The line between Bravo reality show and spoof is as faint as the crow’s feet on the face of a Botoxed “Real Housewives” cast member.
Danielle Schneider and Dannah Phirman discovered this while making “The Hotwives of Orlando,” a seven-episode scripted comedy, debuting Tuesday on Hulu.com, that stars Casey Wilson (“Happy Endings”) and Angela Kinsey (“The Office”) and pokes fun at Bravo’s “Housewives” reality juggernaut.
Schneider and Phirman, veteran sketch comedians who also act in “Hotwives,” would write setups for their fictional characters “that we thought would be crazy,” Schneider said. “And then they would literally do that” on an “RH” show.
“We had a dog funeral, and then a few weeks later, they had a dog funeral,” Schneider said in a joint call with Phirman from Los Angeles. “We are like Nostradamus for the Housewives.”
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It is unlikely, however, that the “RH” would have a prostitution-themed party, complete with husbands dressed as pimps, as “Hotwives” does in its second episode.
Unlikely yet not impossible – the Housewives do love an occasion to buy a tight new dress.
Therein lies the fun of “Hotwives,” which offers gags that might appeal to a general audience but that will land most soundly with “RH” fans, of which there are many.
“Real Housewives of Orange County” started the franchise in 2006. New York, Atlanta, New Jersey, Washington, D.C., Beverly Hills and Miami followed, as did several spinoffs. The July 6 finale of the Atlanta spinoff “RHOA: Kandi’s Wedding” tied for second in the Nielsen ratings with E!’s “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” among Sunday-night cable shows, just below HBO’s “True Blood.”
Viewers hang on every antic of the fancy-dressing, backhand-complimenting, back-stabbing, chardonnay-swilling, awful-dance-record-making Housewives. Viewers like Phirman and Schneider, the latter of whom has watched every “RH” show (even the short-lived D.C. edition) and held viewing parties in her home.
“ ‘OC’ OG is who I am,” Schneider said. “I care about (the ‘Housewives’ stars), I think about them when I am not watching them. (The shows) are my ‘stories,’ my soaps.”
“Hotwives,” Schneider said, is “less of a parody than a tribute.”
One made with love, the “Hotwives” creators say.” Even if it’s an air-kiss kind of love.
The fictional Hotwives carry many traits of “RH” cast members, though Phirman said none is a direct caricature.
“We tried to pull from the best of the best – they are kind of combo characters of two or three,” Phirman said.
Wilson plays Tawny, who is married to an older man she insists is dying, though he says it’s just bad allergies. Kinsey plays Crystal, a self-identified Christian who dresses provocatively and has yet to read the Bible because “it’s written in Jewish.”
Schneider plays Shauna, a shopaholic bankrupting her husband, who hates her. Tymberlee Hill is the versatile Phe Phe. An attorney, ordained minister, aspiring taxidermist and committed truth-teller, Phe Phe makes mean comments and then announces, “You’ve been Phe Phe’d.” Phirman plays a hanger-on who constantly insults the Hotwives yet wants to be one.
All claim to not want drama, then create it before the sundried-tomato appetizers have made their way around the party. Just like real Housewives.
Schneider and Phirman said they do not want to offend “RH” cast members. They also believe those cast members are not offended easily.
“If you go on these shows, you can’t be a wilting flower,” Schneider said. “There’s nothing we can say that the women they are ‘friends’ with haven’t said 10 times over and worse.”
Added Phirman: “If anything, we are nicer to them than they are to each other.”
Kinsey, in a separate phone call, said she was “blown away” by how “RH” cast members treat each other. She had not seen an “RH” episode until Schneider sent her clips before the “Hotwives” shoot.
“I was cringing,” Kinsey said. “It was so awkward watching these women say horrible things to each other and then have a full meal together.”
The atmosphere on the “Hotwives” set was opposite of that. “There were all these women that I love, and that are so talented,” Kinsey said. “A lot of times in comedy circles, a lot of things you (are involved with) are all guys. This was an opportunity for me to be a part of a group of really funny women.”
With “Hotwives,” Kinsey becomes a veteran of faux-reality shows. “The Office” did not parody another show but was filmed “mockumentary” style and included “confessional” scenes, like “Hotwives.”
“Hotwives” follows other recent spoofs of reality hits. In BET’s “Real Husbands of Hollywood,” Kevin Hart, Nick Cannon, J.B. Smoove and other celebrities have played exaggerated versions of themselves. E!’s “Burning Love” parodied “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette.”
The rise of unscripted prime-time shows in the aughts threatened livelihoods of television actors and writers. Now, unscripted programming inspires scripted shows.
“We’re taking it back,” Schneider joked. “We are doing to them what they did to us.”