Proving the old adage that if it ain't broke, don't fix it, Bravo churns out a new locale for its popular "Real Housewives" franchise by adding Atlanta to the successful Orange County and New York City editions. Two of the "Real Housewives of Atlanta," NeNe Leakes and Lisa Wu Hartwell, talked to our Jim Halterman about having their lives in front of the cameras, the conflicts between the housewives and how they plan on dealing with negative reactions to their upper class lives.
First of all, how different could these five Atlanta housewives be from the Orange County and New York City housewives? According to Leakes and Wu Hartwell, fashion and style are a good place to start. "Let me tell you about the Orange County Housewives," Leakes started out. "I never really saw them really get down and stylish at all. Now, we're a little bit younger and a lot more hip. Our case is definitely younger than the Orange County Housewives." Wu Hartwell also picked on the Orange County cast by saying "I just think demographically Los Angeles is more laid back," she said. "They like to wear jeans a lot and they're more laid back than New York. In New York they dress up. But like NeNe said, we're a little bit younger and we attend a lot of events."
Leakes and Wu Hartwell's comments about the other casts weren't entirely negative, though. "I did watch the Orange County housewives and I absolutely loved them," Leakes remarked. "I watched all their seasons. The very first season they had a young lady in the show by the name of Jo and I thought I could see myself in her so much. I know she's no longer one of the housewives now but she had a lot of personality. She just was out there and I thought she really kept it real so I thought that was me." Wu Hartwell admitted that she's just recently checked out the previous series. She mentioned, "Watching all the Bravo shows � 'Project Runway', 'Top Chef', anything � I love the 'Housewives' series. Now I'm finding myself going back and watching some of them"
One element of the "Housewives" series is the conflict between the wives. In this edition, the animosity brews between Leakes and the outspoken Sheree from the first episode when Sheree forgets to add Leakes' name to the guest list of her exclusive birthday party and drama ensues. Wu Hartwell commented that it wasn't always easy to be friends with both Leakes and Sheree during their feuds. "I found myself in the middle a lot," she recounted. "I think they're two wonderful, great women and they're both very opinionated. So I kind of just kept a happy medium and I listened to each other's concerns and I just tried to be the peacemaker. But, you know, it's like sisters. We're all sisters and at the end of the day we're all great friends."
Leakes said that her strained relationship with Sheree wasn't always present. "Sheree and I met through a mutual friend and we kind of hit it off. I think Sheree is a lot of fun. I think she has a strong personality and I have a strong personality, as well... we would talk on the phone five or six times a day. We hung out. Our children played together. Just as time went on, things just didn't work out for us so we are cordial."
Along with showcasing the housewives, their respective families are also a very present part of the series. Though some of their husbands play in the NBA or NFL and are used to the limelight, the spouses of Leakes and Wu Hartwell had different reactions about being involved with the series. Wu Hartwell, who is married to Oakland Raiders guard Ed Hartwell, admitted "I had to have the conversation with him and I wanted to know if he would allow the cameras to be in his life to that extent. And at first he was apprehensive but then he was, like, you know what? It might be fun. And he thought it would be a great platform for our businesses, as well."
Leakes' husband, a real estate investor, did not react with the same trepidation. "My husband is Gregg and I had been in the entertainment business before and when I brought the idea to my husband that [Bravo was] interested in me being one of the housewives in Atlanta, my husband was excited for me... we were more concerned about the children because we have two boys and they were in school. And I wanted to explain to them how the cameras would be and they would follow us around a lot. And my husband [and] the kids agreed so here we are."
Though they are living the high life in Atlanta now, both housewives admitted to not having grown up in such a privileged environment. "I would say middle class," Wu Hartwell said. "My father and my mom are still together and he was the breadwinner and she was a stay-at-home mom. But the house was termed in the hood. I'm from Inglewood (a lower class neighborhood in Los Angeles) but the houses in Inglewood are like $400,000 [or] $500,000... that would be middle class but just not in so great an area. [In] Los Angeles you have to have millions of dollars to have a decent home in a great area."
Leakes said despite her upbringing, people tend to think she is from a lower class background. "It's really funny how some girls that I'm around who are really wealthy today they say I'm from the ghetto. I grew up in the hood and that kind of thing. And I'm looking at them and they probably think that I really grew up in the hood. But I really didn't. I had a really good life growing up... my mom and dad [weren't] rich and I also stayed with my aunt a lot and they were middle class."
Another new element of being a part of "The Real Housewives of Atlanta" is the very vocal audiences and how they often express their opinions on the internet. However, the ladies hope to keep from letting any negative reaction get to them. Leakes commented "I really think that everybody has an opinion and there's just no way that you're going to be able to please everyone. I've seen some of the blogs and some of the people are being kind and some people are being nasty on the blogs. To me, those are the people that have nothing else to do... we have a great life and we're not faking it. I mean, it's true. We do have a great life and people are not going to be happy for your success."
Wu Hartwell agreed by saying "There's somebody on the show that every woman can identify with. And at the end of the day if your family and your friends know who you are, you're true to yourself, that's all that really matters because I might say something next week that just ticks you off and now you're upset with me again. So you really can't be concerned about that and just be yourself and have fun."
When asked what they'd like viewers to take away from the show, Leakes hoped that people would see that "we are great mothers. That's first of all. And we are strong women." She cited that even though many of the wives are the athlete's wives "like [other housewives] Lisa and DeShawn, they're very independent. They have their own goals. They're strong. They're hustlers. They're not waiting and dependent on their husbands out there." Wu Hartwell thought that the "Real Housewives of Atlanta" could also help women stop from being dependent on their spouses. "You don't have to sit around the house and just spend your husband's money. You can have your own thing going on and be independent."
"The Real Housewives of Atlanta" kicks off tonight on Bravo at 9:00/8:00c.