Dozens of current and former Real Housewives descended on New York City this past weekend for the inaugural BravoCon—a three-day event that promised fans a "dream interactive experience" with their favorite Bravolebrities. According to the LA Times, almost 10,000 fans attended, and for the most part, it was a dream: They got selfies with O.G. Housewives like Kim Richards and cocktail advice from the Toms of Vanderpump Rules and a classic Countess Luann performance. But the Bravolebrities who showed up to chat on panels and host events got something, too: a chance to assert themselves as dominant figures in the ever-changing Bravo hierarchy.
The few who did not show up missed an opportunity to build a connection with their audience (and, ahem, Andy Cohen), something their co-stars eagerly pointed out. During a Real Housewives of Atlanta panel, Kenya Moore addressed Nene Leakes' conspicuous absence. "This platform is for the fans," she said, according to People. “We’re here because we want to be here for the fans.”
As Moore seems to understand, a successful Bravo star is one who is constantly working for more airtime and exposure. And the stakes have never been higher: Since Bethenny Frankel announced her (second) departure from Real Housewives of New York in August, there has been somewhat of a power vacuum in the extended housewives universe. The Skinnygirl founder became one of the most successful women to ever appear on the show, selling her brand for a reported $120 million, landing spinoff after spinoff, and eventually becoming a producer herself. But now that she is officially off Bravo, there is room for another star to rise up and take her place.
Will any of them succeed? Let’s recap our favorite power players’ performances from the weekend.
There were two big casting announcements to come out of Bravocon. One, the network is launching a brand new Housewives franchise set in Salt Lake City, which, thank God. And two, producers have found Frankel's technical replacement: a 42-year-old streetwear designer named Leah McSweeney. We don't have any casting information about Real Housewives of SLC yet, but if the series starts strong, it could knock down some already underperforming franchises (ahem, O.C.).
McSweeney, meanwhile, is a wildcard. She's a downtown fixture who seems to intimidate the other New York women (good), but her appearances in the tabloids have been, uh, less than strong. See: the bizarre texts she exchanged in 2017 with SNL’s Michael Che. It’s too soon to tell if she has staying power on Bravo, but I will be watching her performance closely.
Housewives with potential wedding spinoffs
One of the best ways for housewives to consolidate power in the Bravo realm is to land a spinoff. This not only gives them more airtime on the network, it also puts them in a better position among the other women on their specific franchise. How do you land a spinoff? Get married and/or have a baby. (Frankel did both, as chronicled on Bethenny Ever After.)
At various points throughout Bravocon, housewives made their pitches to the audience (and the network execs in attendance, of course). Kelly Dodd of the O.C. conveniently got engaged right before the big weekend, and according to Page Six, she "definitely wasn’t shy about flashing the rock." And former housewives Caroline Manzo of New Jersey and Jeana Keough of the O.C. appeared on a panel to signal their interest in returning to the network. Keough told the audience she thinks a series focused on her children would be a great idea, and Manzo bragged that her 33-year-old son was "almost engaged."
But I believe there is only one housewife who could successfully follow in Frankel’s footsteps in 2020, and that is Porsha Williams of Atlanta. Williams already starred in a three-part spinoff earlier this year focused on the birth of her daughter (Porsha’s Having a Baby). And at Bravocon, she clearly signaled that she is looking for more airtime. "You will hopefully see me get married on television," she told fans at a panel. This is despite the fact that her current storyline on RHOA involves the reveal that her fiance cheated on her while she was pregnant. Still, she wants to get married on camera—the mark of a true Bravo professional.
Bravo's future queen?
The Housewives franchise is the crown jewel of the network, but there is one spinoff that has grown consistently more popular over the last several years: Vanderpump Rules. And within that beautiful, booze-soaked series is a rising, Frankel-esque figure named Stassi Schroeder. No one on Pump Rules has done more to solidify their brand off camera. She has a highly-rated podcast, a bestselling book she probably wrote parts of (Next Level Basic), a series of live shows, AND she recently got engaged. Based on her appearances at Bravocon, it seems like the network is setting her up to be its next big star—perhaps more deliberately than it has with any other housewife.
This weekend, Schroeder announced she’s doing a talk-show spinoff for the network. It will be on YouTube (hmm), but it does signal that Bravo is investing in her more than anyone else currently on the show. And she also announced that she is getting married next October in Rome. VPR is typically done filming by that point in the year, clearing the way for an off-season European spinoff. Which is probably why she planned it that way.