When one door closes, another opens: And with Bravo’s “The Real Housewives of Orange County,” the door is closing on Kelly Dodd and opening for returning cast member Heather Dubrow. Braunwyn Windham-Burke, who was on the show for two seasons, and Elizabeth Lyn Vargas, who was on the most recent season, also will not return.
A Bravo spokesperson confirmed to Variety the departures of Dodd — a controversial firebrand who’s been in the cast since 2016 — Windham-Burke and Vargas. Their contracts were not renewed for the show’s upcoming 16th season, which is set to begin production next month.
Shannon Storms Beador, Gina Kirschenheiter, and Emily Simpson, however, are all returning to “The Real Housewives of Orange County,” or “RHOC,” as it’s nicknamed. One or two new women will also join the cast.
As has been rumored, “RHOC” alumni Dubrow will return to the show. Dubrow — an actor with four children — was on the show from Season 7 through 11. As a member of the cast, Dubrow was known for her sharp wit, her confrontational style, her huge house and her bickery, bantery marriage to Terry Dubrow, a plastic surgeon. (Terry Dubrow is the star of E!’s “Botched,” which is also an NBCUniversal show).
And it’s a good thing that Dubrow is coming in as Dodd is going out, because they sure didn’t get along. During one disastrous on-camera dinner in her final year on the show, Dubrow walked off, and refused to keep filming after Dodd loudly attacked various cast members (and called Beador the c-word). Viewers saw the behind-the-scenes footage of what happened at that season’s reunion.
“RHOC,” the flagship series of Bravo’s “Housewives” empire, premiered in 2006. The show was meant to be a fun reality version of ABC’s mid-2000s smash hit, “Desperate Housewives.” But instead, along with all of the other “Housewives” shows — there are currently eight different installments of the franchise — it became a fascinating chronicler of American life. The various “Real Housewives” series have given viewers close-up looks at the devastating effects of the Great Recession; births, deaths and divorces; how race and class shape women’s lives; and most recently, how COVID-19 wreaked havoc in the United States.
That latest current event is when Dodd’s penchant for fighting dirty went from entertaining, sometimes necessary pot-stirring to toxic trolling that caused horror in many audience members.
Before Season 15 of “RHOC” even premiered in October, many viewers had decided to boycott the show because of Dodd (whose name is now Kelly Leventhal after she married Fox News correspondent Rick Leventhal in October). Early in the pandemic, Dodd compared COVID deaths to those caused by other illnesses such as the swine flu, and commented on Instagram that the disease may be “God’s way of thinning the herd” (for which she later apologized, calling it “the stupidest thing I’ve ever said”). The anti-Dodd movement gathered steam in early October when she posted a selfie wearing a hat with the slogan “Drunk Wives Matter.”
Throughout the season, Dodd, never one to shy away from a fight, alternated between apologizing and doubling down. At the reunion in January, Dodd — somewhat bafflingly — shouted, “I’m Black!” during a heated discussion about Black Lives Matter. (Dodd had previously always identified as Mexican-American.)
The outburst led to Leventhal’s twenty-something daughter, Veronica, blasting her new stepmother. In a viral Facebook post, Leventhal said: “I don’t think it’s OK for people who say they’ve experienced racism or prejudice to then turn around and inflict that same bigotry on other people. I don’t think you can experience the privileges of whiteness and then turn around and deny that those privileges exist.”
After Season 15 concluded, Dodd seemed to be almost daring Bravo to fire her. She said she would no longer film with co-star Windham-Burke, who during the season, became sober and a lesbian, neither of which Dodd seemed to approve of. She also posted an Instagram story from an Orange County restaurant in which she and her dining companions toasted to “superspreaders,” and one of her friends could be heard saying “spread that shit.” After that incident, Positive Beverage, a vitamin water, cut ties with Dodd, saying she “is no longer congruent with our core values.”
Always quick to go from zero to “shut the fuck up,” Dodd seemed to draw the ire of “Housewives” impresario Andy Cohen during the show’s reunion episodes. In a signal that he’d heard about the anti-Dodd boycotts, Cohen said to her, “The amount of messages that I get that you’re uneducated, you’re putting out misinformation, you’re behaving like a moron.”
Dodd shot back at Cohen: “I get them too, saying that you’re anti-American. That you put your political beliefs out there, that they don’t want to watch a political show.”
In an interview with Variety in March, Cohen said that after a difficult season with “RHOC” — which he largely blamed on COVID closures in Orange County — Bravo was “taking a pause” on the show, as the network has sometimes done with the “Real Housewives” franchise.
“There were times in the past where we would say, “You know what? Let’s let the women live their lives for awhile, and see where they’re at,’” Cohen said. “There’s a clear hope from the fans that there’s some kind of shakeup. And I think we’re analyzing everything. I think we just wanted to be really deliberate too.
“I mean, this is obviously the show that started everything for this franchise. And it’s really important, and it’s important that we keep getting it right.”
These cast changes are clearly an effort to get it right again.
In a Twitter exchange in late January between “Housewives” fans Evan Ross Katz and Meghan McCain about canceling “RHOC,” Cohen said, “I think you mean reBOOT.”
Today, that BOOT was employed.