Bravo was rocked by the news of Russell Armstrong‘s death yesterday.
While Taylor Armstrong struggled with how to break the news to their five-year-old-daughter, the television network was issuing supportive statements — and, most likely, panicking.
The next season of “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” was in the can — and set to air September 5.
Obviously, the continued demise of the Armstrongs’ marriage was set as a storyline — how heavily the season leans on it, only the handful who have seen the footage know.
For Bravo, the big problem isn’t the action or how much of it there is.
It’s the tone Russell is handled with.
It’s painting with broad strokes to call him a villain on the series — but reality TV’s got some of the broadest strokes around.
In season one, Russell was shown ditching Taylor at parties, leaving his family for business travel often, and generally being cold.
The cameras seemed to crave Taylor’s moments of disillusionment with the marriage, the conversations in which other cast members shored up her doubts — it all made for the perfect “Eat, Pray, Love” divorce plot.
Bravo would be wise to go back and scrub the season-two half of this story, no matter how expensive or inconvenient it is.
But that’s only because the scrutiny turned on portrayals of a dead person isn’t worth trying to outsmart — not because Bravo has been unfair to Russell all along.
The man’s tragic death immediately sparked does-reality-tv-go-to-far conversations that will continue to rage, ultimately amounting to nothing.
Reality television, Bravo and “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” are not to blame for Russell’s death.
The man had a crumbling marriage and was in serious debt — two factors that contribute to real-life suicides.
The closest the show may have come to breaking him was when Taylor outed Russell to the press as a physical and emotional abuser. Certainly, a revelation like that one is devastating — but that’s true whether it’s delivered to People or a close-knit social circle.
And no one at Bravo forced Taylor to do that.
You’d have to infiltrate an Aboriginal community to find people who aren’t utterly versed in reality TV today. The Armstrongs — both of them — knew what they were signing up for.
You’re expected to put your life on display. You’re expected to capitulate to subjective, drama-oriented editing. There are pitfalls present, and ways to avoid them.
Asserting that reality television needs a serious revamp because of this horrible event is akin to blaming the music business for the death of Kurt Cobain.
Russell chose to appear on “Real Housewives” — if he hadn’t, like the husband of former “New Jersey” star Dina Manzo, he wouldn’t have been on camera.
That lens may have magnified Russell’s problems and thrown them back in his face.
But the thing about TV is: you can turn it off. What he evidently couldn’t outrun were the real, crushing issues that, in actual life, sometimes can’t be resolved by the commercial break.
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