How Southern Charm Became the Sleeper Hit of Bravo – eonline
Bless its heart, no one knows fairly what to reflect of Southern Charm, Bravo’s reality series which premiered in 2014 and brought viewers into the super-private world of the ancient South. particularly in Charleston.
“Rich people who can’t handle their alcohol,” your Uber driver will command you when you dare mention the expose as he navigates the streets of the city. But turn to the group of college co-eds at Beech, a local eatery on King Street, and they command you that prospective students will query where they can see the cast while giving college tours and that one of their friends recently took a photo with “T-Rav” at the bar. (T-Rav would be the former State Treasurer of South Carolina.)
And when you pause up sitting with cast member Whitney Sudler-Smith at Stars Restaurant’s Rooftop bar on a Friday afternoon, no less than three people query him to pose for pictures, including one particularly inebriated man who is section of a rambunctious bachelor party.
After fortunately taking the photo, Whitney famous that it’s a common occurrence. “You bag a lot of bachelor and bachelorette parties and they approach down here,” he said. “The weekends it can bag pretty execrable.”
every single fans of the expose know Whitney as the alt-rock Southern gent who splits his time between his domestic in Los Angeles and his mother’s Charleston estate. But many viewers don’t know he was actually the creative force behind Southern Charm, bringing it to Bravo after partnering with Haymaker Productions. What would follow—three spinoffs (and counting), two children and one failed political campaign—no one could’ve predicted. But we’ll bag to that later.
“I reflect the notion was a miniature Downton Abbey, a miniature bit of Gone With the Wind, a miniature bit of The Bachelor and a miniature bit of Animal House,” Whitney told E! News of his original concept for the series.
It every single began when Whitney was told he had to meet Thomas Ravenel, who would visit his mother, Patricia Altschul, around the holidays. Hailing from one of the state’s most influential families, Thomas found himself at the center of a political scandal after he plead guilty to “conspiring to buy and distribute less than 100 grams of cocaine” in September 2007 and was sentenced to serve 10 months in federal prison.
“Basically, he was totally ostracized and a lightning rod,” Whitney said. “I found him incredibly amusing, I just thought, something should be done with this person.”
That something became a “proper reel” for a expose called Southern Gentlemen, which featured Thomas, Shep Rose, a “hilarious” thirty-something bachelor Whitney met at a party shortly after assembly Thomas, and a few other men, who didn’t effect the transition from Gentlemen to Charm.
Aaron Rothman, the co-founder Haymaker Productions, quickly knew he wanted in after seeing the footage. “It was much. It was just interviews and things with some of the guys. And I really liked it, and I thought we should sign this thing up immediately. It doesn’t lift a rocket scientist to figure out that Thomas Ravenel was one of a kind.”
AN UNLIKELY domestic
Originally, given the male-oriented focus of the expose, Whitney was envisioning AMC as a potential domestic, thinking it could be a Mad Men of the contemporary South. “And then met with a lot of networks, Bravo was kind of the gold standard.”
A network known primarily for its female-oriented programming (aka Housewives), Southern Charm was “a fresh lift on a Bravo expose,” according to Leslie Farrell, the vice president of current production at the network.
“What’s entertaining approximately it is because Whitney, these really were his friends and it was his eye to producing, the group that came along with him really are male-oriented, and that was fresh for Bravo,” she said. “Obviously, we’re a very female-oriented network and our main characters are female and Southern Charm turned that on its head by bringing men to the forefront. They’re not there because the main characters are their wives or girlfriends, they are actually main characters themselves.”
The only current cast members who were section of Whitney’s original reel? Thomas and Shep, which lead to a search to fill out the rest of the Charleston cast. “It’s a small community, so we poked around and met their friends and hung out there,” Rothman said of the search.
Looking for a younger male, Craig Conover, a recent College of Charleston graduate who knew the other guys socially, was brought in as the outsider who “really wanted to be section of the in crowd.”
