Yes, The Workers May Deserve Better. But The Madam Doesn’t.

So another toxic work environment story is in the news, and wouldn’t you know it, it just happens to involve still another show with a connection to the NBCU family,  After what just went down on the set of DAYS OF OUR LIVES, which resulted late Friday in the deserved dismissal of producer Albert Alarr, it was almost unsurprising to see a series of articles late last week with a whole bunch of other accusations being tossed around.  As THE NEW YORK POST’s Page Six contributor Carlos Greer reported:

Bethenny Frankel enlisted power attorneys Bryan Freedman and Mark Geragos to threaten the network with a lawsuit.  On Friday, Freedman and Geragos fired off a legal threat to NBCUniversal’s General Counsel and Executive Vice President of Comcast Corporation, Kimberley Harris.  

In the letter, obtained by Page Six, they accuse NBC and Bravo of making “deliberate attempts” to “manufacture mental instability” by plying their talent with “alcohol while depriving them of food and sleep, as well as denying mental health treatment for those displaying obvious and alarming signs of mental deterioration.”

And we’re hearing the reality star community are more than eager to join her cause.

Freedman told Variety he’d heard from roughly “50 reality show castmembers” and now a source familiar with the situation tells Page Six there’s even more.

“It’s going to be a massive thing. There are multiple individuals wanting to join this … at least 80 people have reached out, men and women,” they said.

It’s the power of Bethenny Frankel.

The power of Bethenny Frankel?!?!  Say what?

I’ve come across Ms. Frankel before, and if you are a fan of unscripted TV in the last two decades, you probably know her act all too well.  But for the benefit of those of you who aren’t, let’s recap:

Frankel said she moved many times and attended multiple schools before going to boarding school. Frankel attended Catholic schools as a girl, and she graduated in 1988 from the Pine Crest School in Fort Lauderdale, Florida,[10] where she lived on campus. In 1992, Frankel moved to Los Angeles with hopes of being an actress. While she landed some small acting roles, she worked as a nanny to Paris Hilton and a personal assistant to Jerry Bruckheimer and Linda Bruckheimer. In 2003, Frankel started a baking business called “BethennyBakes”, focusing on “healthy” cookies and meal delivery in New York City, which was featured on The Apprentice: Martha Stewart, a reality competition series, in 2005.[13][15][16] Frankel was one of two finalists on The Apprentice: Martha Stewart.[17] The company, BethennyBakes, later went out of business in 2006.  In 2008, Frankel began starring in the reality television series The Real Housewives of New York City, which premiered in March on Bravo.Some of her most notable phrases on the show that the Bravo Network recognized, and ultimately capitalized on, include: “Get off my jock”,[29] “Go to sleep! GO TO SLEEP!”, “Life is not a Cabaret!” [30] and “Mention it all!” while simultaneously opening her legs during an argument with fellow castmate Ramona Singer.  

So it probably shouldn’t come as a surprise that several of her former partners and colleagues at Bravo snarkily referenced has as a “fame whore” directly to me as she exited RHONY in 2010 and subsequently shopped herself around for new projects.  Other former colleagues of mine at Warner Brothers and FOX gave her a shot at a daytime talk show, which got a brief and mediocre tryout in 2011 and then sat in limbo as she openly campaigned to anyone who’d pay attention for what she believed was a fairer shake.  She indeed got that longer arc in 2013, but by mid-season ratings had confirmed the earlier verdict and her show was cancelled.

Yet while she was failing miserably as a stand-alone personality, she attached her name to a pre-existing business of pre-packaged margaritas, branded it “Skinnygirl” and then proceeded to graft that brand onto an array of other products including, as Wikipedia rattled off, “candy, deli meat, sweeteners, popcorn, salad dressings, shapewear, and most recently, jeans and apparel.”[36] She sold the cocktail line to Beam Global for $120 million in 2011.  

Oh, and to promote herself, she appeared nude in an ad for PETA in the process.

Which, of course, qualified her as a must-have for SHARK TANK.

