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Bravo introduced the Summer House franchise in 2017, a little over a decade after the network’s lifeblood series Real Housewives debuted in 2006. In true Bravo fashion, both franchises celebrate an extravagant lifestyle paired alongside a beautiful cast with big personalities that will undoubtedly clash against one another. The Summer House franchise originated in Montauk, NY, a polarizing opposite to the Real Housewives startup in Orange County, California, but perhaps even more important than the coastal divide is the concept of “happily ever after” which has changed tremendously in the generations that separate the Summer House cast in New York from the Real Housewives of Orange County cast.
The Real Housewives franchise has dominated Bravo’s primetime programming since its premiere in 2006. Andy Cohen and his host of savvy producers added additional cities to the brand making it geographically and culturally inclusive. The franchise has chronicled countless marriages and divorces for nearly two decades. From OG Vicki Gunvelson’s drawn-out divorce to Camille Grammar’s uncomfortable scenes with an apathetic Kelsey Grammar to Phaedra Parks and Teresa Guidice’s prison sentence-tainted divorces to Nene Leakes divorcing and re-marrying her ex-husband Greg (RIP), Real Housewives fans have experienced the gamut of dramatically failed marriages. This season’s non-impressive ratings could have less to do with the cast members not delivering, and more to do with the premise behind the franchised becoming as antiquated as Kim Zolciak’s synthetic wigs in Real Housewives of Atlanta season one circa 2008.
New Series Focuses on the Lifestyle of Hot Attractive Singles Instead of Married Couples
The Summer House franchise was introduced as an opportunity to connect with a slightly younger audience, throwing hot singles into a vacation home for a certain period of time, reminiscent of MTV’s original reality series, The Real World. Every season, sexy singles succumb to the production-induced temptation to rendezvous with a housemate, creating rivalries and allowing jealousy to rear its ugly but welcomed head. This series continues to grow in popularity with the most recent season, Summer House: Martha’s Vineyard, trending when Bria Fleming ended up feuding with housemates when her dog, whom she deems her emotional support animal, relieved himself in the game room near the pool table. The recent Summer House features trivial arguments juxtaposed between the promise of scandalous romance, with temporary rivalries and allies is the formula for reality gold.
Almost two decades ago, the Real Housewives franchise was based upon the social construct of marriage equaling privilege. The Real Housewives of Orange County introduced viewers to four wealthy housewives and Jo De La Rosa, who at the time was a hopeful fiancé, enjoying an opulent lifestyle within a privileged zip code at the expense of a wealthy husband content to play the role of silent provider to spoiled attractive wives. While there were always hypergamous undertones, cameras captured the ladies dealing with real-life issues including health scares, impending divorce, and the growing pains of relocation all against the backdrop and security of matrimonial bliss. Relatable but enviable, The Real Housewives was an instant success.
Statistics show millennials and GenZer’s don’t prioritize marriage the way their grandparents or parents did. According to a social study performed at Johns Hopkins, the marriage rate has dropped by nearly 60% over the last fifty years much of that change focused on the last two decades. Some factors include religion being less of a factor, the dissolution of traditional gender roles, women earning more in the workplace, and social media influence; but the bottom line is, marriage is no longer viewed as a rite of passage to a happy and fulfilled life.
The Summer House franchise was built upon a very different dynamic. Nine friends connect based on their affluent yet carefree lifestyle suggests subtly that the ideal lifestyle has changed dramatically from the days of hitching one’s wagon to a wealthy man to establish security and instead celebrates living life to the fullest hanging with posh friends and partying well into one’s 30s. The storyline screams “30 is the new 20”, with cast mates focusing on living life out loud, focusing on exploring every aspect of self-actualization, while enjoying passionate romances without the heaviness of marriage or the impending threat of divorce.
Summer House started slow and steady, but has continued to build momentum. This season’s Summer House: Martha’s Vineyard garnered some of the highest ratings and social media attention the series has experienced. With a historical reputation of being a playground for African Americans with “old money”, the Martha’s Vineyard cast is relevant due to their familial ties to affluence, political privilege and social class instead of marrying well. Consisting of one newlywed couple, Silas and Jasmine Cooper, and a host of their hot young friends and acquaintances, Summer House Martha’s Vineyard remained a part of the social media conversation. Some may point a finger at the drama with Mariah Torres and fan favorite Bria Fleming — Torres was ultimately asked to leave after a physical confrontation — but drama is a mainstay on Bravo and certainly doesn’t guarantee ratings.
Another Bravo show celebrating hot young singles and their relationships sans the sanctity of marriage is Vanderpump Rules. The show is in its 10th season and was one of the highest-rated shows on Bravo in 2023 due to a scandalous love triangle and the devil-may-care lifestyles of the cast.
The Real Housewives of Atlanta, one of the most popular casts, has been experiencing lower ratings than ever before. Fan favorite Kenya Moore gave a rare interview speaking candidly about the obstacles in her impending divorce from restaurateur Mark Daly and audiences barely reacted to the piping hot tea. News of Drew Sidora’s shocking race against her husband Ralph Pittman to file for divorce first was a twenty-four-hour trending topic during the offseason, but the unexpected divorce is still not enough to pull RHOA fans back to their Sunday night ritual of watching RHOA. Numbed by the foreseeable minutia of rushed marriages, dramatic divorce and all the games in between has rendered the storylines on Real Housewives expected and just as out of touch as the idea of marriage being a gateway to the good life.
Will the Cast of Summer House Have the Long-Term Cultural Impact of Real Housewives?
Summer House has a long hike to become the pop-cultural phenomenon that Real Housewives has become, but the show’s popularity is proof that our social landscape is changing. More young people are focusing on self-exploration and chasing their careers before adding a spouse and/or family to their identities. Summer House embraces freedom in being young and enjoying life for all that is has to offer as opposed to finding validity in taking a successful man’s last name as proof of entry to a life of extravagance. Jordan Emmanuel and Bria Fleming are unapologetically enjoying their youth and beauty with the advantage of dating whom they wish without pressure. In a culture where reality art imitates life, the ability for young people to define success on their terms can’t be viewed as anything but progression.
A world without the Real Housewives is unimaginable today. Andy Cohen has cornered the reality space by tapping into a formula that satisfies the basic human needs of love and security. The feelings are valid it’s the method of arriving that need adjusting. While society works out its new definition of marriage, Summer House presents a welcomed distraction to an exponentially increasing divorce rate.