult dog is my whole gig with a puppet and I never got acknowledgement for that. I am not expecting a thank you, but it would have been nice with Sacha if he had come over to acknowledge me.

Some of the stories of what you endured at The Howard Stern Show were pretty shocking. One incident you detailed was about how coworkers brought in your bottle of Prozac from your house – Then you were grilled about it on air. The other story was about Howard saying you weren’t fit to be a father and that your (now ex) wife should abort the baby. Then later, he said it to her while she was very pregnant!

The Prozac one embarrassed the hell out of me. I was so caught off guard that I used the excuse that it helped me to play guitar better. I was too afraid to say that it was because I had OCD. Who knew Howard was also suffering from OCD at the time?!  I felt betrayed by the guys I was renting my place to, but that was the nature of the show.

Aborting the kid – That’s the definition of a bully and in any normal circumstance, I would have beaten the shit out of the person who said that. But it was Howard and he was my boss. I had to just take it unless I had another job lined up. It’s like when I was a kid – I couldn’t leave the house because of what my dad did. I was stuck there.

When I met my wife, I said ‘I have to get out of the show. I can’t relive these bad memories of my childhood.’ Who knew it would take another 10 years after that?

One of my biggest triumphs, when people ask me, is not the Crazy Cabbie fight they’re expecting me to tell, but walking into Tom Chiusano’s office and giving my 2 weeks’ notice. I told him I was going to be the announcer on The Tonight Show and with me being a stutterer, he looked at me, paused and said ‘no way.’

The exhilaration I felt is unexplainable. As you see in the book, management thought that Howard had made me and that I wouldn’t be able to do anything outside of the show. Here I was, a known stutterer, going off to become the announcer at the most popular late night show.

The impression I got from the book is that Howard is stingy, petty and against his employees having outside work projects. Do you think there is any chance of him reading your book and extending an olive branch, wanting to bury the hatchet?  

He won’t read it! He’ll have Gary read it and he might have his lawyers read it. The problem is two tiered though when it comes to legal: Everything in there is the truth and there is not one lie. I have an incredible memory that is spot on, so there’s not a chance anything is made up. The other thing is that if he sues me, there’s not much to take! What is he going to get from me?

Quite honestly, if he did, it would only promote the book because…think of all the people who would then want to read it and see what he was mad about. He’s smart enough to know that too, which is why he ignored Artie’s book and Jackie’s book. KC’s book is out now and he won’t want to inadvertently promote that either.

With mine, I didn’t hold back and that’s the thing that Jay Leno wrote in his review. I’m unfiltered, much like the old Howard. I tell it like it is. The format of Howard’s show now is totally different – I know because of the many people I’m in touch with. There’s a red flag list of things and people they cannot mention.

I just wish Howard, like Jay, would look out for his employees more. There was an engineer whose wife had cancer and Howard really could have helped out there – Jay has helped out numerous employees with health or family health expenses – and Howard really did not treat this engineer who had been his loyal servant for 30 years well. I have so many sources that I feel like Carl Bernstein. I’ve spoken about this more in depth on my podcast.

I mention in the book that when Howard walks down the hallway, no staffer is allowed to talk to him and when this engineer did and it was about his wife’s health and the expense of treatments, Howard said ‘You know you’re not allowed to talk to me.’

You used to drive to work with Jackie Martling and you had great times with him, but you also describe him as moody. Then you talk about the intense mood swings of Artie Lange.  

It was wild. I could show you some of the texts from Artie. There would be one ‘I love you. You’re like a brother.’ Then 2 days later: ‘I’m a better comedian than you.’ He would suddenly go off on me and I’d be stunned and then a week later, it was ‘Hey man, I love you. Don’t listen to the last text.’ I’ll only pray for him because he’s got a big heart, but drugs were really a big problem.

You also describe how you and your ex-wife Suzanna used to hang out with Bruce Jenner and Kris, and that it was Suzanna who suggested the family do a reality show after witnessing how they all hung out. Has she ever been credited for what is now Keeping Up With the Kardashians?  

I have to apologize to everyone out there that we came up with the idea.

My wife would drive out there and write the treatments of the shows with Kris. Then Kris wouldn’t give her a producer credit or a salary. I mean, they’re living in mansions and I’m doing the Chuckle Hut in Indiana. Suzanna finally confronted Kris, but she responded that Kim had the same idea. It’s a load of horse shit!

