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With input from the network — and Cohen — the series started moving closer to its current iteration as a reality version of the So Cal soap opera Knots Landing.Other families were added and a Bravo executive came up with the kitschy “Real Housewives” title as an allusion to ABC’s then-popular scripted dramedy Desperate Housewives.Still, that first season of Orange County, which aired in 2006, is a far cry from the now-standard Housewives format.The opening credits featured men’s and women’s voices talking about living “behind the gates” while “7 million families live in gated communities” flashed onscreen, suggesting that viewers were about to watch an edifying documentary.
They're introduced through random phrases that they uttered throughout the season, which, unlike the current catchphrases, weren’t necessarily about the women themselves, but rather attempted to convey something about the community’s values (“I don’t wanna get old”; “He’s pretty much keeping me”; “85% of the women have had breast implants”).
They were a low-key affair — initially without a host — in which the women came together to reflect on funny or embarrassing moments from the season.
This emphasis on suburban women’s relationships with their husbands and children was soon sidelined in favor of the feud-centric reality television drama and campy glamour that would come to define the show.
It has even turned into fodder for entire news websites, successful podcasts, and multiseason parody series — like the Real Husbands of Hollywood and The Hotwives of Orlando — that have developed their own followings.
As its influence expanded, the franchise has come to represent a kind of Mean Girls sensibility; to say that something is “like Housewives” means to reduce that thing — including major political issues — into supposedly frivolous feminine terms and calculated camp outrageousness.
Initially, the show’s main aesthetic changed only slightly: The “Housewives Confess” segment moved to a talk-show setting, with Andy Cohen onscreen as the human face of a Bravo producer, quizzing the women about the season. By Season 4 — which aired in 2008 — a new cast member, Gretchen Rossi, a 30-year-old with pageant-queen style engaged to an older man dying of leukemia, joined the cast, and her unimpressed fellow Housewives Gunvalson and Tamra Barney (now Tamra Judge) questioned the authenticity of their relationship."We don't believe that Gretchen is dating this guy.