'Housewives': No Apologies, No Holds Barred

There are plenty battles on "Real Housewives." Take the dust-up between New York housewives Bethenny Frankel and Kelly Bensimon on their respective status within the Manhattan social scene.

"You're here," Bensimon says, holding her hand low. Then her other hand came up. "I'm here."

Cohen reels at the exchange. "Who's gonna write that?" he says. "It's incredible. When I heard from the producers, 'This has happened,' I just couldn't believe it -- love it. It's like crack cocaine that has no side effects, it's perfectly legal and you can do it again and again."

The fight is a good example of how the show has pervaded popular culture. Frankel's and Bensimon's rivalry has been covered as an ongoing feud in the New York tabloids. It has inspired cartoons on YouTube and has fans proclaiming they're on "Team Bethenny."

But was the "catfight" real?

"The 'Kell-amity' was an eight-minute unedited scene, it was completely real and everything that was on the show was real," Frankel says. "And I think that that really, really got people so crazy, and projected such a visceral reaction, because everybody was in high school. And they all know there was a person who really, really thought that they were up here, and everyone else was down here. And, so, everybody gets back to their high school cafeteria. ... And most people were nerds. And most people weren't the cool person, and I think it drove people crazy and people wanted to jump into the TV set."

'Real Housewives': Sociology of the Affluent

In what has become a tradition after each season ends, Cohen "refereed" a reunion of the feuding New Jersey housewives. It lasted six exhausting hours.

"I threw out a grenade, let it go, and said, 'OK, ladies,'" Cohen says. "And it exploded multiple times. I had shrapnel. I went home, drank a bottle of wine and watched "Schindler's List" to relax."

But why would anyone want to watch hours of bickering, back-stabbing and social climbing?

"I love sociology," Cohen says. "I love the way people relate to each other. This is a study in affluent human interplay, and the manners and etiquette and social mores of a certain set of people. If anyone feels guilty watching, that's a way to justify it. It is sociology of the affluent."

Cohen makes no apologies for the conspicuous, often-crass spending habits the women display, even as the rest of the country reels from an economic meltdown.

"Look," he says, "we're putting it out there to reflect a certain slice of life in certain cities. It is for you to decide whether this is fun, offensive, hilarious, aspirational or what. We leave it to you. There's no judgment. We love our housewives, I love them. They're all our children. I love them. ... All my crazy little girls."

The producers have learned how to take that "crazy" nouveau-riche behavior and turn it into reality TV gold.

"We call it kind of the Bravo wink," Cohen says. "It's a cutaway, it's a reaction to what someone's saying. ... It's maybe someone saying something and then you see them doing something maybe a little different from what they're saying. But it's a definite editorial point of view that also makes it OK to watch the show, because we're all in on it together."

Like when New Jersey housewife Giudice proclaims she's not a stage mom, and a second later is seen mouthing lyrics as she coaches her young daughter at a recital.

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