Despicable people are despicable. She would put down Bruce and really be abusive to him. He wanted to come out as being transgender years prior, but Kris wouldn’t let him. She’s just a horrible person and that’s what you’ll get in this book. I call people out.

You do that with Chelsea Handler as well. You mention how you first met her on a plane ride and she saw you pop a Xanax. She asked you what it was and if she could have one and you gave it to her. Then when she became famous she acted like she didn’t know you.

She had met me and my wife and ignored us at a party. She also ignored a man who had kick-started her career. She turned her back and it was really despicable behavior. I call out Jimmy Kimmel in my book because Jay was so nice to him and promoted him despite them having competing time slots. Then Jimmy Kimmel went on to stab Jay in the back.

The original title of the Chelsea Handler chapter was going to be ‘Bitch from Beyond.’ I changed it to ‘Nice is a Four Letter Word.’

People frequently ask if you regret leaving Howard. In the book it’s pretty clear that you wanted to leave for a really long time and you were offered a major salary increase and promotion from Tonight. You couldn’t have envisioned what would happen to Jay’s show at that time. What is your best answer to that question that you keep getting?

I can only say that people who say that don’t know that most of us at Howard’s show couldn’t wait to get out. I also was making a very small amount of money and Tonight quadrupled that. I went to NYU for film and television because I wanted to produce and write. To write for the number one late night talk show in the world was an honor. Jay would tell me what a good job I was doing. I had so many great opportunities there and got a chance to make Barack Obama laugh.

On top of all that, what people don’t understand is that I have two pensions because of that career move. When you write for Howard, you’re not in the writer’s guild and you’re not getting any pensions.

I’m sure that taught you what type of boss you aspire to be. I know you do the podcast and you do standup comedy, but what other things put you in a ‘boss’ position? How does your work background affect how you are as a boss and a mentor?

I was in charge of writing the Kareem Abdul Jabbar roast and I’m still friends with all of the people I managed during that time. Any time I’m given the opportunity to be a boss, like when I was an EP on the Stephanie Miller Show, I’m always nice and I say ‘thank you.’ I let people know when they’re doing a good job. I always try to be more of a Jay Leno boss than a Howard Stern boss.

I have to ask you about the epic Donald Trump prank, when you were put through to the president while he was on Air Force One. You got through by pretending to be Senator Bob Menendez. Are you experiencing any current legal or other repercussions currently from that? You write in your book that you were visited by Secret Service agents the next day. Then you add that you ended up hiring Michael Avenatti as your attorney.  I know you mentioned you were slapped with a huge IRS tax bill right after that too.

Avenatti initially told me to stop doing my shows and said ‘You don’t want to poke the bear.’ That’s how I came up with this TV show I’m shopping around called Poke the Bear.  The idea is that if you have a problem with someone, say a politician, I’ll go and confront them and ask them those questions that you have. That’s what I was actually trying to do with Trump. It may have seemed like a goof and a prank but when I got on the phone with him, I asked questions that reflected real concerns I had and that was my goal. After that call, I laid low and then the Omarosa thing happened and the press shifted their focus from that.

My call to Trump is now long forgotten. It did point out how disorganized this administration is that this stuttering idiot gets on the phone and within minutes, he’s given the location of the president. I’m surprised they didn’t give me longitude and latitude coordinates. As part of their ‘security,’ they called me back to ask how I could be calling from an 818 area code and not the New Jersey number they had. I said I was on vacation and that totally cleared me!

Then Jared Kushner called within an hour to see what I wanted to discuss with Donald, and then I get the call from Donald. He’s giving me the date he’s going to release the Supreme Court Justice information. On that call, I don’t sound senatorial. I sound janitorial.

I’m pissed because I’ve had numerous conversations with Bob Menendez’s assistant. He could at least be a guest on my podcast and he hasn’t done it. The Trump phone call, with the exception of me getting in a ‘Babooey to you all’ at the end, is completely straight questions. I really wanted answers because I want there to be an end to putting children in cages. I wanted a more moderate Supreme Court Justice pick. From the start, my goal was to have a conversation with the president about issues that mattered to me.

In your book, you talk about how kids are off limits for goofs and I totally agree with that, especially considering how far certain radio personalities can go.

