Scott D. Pierce: Are the ‘Real Housewives of SLC’ victims? Should they unionize?

And more burning questions about the Housewives’ upcoming fourth season.

(Charles Sykes | Bravo) Meredith Marks, Heather Gay, Andy Cohen, Whitney Rose and Lisa Barlow on the "Real Housewives of Salt Lake City" Season 3 reunion.

“The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City” have been called a lot of things — many of them unpleasant — but a pair of high-profile Hollywood lawyers are suggesting they’re victims.

In a letter to NBCUniversal, entertainment attorneys Bryan Freedman and Mark Geragos state that the company “has a pattern and practice of grotesque and depraved mistreatment of the reality stars,” who “have been mentally, physically, and financially victimized by NBC. ... As a result, the sordid and dark underbelly of NBC’s widely consumed reality TV universe has remained under wraps for far too long. Please be advised that the day of reckoning has arrived.”

Sounds less like legalese and more like a bad Hollywood script.

In the letter, obtained by the Hollywood Reporter, the attorneys alleged that the producers and NBCUniversal: Made “deliberate attempts to manufacture mental instability by plying cast members with alcohol while depriving them of food and sleep”; denied “mental health treatment to cast members displaying obvious and alarming signs of mental deterioration”; covered up “acts of sexual violence”; and “exploiting minors for uncompensated and sometimes long-term appearances” on the shows.

(Photo courtesy of Fred Hayes/Bravo) Jen Shah and Mary Cosby in “The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City.”

An argument could be made that behavior on “The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City” could fit some or all of those accusations:

Alcohol • “RHOSLC” cast members have certainly been fueled by alcohol in many (or most) of their more outrageous/memorable scenes.

Mental health • We’ve seen what appears to be such deterioration on “RHOSLC” — Mary Cosby, Jen Shah and possibly other cast members — but we don’t know that treatment was denied.

Sexual violence • Well, we still don’t know how Heather Gay got that black eye last season.

Exploiting minors • “RHOSLC” does feature minor children of Housewives.

Freedman and Geragos also allege the shows distributed or condoned the distribution of “nonconsensual pornography,” and that cast members “did not have the freedom to leave their shows, even under dire circumstances.” They charge NBC with the “intentional infliction of emotional distress, fraud, distribution of revenge porn, and false imprisonment.”


(Bravo) Somehow, Heather Gay ended up with a black eye on the third season of "The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City."

The lawyers haven’t actually filed suit. The letter warns NBCUniversal not to destroy evidence, such as emails and computer files.

For its part, NBC issued a statement insisting that it is “committed to maintaining a safe and respectful workplace for cast and crew on our reality shows” and and that it will step in if there are complaints, even ordering “personnel changes.” No mention of dark underbellies or days of reckoning.

The attorneys claim to represent “a significant number” of “current and former cast members and crew members on some of NBC’s most lucrative reality TV shows,” but doesn’t name any clients. And as of this writing, no one has come forward to admit they’re part of the possible lawsuit, including Utah’s Housewives. And it’s possible that Freedman and Geragos are trolling for plaintiffs.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, former “Real Housewives of New York” cast member Bethenny Frankel “is said to be working with” Freedman and Geragos. She is also calling for reality stars to unionize and join Hollywood writers and actors by going on strike.

Not all Bravo-lebrities are on her side. According to Page Six, one source said that “the brash businesswoman is bragging at parties in the Hamptons that ‘she is going to bring down Bravo’ and ‘not to cross her,’” — but former “Real Housewives of Miami” star Lea Black said Frankel “should be grateful. She made a ton of money and became very influential because of her association with Bravo. I can’t even wrap my head around anyone being so ungrateful for the opportunity that they want to sue the person that gave it to them.”

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) L.A. Attorney Mark Geragos, who has represented music stars Michael Jackson and Chris Brown, arrives for the final day of jury selection at the federal courthouse in Salt Lake City, Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020, in the trial of Lev Dermen, who is charged with 10 felonies related to fraud at Washakie Renewable Energy.

I’m not entirely unsympathetic to her argument, but this seems unlikely. However, the actors union, SAG-AFTRA, issued a statement that it stands ready to assist Frankel, Freedman, Geragos and reality show cast members, and is “tired of studios and production companies trying to circumvent the union in order to exploit the talent that they rely upon to make their product.”

Both attorneys have had more than their share of high-profile clients. Freedman has represented Mariah Carey, Tucker Carlson, Chris Cuomo, Vin Diesel, Robert Downey Jr., Michael Jackson, Megan Kelly, Don Lemon, Alanis Morrisette, Christopher Nolan, Julia Roberts, Seth Rogen, Kevin Spacey, Quentin Tarantino and Gabrielle Union — just to name a few. Geragos’ list of clients also includes Michael Jackson, along with Chris Brown, Colin Kaepernick, Kesha, Scottie Pippen, Winona Ryder and Jussie Smollett. Geragos has also appeared regularly on TV as a legal expert, and his life and relationship with a CNN producer were the basis for the ABC legal drama “Notorious,” which ran for 10 episodes in 2016.

Turn this into a legal drama and it might just be more entertaining than most reality shows.

(Randy Shropshire | Bravo) Whitney Rose and Meredith Marks on "The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City."

Do Housewives need a union?

Neither Bravo nor the Housewives have confirmed how much they’re paid, but unconfirmed reports put that number at $2,000 per episode for Season 1; and maybe $6,000-$10,000 per episode for Seasons 2 and 3.

So the Housewives who were in the first four seasons — Lisa Barlow, Heather Gay, Meredith Marks, Whitney Rose and Jen Shah — have made maybe $432,000 tops. Probably less than that. (That includes eight reunion episodes.)

Most of us would love to get paid that for a part-time job. But it’s a lot less than actors make for scripted shows. It’s also a lot less than cast members of other “Real Housewives” series reportedly make. Some of them get seven figures per season, if you believe those reports.

The real money is in the publicity it brings the Housewives, boosting their businesses and their book sales. And, according to all reports, Lisa, Heather, Meredith and Whitney have all made a big chunk of change since they became “Real Housewives.”

(Jesse Grant | Bravo) Lisa Barlow and Whitney Rose on "The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City."

Who will be in Season 4?

Bravo has confirmed that the new season will premiere on Tuesday, Sept. 5, and that four original cast members — Lisa, Heather, Whitney and Meredith — will all return.

It’s also been confirmed that Mary Cosby, who was fired at the end of Season 2, will be back part-time as a “friend” of the Housewives.

Season 3 “friend” Angie Katsanevas will return as a fulltime Housewife, while another friend, Danna Bui-Negrete, will not be back.

We know that Jen won’t appear because she’s serving a prison sentence after pleading guilty to federal fraud charges.

And Angie Harrington has departed to care for her autistic son.

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