As for Cameran Eubanks, an aspiring real estate agent, she was hesitant to sign up for another reality series after appearing as a cast member on MTV’s The Real World in 2004. Rothman said, “It’s a tough request, particularly when you’ve done it before and you know what it is. It was a tough decision for her.”
Eventually, with “some convincing,” Cameran agreed, fitting the narrator and voice of reason, the Wendy to the many Peter Pans.
Fans were a bit surprised when it was revealed after season one that Cameran married Jason Wimberly, whom she never mentioned on-camera and has yet to seem on Southern Charm. (Yes, producers are still trying to bag him to seem. “I bug her approximately it every year,” Rothman said. “But at this point I’m saying it as a laugh. I don’t know whether Bravo agrees with me, but it’s OK!” And they don’t agree, with Farrell saying, “We query him only every season, and every season, he says, ‘No, but thank you.'”)
Then, of course, there was Whitney. “Very final, they wanted me on.”
READY FOR HIS CLOSE-UP
Whitney knows what people reflect when they learn he created the expose, only to then become one of the cast members. “People absorb a misconception that because I’m an executive producer that I achieve myself in the expose, when in fact, it was the total opposite,”he said.
Rothman confirmed Whitney’s resistance, saying, “He didn’t want to be on the expose. I said, ‘I want you to be on the expose,’ and then I interviewed him, and I convinced him to interview his mom. whether we’ve had conflicts over the years, that is the primary nature of those conflicts.”
Eventually, Whitney had a change of heart, also bringing his mother, Patricia Altschul, who quickly became a fan-favorite thanks to her colorful caftans, five o’clock martinis and hosting skills, on as well. “It took me a while to bag my sea legs. I’m overjoyed to expose up and effect a couple of smart-ass comments, be snarky,” Whitney said.
But when he made the on-screen jump, Whitney had to give up any control a producer would absorb, fitting a cast member only.
“You absorb to treat him as such in order to effect the expose because you need the objectivity to be a producer standing out the external of it, to effect certain we are following the stories that need to be followed,” Farrell said. “So there’s a real division there.”
This season, Whitney is no longer credited as a series regular, with Austen Kroll joining the cast, though Whitney has still appeared in every season four episode so far. And it was a transition that felt “natural” to every single parties involved, given Whitney’s life in Los Angeles and various projects.
“I feel like it achieve him at ease ultimately,” Rothman said. “It feels like this is the right fit. He’s still a super well-known section to this cast, there’s no doubt approximately it.
Of his reduced onscreen role, Whitney simply said, “I’m happier.”
A FORCE OF NATURE
Throughout season one, it was clear cast member Jenna King wasn’t precisely the right fit, despite her history with some of the cast. (She’d later leave the expose, with Shep’s friend Landon Clements, who had just moved back to town from Los Angeles, joining the cast in season two.)
While Jenna failed to effect an impact, another young Southern woman made fairly the debut, despite not originally being a series regular: Kathryn Dennis, the shapely and brash Southern belle, whose fiery personality perfectly matched her fire-red hair.
Hailing from a prominent South Carolina family, Kathryn was originally considered for the cast in the early stages. “We had originally Skype interviewed her and we thought she was too young,” Whitney said.
Still, the process introduced her to the rest of the cast, and she soon started appearing at events where filming was happening. “She came on as someone to fill up a party,” Whitney said. “She was very nice, very pretty, and I reflect she was in school at the time, and then when we were shooting, we figured, hey, she’d be a noble additional. “
Three years and two kids later (with Andy Cohen once joking their youngest, St. Julien, was conceived after filming a reunion), Kathryn and Thomas’ tumultuous on-and-off again romance, despite their 29-year age inequity, has become one of the main storylines of the expose. “We had no notion it was in her!” Whitney said.
“She’s a force of nature, there’s no doubt approximately it,” Farrell said. “I reflect it’s a matter of the producers really always being on top of what’s actually happening and not being in their heads approximately what they thought the direction of the expose…they started to follow that, she was involved with a few of the guys, and she and Thomas clearly had this magnetism, and so they followed it. It’s turned out to be incredible, it’s been fairly the journey.”