Anthony Cumia (of Opie and Anthony fame) – I did his show 10 times and each time, they told me that I was the best guest and got the best critique of any guest. As soon as he hired Artie though, it got bad. It got to this point that Anthony would post pictures of my kids and goof on my kids. My oldest is transgender and Anthony wrote something about how bad of a parent I must be that my kid needs attention by cutting off boobs. Then he posted a picture of my really sweet daughter Lily, said something about her having big teeth and that Bababooey must be her father.

His followers started tweeting pictures of my kids and then changing my daughter’s picture to make her look uglier. It got to this point that my kids were getting picked on and my ex-wife called me. We had to have an attorney send Anthony a Cease and Desist letter. Even the mob knows: You don’t go after kids.

When I listened to your podcast, you mentioned that people hate when you bash Trump, but since I’m on the same side as you politically, I am cool with it.

It’s so strange to see that it seems as if 90 percent of Howard’s old listeners are white supremacists! (Laughs) Whenever I tweet about Trump, I lose about 10 followers. It’s so weird to me that Howard has such a right wing base.

I loved the story about the boy Conroy who took your advice about stuttering and grew up to be so confident. Tell me about the work you do now to help kids who stutter.

I mentored several kids. I occasionally send out a tweet to all my followers and say ‘if you have a kid who stutters, I will gladly help.’ One time, these parents sent me a bottle of Dom after I helped their kid. I also was a keynote speaker at a national convention in Chicago. I will do anything I can. I tell kids who stutter that it’s not about who you are, but what you do. Getting to be the announcer at The Tonight Show is inspirational to stutterers everywhere. That’s why it really hurt when Howard was a judge on America’s Got Talent and he told a stuttering comic ‘You’re an inspiration.’  My oldest son called me and said ‘I can’t believe that Howard just said that.’ Then Artie Lange called and said the same thing.

Instead of telling me I was an inspiration when I became an announcer, he chose to bash me. I truly believe – and therapists would agree – that Howard got so mad when I was on I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here not because I missed work, but because I got critical acclaim from all the media outlets. The response was ‘hey, John is actually a nice guy!’ Even Gary emailed me because I came across so well. I think that bothered Howard who always wanted that national acceptance. I think my theory was proven correct by him doing America’s Got Talent.

Now that Howard’s show is on Sirius and we’re in the ultra PC age of 2018, the show has changed a lot. Do you ever listen?

When it switched over to Sirius, I wasn’t going to pay to hear myself bashed. I do know that now he has a list of celebrities he can’t bash – There’s Jennifer Aniston and Gwyneth Paltrow. That’s part of the ‘red flag list’ I talk about in my book.

There are people who are banned from the show because they went on to do other things and that’s another complete hypocrisy. Howard would always talk about how it was ridiculous that Johnny Carson banned Joan Rivers because she wanted to do another show. Howard has done the same thing.

Today, he’s gone down in listeners by becoming someone he and the listeners once hated.

I’m wondering if they will try to dispute points in your book on Howard’s show or argue about it.

Howard is going to want this book to go away. He’s not going to talk about it because that would result in people buying it. All of the stories in the book have been corroborated and there are witnesses to almost everything.

I am in touch with people from there and I was told that every staff member was instructed to create 10 fake Twitter accounts to solicit guests. A photo of that slide was sent to me. It’s so sad and so not who the old Howard was!

I will say that when I first heard Howard was mad at me, I called him and he said ‘I’m not mad. I should have made you an offer to be in the studio in Jackie’s chair.’ Then I was bashed on the air again. However, if THAT Howard – the one who said those kind words on the phone – had been the Howard I worked with for all those years, maybe I wouldn’t have left.

 

 

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Bravo TV, Psychology, Reality TV, RHOC

#RHOC: How would YOUR Husband Fare on a Show Like This One?

As a lawyer and party planner, new “Housewife” Emily Simpson thought her unique dual careers would provide ample fodder for reality TV…Along with the fact that her sister surrogated her kids following her own fertility struggles. There was also the interesting family she had married into of Persian Mormons.

But what Emily did not expect was for her husband Shane to be attacked so viciously by show fans on social media.

That’s the risk you take when embarking on a project like RHOC: One should expect anything, everything…everyone to be brutally dissected in the public arena. In general today, even people who aren’t famous can be torn apart for writing something divisive, or uttering a phrase without significant forethought. Of course, this only intensifies for individuals starring on reality television shows.

