TV programmer: Real Housewives series is “sociology of the rich”

The programmer behind the Real Housewives shows suggests they might have some sociological value:

Andy Cohen should know as the programmer behind “Top Chef,” the various “Real Housewives” series and his own “Watch What Happens Live.” Cohen, a former producer at CBS News, weighed in on the Bravo success story in an interview with Howard Kurtz on CNN’s “Reliable Sources” Sunday morning.

In picking programs, Cohen said he looks for “something that hasn’t been done before” and a personality different from what viewers have seen…

“In the case of ‘The Housewives,’ I call the ‘Housewives’ sociology of the rich,” Cohen told Kurtz. “I think it’s just fun to watch. It’s guilt-free gossiping that you can have. It’s like the modern-day soap opera, in my mind.”

I would be interested to have a sociologist chime in about whether shows like these reflect an increased interest in the lives of the wealthy and famous say compared to thirty, fifty, or one hundred years ago. When sociological studies like The Gold Coast and the Slum were written in the late 1920s, lower- or working-class residents may have known about the rich or run into them occasionally (and part of the intrigue of this study is that the wealthiest and poorest residents of Chicago lived within blocks of each other) but did they have the kind of vicarious interest in the rich that TV shows today try to promote?

Also: I imagine there are plenty of wealthy people who would argue that these shows only display a small segment of the wealthy lifestyle. What about shows about the millionaires next door or about people who scrimp and save to get their money? These shows seem to encourage people to live a more “wealthy lifestyle,” combining spending (conspicuous consumption, anyone?) and celebrity status.

A second note: it is hard to argue that an edited show about the wealth, a modern-day soap opera, can impart a whole lot about reality or a sociological understanding of the world. It can tell you something…but perhaps more about what Americans like in entertainment than about how people really live.

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