A journey that has gone through an ill-fated political campaign (with Thomas running for Senate in season two to disastrous results, landing only 3.9 percent of the vote), and an ongoing custody battle between the former couple after Kathryn failed a drug test after filming for season three had ended.
“I reflect the hardest section in the campaign was [Senator] Lindsey Graham sat back and said he is only running for Senate because he wants better ratings for his TV expose, and nothing was farther from the truth,” Rothman said. “I don’t reflect we had anything to carry out with the win or loss of it to be honest, but I reflect we were super careful and he himself was very careful approximately that whole thing.”
When it came to the custody battle, Farrell acknowledged it’s a more “fragile situation,” because the courts were involved, there were some things they could talk approximately, some things they couldn’t talk approximately… they were looking to recede to mediation, they had a lot of restrictions on them and we needed to respect those because there are children involved. What we did was find out what is it that you can talk approximately and then asked them to talk approximately that. It’s really finding what the epic is, what the truth is and asking them to speak to that truth.”
For Rothman, he’s not interested in the political and child custody battles from a storytelling perspective, saying, “It’s not really the expose we’re doing.”
With any reality expose that films in an exclusive, tight-knit community, the Charleston locals’ reaction to Southern Charm was less than favorable. (Remember our Uber driver’s reaction? He grew up in Charleston.)
“At first, the reception was horror,” Whitney said. “I reflect locals, they were thinking Honey Boo Boo and Jersey Shore, and unfortunately, it doesn’t stray far from that in some aspects, but I reflect now, despite some of the boorish behavior of the cast, I reflect they’ve approach to begrudgingly accept it. The expose, it showcases the city in a shapely light…it’s a positive portrayal of the city and we’ve heard it helps the tourism.”
Doug Warner, the director of media relations for the Charleston Area conference & Visitors Bureau, said he has found no data that supports any impact Southern Charm has had on tourism, citing history, culinary experiences, the beaches and art and culture as the main reasons.
After seeing its highest ratings its third season (with an average of 1.7 million viewers), it was obvious Southern Charm‘s success wasn’t a fluke. So Bravo did what it did best, according to Farrell. “Once it was clear that we had something really fresh and fresh, really unique, this notion of bringing in these male characters and making them such a focal point, and then that it works, yes, we started thinking approximately, can we spin this off? Where would it be? So the search began.”
And led them to Savannah, an equally “exclusive” community, affectionately described by Shep as the “grisly stepchild of Charleston” in its first trailer.
“We looked at a couple of cities,” Rothman said. “We met this Savannah cast and found something distinctly special that we didn’t necessarily absorb in Charleston: they grew up together. When we found these group of people who absorb grown up together, many of them who are very, very ancient Southern lineage, we fell for them a miniature bit. ”
Virginia Sherwood/Bravo Media
The fresh expose will eventually see a bit of a crossover with the original series as Shep is friends with some of the cast.
“I’m calling it more of a worlds-colliding than a crossover,” Farrell said, shooting down a Vanderpump Rules-Summer House style crossover. “You will see some of the Charleston cast with some of the Savannah cast at some point in the season.”
Even before seeing how Savannah performed after its May 8 premiere, Bravo has shown its confidence in the franchise’s potential.
On April 27, two more Southern Charm spinoffs were announced: Southern Charm fresh Orleans and Relationshep. The first spinoff centered on one of the original cast members, Relationshep will follow Shep as he goes on a cross-country dating adventure.
Despite every single the on-screen drama, attention, and spinoffs that absorb happened in the final three years, the charm has yet to wear off for Whitney.
“We absorb a noble time,” he said. “For us, it’s like theater of the absurd.”
Southern Charm airs Monday nights at 9 p.m. and Southern Charm Savannah premieres tonight at 10 p.m. on Bravo.
(E! and Bravo are both section of the NBCUniversal family.)