I hate to highlight certain gender stereotypes, but unfortunately some do exist. There are men out there who act as if they’re allergic to arguments women have. I’m married to a man who will take a pass when it comes to my recaps of PTA drama (and yes, there are some men on the PTA…lest you think I’m singling women out too severely) or the cliquish chaos that transpires between parents on the playground. I frequently want to share the deets of a hard day with interpersonal dynamics gone awry…and he’ll suggest I complain about it to my (other) BFF. I hate that and I’ll tell him so in no uncertain terms. I’m not always successful in this regard. It’s as if these accounts are too migraine-inducing for him to endure.

“Ugh can we not talk about those Housewives?!” he’ll ask as I start to divulge a fascinating development regarding Bethenny Frankel. At least he’s consistent: “Ugh, can we NOT talk about reality stars?!” he exclaims, when I bring up anything related to Donald J. Trump.

Emily Simpson’s husband Shane seems to be afflicted with that same malady. Knowing my own husband, and how he would NEVER sign release forms for a reality show, it boggles my mind that Shane somehow agreed to take part in this season of Real Housewives of Orange County.

When Emily hosted a poker party in their home, Shane told her friend Gina Kirschenheiter (the other RHOC newbie) at the end of the night, that she was incredibly loud and needed to leave.

This made no sense to viewers since the party was obviously planned beforehand and slated to be filmed. My guess is that Shane never thoroughly thought things through. Had he done so, he would have either sent the children to sleep elsewhere, where they’d be undisturbed by raucous partiers, or requested that Emily find a special venue for the poker event.

So now, of course, Shane, who is diminutive in stature, is being lambasted publicly as the “little dictator” married to Emily Simpson. Some have questioned whether or not he’s “controlling”. This past episode, we saw him sparring somewhat with Kelly Dodd at Tamra Judge’s party. This was after Kelly confronted Vicki Gunvalson’s boyfriend Steve Lodge (while he was busy chatting with Shane) about statements Steve made to Page Six.

Shane has made it known that he has very little tolerance for “loud women” and drama…..I have to admit to being utterly baffled by this on-camera revelation. Had he never watched the show he’s now on?!

I can tell you that my own husband has walked in on scenes featuring Vicki Gunvalson (RHOC) and Ramona Singer (RHONY), and scurried out of our bedroom faster than a mouse chased by a broomstick. For him, the interactions are stressfully jarring. These are the aunts at bar mitzvahs cornering you about finding a spouse…when you’re only 13. This isn’t something he wants to watch in his leisure time.

It is convenient that we have more than one television in our home so he can find solace in some other program. It doesn’t matter that he has the entire series of MASH memorized and can quote each episode verbatim. If Klinger is on, he’s elated. It’s the same deal with Cheers and Seinfeld.

Try as I may, I’m unable to persuade him to join me for some Vanderpump Rules…or EVEN an episode of Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen when one of the Pittsburgh Steelers is tending bar!

This will bug me at times, though I’ve come to know my mate: I wish we could jointly revel in the hilarity of those harried Housewives, the Ramona eyes, the drunken Dorinda slurs about Lu’s alcohol issues, Bethenny telling Carole to act her age and not her shoe size (or whatever the hell she said – I have PTSD from that), the infamous incident of a prosthetic leg thrown across a dinner table….

I wish that together we could analyze bizarre interactions between ladies whose problems pertain to the one percent. In my fantasies of such spousal interactions, we easily share the same anthropological viewpoints and are able to wax philosophical about Bravo shows….

As one does.

Alas, there are trade-offs in life and in marriages, and I should be thankful that he keeps things tidy (more so than I do), is an excellent cook and baker and most importantly, hands-on dad.

Although my husband isn’t Persian or Mormon, and he’s more likely to come up with an excuse for a trip to Costco rather than confronting my loudest girlfriend from Long Island, there’s no way he’d be able to film a scene that requires listening to recaps of frenzied fighting between filming friends and foes.

We see time and again with each of the Housewives franchises, that the husbands are obligated to listen and weigh in. To his credit, Joe Gorga of Real Housewives of New Jersey has mastered the art. He will, at the very least, act as if he’s listening and then offer some type of solution to his wife Melissa (she seldom takes his “advice”, but let’s grant Joe an “E” for effort). Jim Marchese of the same franchise overstepped his bounds in bellicose fashion and lasted a mere season.

