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Life After Beth(enny): What's Next For The Real Housewives of New York

Bethenny Frankel’s departure leaves the Bravo series at a transition point.
  • Bethenny Frankel (Photo: Heidi Gutman/Bravo)
    Bethenny Frankel (Photo: Heidi Gutman/Bravo)

    Bethenny’s over, and Bethenny’s gone. Bethenny’s decided it’s time to move on. Bethenny has new dreams she’s building upon. And we’re still hurting.

    Yes, Bethenny Frankel has officially left The Real Housewives of New York. The news absolutely shook fans of the Bravosphere last week, with the longtime star’s departure trending on Twitter (and our own forums) since the announcement. While she’s actually done this before — she originally left the show after Season 3, not returning until Season 7 — the news stings far worse this time. RHONY, more than most Housewives shows (save maybe Potomac), lives or dies by its ensemble.

    For the past three years, New York had the perfect ensemble cast. Ramona Singer was the hurricane of drama. Luann de Lesseps was the criminal countess and cabaret star. Sonja Morgan was a Manic Pixie Dream Housewife seemingly created in a lab to appeal to the gays. Dorinda Medley was the messy-but-earnest drunk aunt. Tinsley Mortimer was the young, slightly annoying kid sister. And Bethenny was the voice of reason right in the center. The six of them, with former castmate Carole Radziwill as their seventh before her departure, became RHONY incarnate.

    Now, the show has a major vacuum to fill. Bethenny was arguably the most important part of the ensemble. She was the vox populi, the audience’s gateway into the show. You can’t plop just anyone in the sixth slot and call it a day. You need a very special kind of Housewife to recreate the magic of the past three seasons … or you need to go another direction entirely.

    Unfortunately for Bravo, it’s clear that Bethenny didn’t leave the show much time to make a big change. After her announcement, reports surfaced that she actually resigned on the day shooting began for RHONY’s 12th season, meaning her fellow Housewives are almost certainly already contracted for the new season. (She also, according to Page Six, didn’t tell her costars, which is both rude and hilarious.) If the network planned to keep the ensemble the same, they may not have added a new cast member, leaving them with just five women. The last time RHONY had a permanent ensemble of just five? Season 1.

    The show could always add someone after the fact — there have been new Housewives added late in plenty of other seasons across the multi-city franchise. (Sonja herself was a midseason addition in Season 3.) But again, that would require a pretty perfect individual to fit into the Bethenny slot, and the idea of casting so precisely while filming is going on sounds like a big ask. At best, it seems any new ensemble member would be a Band-Aid on a bigger problem.

    My suggestion: RHONY should do whatever it needs to do to get through this season, then massively reboot going into Season 13. This is what they did in Season 5: only three Housewives stayed on, with production bringing three new women in. This would give the show a chance to totally refresh its vibe, and rely less on a perfectly balanced ensemble to keep the show going.

    Who should go, though? Ideally, Tinsley would be shown the door — she can be iconic, but not routinely enough — but according to Page Six, TInsley also costs pennies compared to the other cast members. So she’s probably safe. There were rumors that both Ramona and Luann were on the chopping block for Season 12, but both seem to have made it through this time around. I’ve always said that Ramona is necessary as the only cast member to be a lead Housewife on every single season: she’s the anchor! And she and Sonja are a comic duo, so I’d say they’re both safe next season, too.

    Let’s say the show decides Luann is more legal trouble than she’s worth and lets her go. That leaves us with Dorinda, who is also beloved by fans and the network alike. Losing her feels unlikely. So maybe the show keeps four, and brings two new girls in for Season 13. Then, perhaps, to draw fans in droves, they bring back someone from RHONY’s past. Maybe Carole, maybe Heather Thompson from Seasons 5 through 7 … or maybe even original Housewife Jill Zarin? She’s made some guest appearances on the show in later years, but her dynamic with Bethenny always kept her at arm’s length. Maybe it’s time for the red-headed New Yorker who started it all to make her grand return?

    Whatever happens, RHONY is lucky to have a solid base of fans. It’s not Bravo’s biggest show, but it's one of the most popular with the culturati. Replacing Bethenny is going to require some drastic measures, but when they figure it out, fans will likely embrace the new cast with open arms. Even if we’re still hurting over the one that got away.

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    Kevin O'Keeffe is a writer, host, and RuPaul's Drag Race herstorian living in Los Angeles.

    TOPICS: Real Housewives of New York City, Bravo, Bethenny Frankel, Reality TV