Lisa Vanderpump awoke the morning of June 12 feeling anxious.
The reality television star was set to film her Bravo show, “Vanderpump Rules,” during the Gay Pride Parade in West Hollywood. Furthermore, she owns two restaurants in the heart of the predominantly gay neighborhood: SUR (the setting of “Rules”) and Pump. It was going to be an intense day.
Then she got the news: 49 people — mostly LGBT — were gunned down at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando hours earlier, the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.
She immediately got on the phone with Bill Langworthy, the “Vanderpump Rules” executive producer-showrunner. They were both afraid.
“It was pretty scary at the time,” Langworthy recalled. “We really just didn’t know what would happen.”
“I spoke with Doug Ross, the president of Evolution, the production company,” Langworthy explained. “Right from the start he said, ‘You do whatever you think is right. If you feel you want to burn that shoot day and not send any cameras and any cast, that’s completely fine. We’re not going to take a risk over this.’ And the next conversation had to be — should we be making a real big festive piece of entertainment? Is that what we should be doing right now?”
Vanderpump — who also serves as a producer on the show — knew her top concern was everyone else’s safety. “I felt a huge responsibility. Being there not only with a production crew. But also with my staff. As a boss, you don’t know if you’re making the right decision.”
Vanderpump put fears over her personal safety aside. As a longtime LGBT ally, Weho business owner and television personality (she also stars on “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills”), she was to ride atop an open-air bus that would drive down the Santa Monica Boulevard parade route.
“Lisa went back and forth on whether or not she was going to ride, but I have to say, I think she was always going to do it,” Langworthy said. “I think just talking to her and her tone, there was no way she was not going to get on that bus that day.”
“You have to remember it was really terrifying to be out there,” he added. “There were helicopters flying over, you heard sirens all the time, you saw the bomb squad everywhere. And then we started hearing about someone arrested in Santa Monica who had weapons and materials to build bombs and said they were headed to the parade in West Hollywood. At that point, most of the cast did not feel that they could be there and that they would be comfortable under those circumstances. And I honestly didn’t think it was the best idea for Lisa to be out. She was the most recognizable person in that parade and everyone knows exactly where she’s going to be.”
Indeed, Santa Monica police had arrested James Howell that morning, an Indiana man who said he was going to Pride with an arsenal in his car.
This new threat complicated things even more. Langworthy had to make a decision on the available information. “I happen to know [L.A. Times] journalist Joel Rubin so that was really a huge help. I was able to call him and get the most up-to-the-minute information. Once we kinda assessed and saw there was this huge police presence out there and there didn’t seem to be any reports that this person was collaborating with anyone, we did make the decision to go out there and shoot. The same thing you saw on camera with all the cast – no one has to be there if they don’t want to be there – was the same thing we were telling the cast off camera – no one needs to work today who doesn’t feel completely comfortable where they’re at.”
Langworthy then deployed his three crews: one with Vanderpump on the bus, one at the home of cast members Tom Schwartz and Katie Maloney (where the cast gathered), and one at SUR restaurant. In total, about 30 crew members would be put into an at-risk environment.
“Everyone was very, very nervous,” Vanderpump recalled. “I was getting texts from my son that said, ‘Mother you’re on a red bus in a red dress with a red hat. You’re a target. Get off that bus.’ And I’m like, no. We’re going ahead.”
So she rode. And the community turned out.
“I knew if I left the cameras would follow me,” the reality star said. “It wasn’t about the show at this point, it was about the incredible force of support — people saying, ‘We’re not going away.’ I think it was a busier gay pride than it ever had been because I think people came out saying, ‘this will not beat us.'”
Ken Todd, Vanderpump’s husband, was surprised by his wife’s conviction. “I said, ‘what can I do to stop you from going on it?’ And she said, ‘nothing.'”
When Todd asked his wife if she wanted to stand next to him, she replied, “No, you go and secure the bars. Make sure you got security around Pump and Sur.”
“And then she went off — brazen, unbelievable. When you see her stand up there she didn’t have a fear in her bone,” Todd recalled.
“When Lisa said, I’m getting on that float, all of the sudden the crew is all shooting and you see it in the episode,” said Langworthy. “All the cast members kept asking, ‘What’s Lisa doing? ‘Is Lisa going to be on that float?’ And they found out one by one. She’s on that bus right now and going down Santa Monica Boulevard. And that’s when Tom (Sandoval) and Ariana (Maddix) decide to go into Sur. And Tom (Schwartz) decides to go into SUR and then Jax (Taylor) and Brittany (Cartwright) come in. You really see the momentum build over the course of the day. People really rallied.”
“I think it’s an extraordinary episode,” Vanderpump said, looking back. “Many times you talk about in reality television about what’s happened in the past, but to actually be there and to capture all those emotions — you see Sandoval crying — that’s one of the extraordinary things about the show.”
Echoed Langworthy: “I was quite impressed the humanity that our cast showed. The people who didn’t feel comfortable coming into SUR, they were all so deeply affected by what had happened even though it was 3000 miles away and people they didn’t know. They were all so emotional. They were all so affected. There were so many tears that day, no one had an agenda.”
“There was nothing that was edited out except for time,” Langworthy explained. “When we went to put the episode together, it was such an unusual for us because we’re trying to be entertaining, a little indulgence you can have at the end of the day. We don’t tackle the big issues, but in order to tell the story of what happened that day, we had to get news footage from NBC explaining how horrible the attack was in Orlando to give it context. We tried to be respectful of what had happened and the people that had suffered, we tried to balance it out with typical fun “Vanderpump” threads. But the story of the day was how Lisa, the cast, and the community dealt with this huge tragedy.
Vanderpump marked the six month anniversary of the shooting with a tweet Monday morning with the hashtag #staystrongLGBT.
The Orlando reaction episode of “Vanderpump Rules,” titled “Pride,” airs Monday at 9 p.m. on Bravo.