I realize this is a highly unpopular opinion, but I have to give props to Shane Simpson for simply showing up…thus far. I know several husbands who would have found the largest plants or palm trees to hide behind at Tamra’s party before cameras surrounded them, catching instinctive eye-rolls and frantic – but flailing – signals for rescue.

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Big Brother, Gender Stereotypes, Women in the workplace, Psychology, Reality TV, Women

#BB20: Julie Chen MOONVES, the “player” who stole the show

With Len Moonves recently ousted as CBS Chairman, die-hard Big Brother fans (who often cannot be bothered by distractions while this all-consuming, annual televised challenge plays out) have kept their peripheral vision on host Julie Chen.

Julie had a career before she married Les, but his reign over the network certainly helped her star rise at CBS. Annually, she has hosted Big Brother with its myriad of mental and physical competitions, and she interviews each eliminated contestant in front of an audience for the weekly live portions of the popular, longstanding show.

Julie (who has always gone by “Julie Chen”) is also a cohost of The Talk, where the other cohosts (all women, including Sharon Osbourne who is married to rocker Ozzy) discuss hot topics and news items. The show features a wide variety of guests that join its panel for conversations.

Last night, while BB20’s power player Tyler Crispen made a bold and shrewd last-minute decision to put up one of the strongest players for eviction, Julie had her own “game play” in mind.

The news about her husband’s unwanted sexual advances towards women had been making the rounds since reporter Ronan Farrow exposed the indiscretions. After six women raised new assault and harassment claims – according to The New Yorker – Moonves “negotiated his exit.”

Many fans wondered how her husband’s departure would impact Julie Chen’s fate as Big Brother host. As the players were planning, strategizing and hypothesizing correctly about a double-eviction ahead, Julie was internally fixated on her own game plan during last night’s live show.

She kept her cool throughout the hour, but perhaps betrayed that notably robotic, eerily calm exterior when she referred to the second evicted houseguest as “Brent” rather than Brett.

Astute to every move and guffaw around them because the game requires it, I have to wonder what BB20 contestant Brett Robison thought of that out-of-character slip of tongue…

and how Julie signed off to signify she was standing by her man:

“I’m Julie Chen Moonves, Goodnight.”

It was a subtle statement to CBS by a woman who has never used her married name on air. Fans have taken to social media to comment on Julie Chen’s gameplay, with some in support of a woman “standing by her man” and others disgusted that she isn’t standing up for victims of sexual harassment and assault.

Ironically, what’s been going on inside the house is a mini-metaphor for the drama outside of it. Big Brother fans who constantly watch the live feeds witnessed Sexually inappropriate behavior from houseguest JC Mounduix. Following fan outcry, JC was admonished by producers who questioned other cast mates about whether or not they felt uncomfortable with him in the house.

No one complained about JC (certainly not Tyler who slept right through his own fondling a la Mounduix), so JC was allowed to remain on the show.

Some fans have written me that it is understandable for a wife not to want to believe the worst about her husband. Others have speculated that Julie wants to present a united front until she’s absolutely certain Les did something wrong.

Avid Big Brother viewers have been tweeting about Julie Chen’s potential replacement, while others argue that it would be unfair for her to lose or abdicate a position that has, seemingly, suited her perfectly for years. I feel that no woman deserves to be punished for her partner’s errant ways, but I’m also unfamiliar with the inner workings of CBS and how a company deals with its ex honcho’s spouse…who likely has a massive grudge to bear with the network. If Julie were to separate from Les Moonves, it would be a whole different story. Right now, the future is uncertain.

Do you think Julie Chen…er, Moonves will continue to host Big Brother next season? If not, who do you foresee as her replacement?

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#RHONY, Bravo TV, Psychology, public figures, Reality TV

#RHONY Psychology: Is the Bar Set Low for Your “Bethenny”? (Opinion)

Disclaimer: The following post may be deemed “psychobabble” as it reflects thoughts of a former psychology major, rather than psychologist or licensed mental health professional.

It is a residual learned helplessness from elementary school interactions with mean girls. When we come across someone brash, opinionated and intimidating, it’s somewhat instinctive how we set the bar lower, how we’ll lap up the love we do receive – between thorny barbs that prick us repetitively – like a little lost puppy dog.

