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'Real Housewives' casting shakeups: Can each series survive without its most controversial character?

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Image Credit: Mitchell Haaseth/Bravo; Quantrell Colbert/Bravo; Andrew Eccles/Bravo; Adam Olszweski/BravoDespite reports that The Real Housewives of D.C. star (and infamous party crasher) Michaele Salahi will not be returning to the show’s uncertain (yet probable?) second season, Bravo insists no decision has been made regarding the D.C. installment of its record-breaking franchise. “We’ve had no discussion about a season 2 — including any casting — and won’t until the freshman season concludes. Any speculation to the contrary would be absolutely premature,” a rep for Bravo told EW.  Would you still watch The Real Housewives of D.C. without Michaele? There will be no shortage of bitchiness at the hand of Cat Ommanney, who has just enough of a mix of crazy (the lady dressed up as Sarah Palin for a cocktail event!) and fame whore to keep this thing going, and I love that Stacie Turner has such utter disdain for all things beyond D.C. proper. Lynda and Mary are kind of blah, but there’s always room for somebody new, right?

Similar casting rumors have been floating around New York City, amplified after Bethenny Frankel found success with a spin-off, husband, and baby on Bethenny Getting Married?. Real Housewives of Atlanta returns in October without Lisa Wu Hartwell, and New Jersey has already announced that Danielle Staub, “the Susan Lucci of reality TV,” will not be returning next season. Yes, a lot of this is speculation, as Bravo has held information regarding casting of future seasons close to the vest, but it begs the question: Will each Housewives series continue to be successful after major casting changes? Or do these shows need that exact combination of bitchiness and cattiness that only Danielle, Bethenny, etc. can provide, in order to survive?

Bravo’s Senior Vice President for Original Programming (and charming host of the late night Watch What Happens Live) Andy Cohen explained the reasons behind the Real Housewives phenomenon to EW: “I think it’s all about the cities being really different and the women somehow being definitional of a slice-of-life in those cities,” he said. “It’s all about the characters that we cast.” In defense of the franchise and future seasons of each series, it should be noted that the original Real Housewives, focusing on the ladies of a little gated community in Orange County called Coto de Caza, has seen numerous casting changes over its five seasons. Remember, before Slade & Gretchen, it was Slade & Lauri, and before that (season 1!) it was Slade & Jo. (Even better: Can anyone remember Jo’s short-lived reality spin-off?*) In fact, of The Real Housewives of Orange County‘s season 1 cast members, four have since left the show. (Current Housewives Tamra Barney, Lynne Curtin, Gretchen Rossi, and Alexis Bellino have all been additions to the show, and, after saying goodbye to Jeana Keough last season, Vicki Gunvalson is the only stronghold from season one. Can I get a woo hoo?) And yet Orange County‘s ratings are thriving. “Last season of Orange County versus the original [season] was up something like 20 percent, which is phenomenal. So each season the city seems to grow and grow,” Cohen said. “I think the [Housewives] franchise is stronger than ever.”

New Jersey isn’t as scenic as Southern California, nor as glamorous as New York City, so having a character with a rap sheet the length of the Garden State Parkway and a woman who proved she can quickly and easily lose her temper (even if it’s at the expense of Andy Cohen) certainly didn’t hurt its chances of success. New York City proved that no one shies away from taking sides in a good old-fashioned cat fight (Team Bethenny vs. Team Jill — will this ever be resolved?), so a Bethenny-less season may be a bit boring, albeit drama-free. As long as Kim Zolciak keeps releasing songs like this, the future of Atlanta is safe. But with the constant change-over in Orange County, it seems like the sunny surroundings, and repetitive plot lines of shopping, spa party, ladies trip, shopping, boat rides, shopping, connect most with viewers. Will D.C.’s politics and power-hungry mentality be the same? Or will the absence of the ultimate social climber Michaele Salahi bring it down?

So I ask you, PopWatchers: What’s your explanation for this Real Housewives phenomenon we’re currently living in? Does the city make the show, or do the women make the city? Do casting rumors make you scared about the future of your guiltiest reality show pleasure? Years from now when we dust off our pop-culture textbooks, will 2010 be known as The Real Housewives’ banner year? Or will D.C. and Beverly Hills continue to march this franchise forward?

*It was Date My Ex: Jo & Slade, if you’ve been keeping up. And now excuse me as I crawl inside a hole destined to a lifetime of isolation and Real Housewives episodes on repeat.

Read more:

Real Housewives: 15 Parenting Don’ts

Bethenny Frankel says she’s quitting ‘Real Housewives of New York City’

‘Real Housewives of New York City’: Bethenny Frankel threatens to leave, makes one big demand

Danielle Staub talks about ‘Real Housewives’ exit: I didn’t want to be treated like crap anymore’

Danielle Staub to host her own show on WealthTV

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