How the Real Housewives franchise spawned a podcast media empire
It’s been just over 12 years since the Real Housewives first hit television screens and this weekend the Atlanta chapter will celebrate a decade on air. Andy Cohen and his army of fast-talking, sequin-wearing ladies have been instrumental not only in their own financial success, but have boosted countless careers over the years. There are the many spin-offs and shows that owe their own creation to the Housewives, of course, and the many employees of franchise-adjacent brands (let’s give a shoutout to whoever is actually designing the Beverly Beach bikinis). But chief among the Bravo spawns are the savvy superfans who turned their obsessions into a paycheck — or, at least, a huge following.
Just as television recaps arose around Friday Night Lights and Lost in the early aughts, the Housewives quickly inspired online discussion of such spectacles as Allison Dubois’ dinner party from hell. The traditional recap culture has dwindled in recent years — the result, most likely, of binge-watching habits — but podcasting culture quickly took its place.
“We’re capturing that feeling of watching the show with your best friend on the couch,” says Ben Mandelker, co-host of Watch What Crappens, which covers all manners of Bravo reality shows. “For some of these people, they don’t have anyone to talk to about these shows — they don’t have the gay best friend. It sort of creates that feeling of family in our community.”
Watch What Crappens launched in 2011, hosted by former TV bloggers Ronnie Karam and Mandelker. They’re joined by fellow podcasts Two Judgey Girls, Sexy Unique Podcast and, of course the behemoth Bitch Sesh. The popularity of Bravo’s biggest reality shows is reflected — Crappens, for its part, averages roughly 1.5 million listens per month, according to its hosts.
Bitch Sesh, for its part, has carved out its listener base thanks not only to the witty commentary provided by hosts Danielle Schneider and Casey Rose Wilson, but the openness with which they talk about their own lives.
“I was sharing how I had postpartum depression,” says Wilson. “And people were writing me and saying it was really resonating.”
She and Schneider launched their podcast in 2016 after years spent as outspoken fans — they even starred in the Hulu parody The Hotwives of Las Vegas — and their self-deprecating humor, doused in sincerity, has attracted a loyal audience. On air, Bitch Sesh also cultivated an enviable Hollywood following — their guest list includes actress Jamie-Lynn Sigler, Vanessa Bayer, and writer (“feminist icon, frankly,” says Wilson) Roxane Gay. Although, there is one dream guest (and fellow Housewives fanatic) that the hosts have been circling, too scared to fully approach in any formal capacity.
“If this could be an open letter to Chrissy Teigen, a love letter,” says Wilson. “We would love to have her and our doors are open.”
Wilson and Schneider have parlayed podcasting fame into must-see live recordings, an increasing trend in the audio content world. Their listeners show up to sold-out theaters nationwide, clad in what Schneider describes as “Andy Cohen cosplay” (that’s costumes, of course). Wilson adds, “It’s taking the Housewives off the screen and realizing we make fun of it, but here they are walking amongst us.”
Bitch Sesh isn’t the focal point of either Wilson or Schneider’s careers but a welcome reprieve from the stress of auditioning or script-writing. As Upright Citizen’s Brigade alums, they appreciate the creative freedom in podcasting. “This has been one of the first things I’ve done where what you see is what you get,” explains Schneider. No one is giving notes or saying things like “That’s too unlikeable,” Wilson points out.
In fact, some of the most important feedback they’ve received has been overwhelmingly positive: From that of Andy Cohen himself. The Bravo exec has appeared on an episode of Bitch Sesh, and explained to EW.com that he used their opinions to help gauge the success of the latest spinoffs Potomac and Dallas.
“To have them, such super fans of the franchise, latch on to the two newest shows,” he said. “That says we’re doing it right.”