As with an A-Plus student, someone like Bethenny Frankel has a podium to stand on so we are at a loss for words during debates. The little girls inside of us, upon recognizing approval from the harshest of critics, prize the praise of a “Bethenny” over the kind words of someone softer and more sensitive.

Because she is one who suffers fools lightly (so to speak), her moments of tenderness and vulnerability stand out more prominently than they would in an easygoing individual, and a fortress of respect surrounds her.

While I did not agree with certain actions of Carole Radziwill this season of Real Housewives of New York (RHONY), – her need to repeat atrocious things said to people behind their backs could perhaps be justified by the fact that cameras were capturing everything – I had compassion for her after witnessing her evisceration by cast mate and former buddy Bethenny Frankel.

No one on this show is without faults and the argument about “setting the bar lower” could be applied to other cast mates too. However, that would entail several other separate, lengthy articles. I’m going to stick to Bethenny in this particular one, while bearing in mind the argument about allowances made for Ramona Singer. We can save that Megillah (and ones devoted to Sonja, Luann, Dorinda…) for another time.

Think back to your days vying for the popular classmate’s attention and wishing you were in “the clique.” Remember laughing at the girl in the back brace who the cool kids were taunting? Would you put up with and participate in that sort of behavior now? I’m sure you are saying “no”, but if you think hard, you have probably made other mental adjustments for rude people.

You may know someone blunt who won’t back down and listen to you finish your points in a discussion – even when what they’re spewing is entirely wrong. It may be because they’re so often right and regarded as the “voice of reason” in other instances.

Despite some aggravation, you say to yourself, consciously or subconsciously, “She’s tough, but has chosen ME as her friend…ME!!!” So you listen and bite your tongue to keep from objecting.

This does reflect a collective self esteem and the desire we have to be appreciated by people we see as accomplished, authoritative and determined. As confident as one could argue that Manhattan socialite and bestselling author Carole Radziwill is, she is not above succumbing to another’s flattery and adoration of her.

Avid RHONY viewer and reality TV blogger Essence Capp observes: “When Carole met Bethenny at Luann’s during Season 7, she was almost ‘star struck.’ She really did seem in awe of her during the early period of their friendship.”

Bethenny called Carole the “cool girl” during that time and Carole (no doubt) loved it. I cannot blame her at all: I’ve been a a part of this type of dynamic in my own social life. Who doesn’t appreciate and value the praise of a highly discerning individual? Bethenny had already set herself apart as being that fussy, fault finding judge whose BS detector was extra fine-tuned.

My husband will say to me “Forget elementary school! That was 100 years ago!” However, it is the experience of playground and classroom interactions, including past swift assessments made by teachers and peers alike, that shaped who we are today. Whether we are willing to reflect and admit to it or not, the social and academic scrutiny in our formative years can affect us throughout young adulthood and beyond.

Knowing this allows us to ask ourselves “Why exactly do I need this person in my life? Why does their opinion of me matter so much?”

Unfortunately, as the Carole-Bethenny breakup attests, it can take a falling out for us to step back and decide what is worth fighting for…and what isn’t.

As I write this, Carole is still tweeting about the fights with her former friend. In doing so, she comes across to many as the Bitter Betty of the duo. Perhaps it’s because she feels that now that she won’t be returning to RHONY, she has nothing to lose and can totally go rogue.

It is best, when there’s no reality show in the picture, to be the better person. In the fashion of those beloved by Bravo who can look scornfully upon the Housewives and laugh at them, Carole could bow out gracefully and opt to “plead the fifth” instead.

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Bravo TV, Moms, Parents, Psychology, Reality TV

#RHOD: Brandi Redmond’s Adoption Was “NOT as Easy as It Looked!”

Dr. James Mercer stands behind RHOD’s Brandi Redmond in this photo. He is the one who made her recent adoption of a baby boy possible.

Sometimes we’ll see something on television and wonder aloud “Why did that person get so worked up over something so silly?” And then we slowly learn the behind-the-scenes details: The conversation, which we saw a minute of, was actually two hours long. There was a topic brought up that a character pleaded with producers not to show. A third party was involved who would not sign release forms. These are all examples of things that interfere with us seeing more of what actually transpired when something is shown on reality television.