When the franchise show I worked on was beginning to struggle for ratings the producers enlisted my team to help them identify potential “guest sharks”.  Our research confirmed that the show’s lapsed fans were most interested in people who actually built businesses and offered personal integrity, much as they perceived was the case with the likes of their preferred incumbent sharks such as Barbara Corcoran and Robert Herjavec.  Frankel consistently was dismissed as offering none of those qualities or generated any interest in curiosity viewing.  Nonetheless, the braintrust at ABC, Mark Burnett himself (who it turns out had signed her to a development deal for unscripted shows that ultimately produced nothing) and yes, my colleagues could not find a way to say no.

As you can see, she indeed appeared.  You might not be shocked to learn that her appearance was no better rated than the average original show from that season.  From the second-guessing we all received in the aftermath, you would have been in the minority.

These days, Bethenny’s still commanding newsworthiness in PEOPLE magazine for her non-engagements:

Bethenny Frankel seemingly has no plans to marry her fiancé Paul Bernon.

On Monday, the Real Housewives of New York City alum, 52, suggested that she and Bernon, 45, may never tie the knot after getting engaged in 2021. 

“I don’t want to build a wedding,” Frankel told E! News. “I love my life, I love my fiancé. He’s an amazing life partner and I don’t want to sign a contract with someone I love and I don’t want to plan a massive wedding for everybody else and not what we want.”

The reality star added, “I like doing what you want, not what society wants you to do.”

I guess she really wants to help the very people who have worked really hard, and yes, have likely been exploited and taken advantage of.  Maybe.  But I do find it curious that she has chosen to team up with some like Geragos, who has his own degree of fame whore disappointment in his rear view mirror.  I dealt directly with him when he co-executive produced a forgotten and miscast short-lived series called NOTORIOUS, which ABC was convinced could be the first non-Shonda Rhimes-produced show to slide into what at the time was their enormously successful TGIT drama block on Thursday nights, earning a plum adjacency to GREY’S ANATOMY when they opted to hold SCANDAL for mid-season.  After nine episodes that saw almost inexplicably large fall-off from the still-popular lead-in, NOTORIOUS quickly faded into obscurity, and that departed audience quickly returned once SCANDAL came back.  Not that Geragos believed for one second that any of the data we showed him had any relevance.  After all, this was someone who had successfully defended everyone from Susan Macdougal, the convicted Whitewater figure, Michael Jackson, Greg Anderson (Barry Bonds’ trainer) and Chris Brown.  You can look up their cases to see the pattern.

Not that Geragos is doing any worse than is Frankel.  Last December he completed the purchase of Los Angeles magazine and started a company called Engine Vision Media to house it.   That’s not exactly the easiest business to make headway in these days.  So perhaps he’s motivated to reignite his own brand by grafting onto the ligbtning rod that Frankel is.

But I can’t help but think that amidst these otherwise noble efforts the very fact that colleagues who actually prospered because of Frankel’s relentless self-promotion would describe her in such a way suggests that she might have taken a page from the playbook of those who helped these exploited workers acheive their own union goals:  As THE LOS ANGELES TIMES’ Noah Goldberg wrote this past spring:

Dancers at a North Hollywood topless bar will become the only strippers in the United States to gain union recognition after the club’s management withdrew challenges to their guild election, the union announced Tuesday.  The recognition came after a sometimes testy 15-month battle between the dancers and the strip club, Star Garden, over becoming a union.  “If you have been following our journey, then you know this has been a long, exhausting fight, which is why this victory is so sweet,” said Reagan, one of the Star Garden dancers. “We put everything we have into this campaign, and we were fortunate to have the support and solidarity from the club’s patrons, our allies and friends, the labor movement, and our union, Actors’ Equity Assn.

I’m pretty sure Reagan had access to folks that helped her cause, and that their exploitation was as undeserved as anyone who worked on any Bravo or reality series.  But we don’t know the names of any of those folks.  We sure do know the names of Frankel and Geragos.  Let’s face it, if so many of us weren’t what those same executives called “starf*ckers”, would there even be a storyline here?

You tell me.  Just not over a Skinnygirl cocktail.

Until next time…

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