On Real Housewives of Dallas, Brandi Redmond’s adoption of a baby boy invariably did a disservice to the adoption process because it wasn’t as easy as producers made it look.

Although we saw the man who made things possible, Dr. James Mercer, for half a second last episode, he (and others he works with) spent a ton of time with the Redmonds ensuring that the family was 100 percent ready and on-board to adopt a child when one became available.

Mercer explains that there were actually months of scheduled home visits in addition to unannounced, surprise visits for the family. There was psychological vetting, drug testing, reference checking and many other evaluations.

Although you might deem Brandi to be socially messy on the show surrounded by the…er, dynamic personalities (cough cough, Leeanne Locken), that doesn’t change the fact that she “completely has her shit together as a parent.” This was how one Dallas acquaintance of hers so eloquently put it to me.

Dr. Mercer, who possesses his own background worthy of a reality show and went through foster care as a kid, confirms that Brandi “has an immense amount of love to give and is an excellent mother.”

“Through Stephanie Hollman, I was introduced to Brandi,” he explains, “As a social worker, Stephanie had become familiar with my work with Lonestar Social Services, a foster and adoption agency serving the state of Texas. Stephanie is the kind of person I could call up and say ‘This child really wants a Batman bed. What can we do?’ and before you know it, she has donated a bed, bedding and her husband is making himself available to play softball with another child. The Hollmans are the most giving people with huge hearts. When Brandi was having her fertility struggles, Stephanie said to me ‘what about Brandi?'”

“This is not an easy process. It can be a year of totally consuming you and testing your patience and commitment. Then there are times things come up unexpectedly and the process can take longer. Or, there are certain highly specialized requests so things don’t happen as fast as you’d like them to.”

“Brandi was incredible throughout this whole journey. She didn’t get special treatment or have it easy – No one gets ‘special treatment’ in something as serious as this. Brandi never wavered and only became more committed as time went on. She has spent so much time with us that…and hopefully you’ll see this ahead on the season..our cause is something she’s become quite passionate about.”

Mercer is bound by certain confidentiality rules, especially since this was a closed and private adoption. What he was able to divulge is that he works closely with hospitals and social workers and was alerted about the baby, born to notably “young parents”, eligible for adoption.

At that point, Brandi had already completed the scrutinizing and selective vetting process. It is important to note here that a “closed adoption” means nothing is revealed, so the birth mother would not know that the adoptive mother appears on a reality show. When I asked how long it took Brandi to adopt the baby from start to finish, he is able to respond: “Minimum of seven months.”

Brandi was able to become an adoptive mother on the merits of her parenting history, cohesive and warm family dynamic, stable home environment and by meeting other benchmarks built into the system.

Mercer, who himself was eventually taken into a loving home as a child following years in foster care, made a mental commitment long ago to place kids in the best possible homes. “This is more of a crisis than people realize or even talk about,” he emphasizes, “There is a high number of kids who still need families.”

After writing his memoir several years ago, Dolores Catania of Real Housewives of New Jersey reached out to Mercer to say she was in awe of his work. The two have become close friends and appear often in photos together — in the event that you were wondering why his face looks so familiar.

He is no stranger to “Real Housewives” in general because of their common interest in philanthropy (a necessary component of taking care of kids without families and trying to place them in homes).

Dr. James Mercer’s book

One of the benevolent people he’s met through the charity circuit is Lisa Vanderpump. That’s right: The queen bee of RHOBH is not just passionate about pets.

Mercer wants viewers to know that Brandi Redmond and her family were subjected to the same rigorous process as the other non-famous clients he works with, but adds that she did get lucky in the end when the baby became available. “There are other people with very specialized requests and it’s been harder to get things in place as quickly. I really think the timing and how everything worked out for Brandi was a miraculous thing and clearly evidence of God’s amazing work! But there was so much involved during the preceding months that I wish people had gotten to see so they would understand it wasn’t as simple as it looked on TV. That said, I’m THRILLED they are showing this on TV at all! More awareness needs to be brought to adoption and the needs of these children.”

“We didn’t in any way ‘make it easy’ for Brandi as some critics have suggested. Also, it doesn’t matter who you are. Oprah would have to go through this whole process and it would require the same amount of vetting for her, as well as the same intense level of commitment. The priority is to ensure we find our kids the ideal, suitable and loving homes.”

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