Fired 'Real Housewives' Star Jill Zarin, Show Is 'Toxic'

Fired 'Housewives' star Jill Zarin says reality show "was my platform"

ByABC News
September 21, 2011, 7:50 AM

Sept. 21, 2011 -- After four years as queen bee of the Bravo network's very successful "Real Housewives of New York City" reality series, it was a call Jill Zarin did not expect to receive.

"It was a little jolting. I'll be honest," Zarin told "Good Morning America" today, referring to the call she received last week from Bravo executives confirming that she and three other members of the show's cast had been fired.

"It didn't feel good," she said. "Nobody likes to not be asked back to the party."

Just weeks before Season 5 of the show was set to begin filming, Bravo TV decided to overhaul the cast, firing Zarin, an original cast member, along with fellow "Housewives" Kelly Bensimon, Alex McCord and Cindy Barshop.

"I didn't really ask," Zarin said, of whether she knew why she and her castmates had been fired. "It didn't matter. They had made their decision."

With Zarin and McCord out, only Ramona Singer and LuAnn DeLesseps remain as the only two members of the original cast to survive through to Season 5. The third housewife to avoid the ax, Sonja Morgan, a friend of Singer's, joined the show partway through Season 3.

Zarin, who was on vacation last weekend when Bravo confirmed the firings, responded this week with a tease on her website, saying, "For all the people who have supported me and wished me well, you can see me on a new show that will be announced soon."

Bravo TV portrayed the ladies' departure from the show as "friendly," writing in a statement, "We've had a fabulous run with all the ladies and appreciate them sharing their lives with our viewers."

Barshop, who lasted just one season on the show, told ABC News the departures were less than friendly, and more a result of in-fighting among cast members.

"Following the reunion it was clear that the women genuinely didn't like each other anymore," she said.

The reunion Barshop refers to has become a "Real Housewives" trademark, the grand finale episode when Bravo brings the show's housewives back together for a no-holds barred showdown hosted by Bravo executive Andy Cohen.

Season 4 of the New York franchise came to a close in April in one of the most dramatic reunions ever, a contentious two-part episode that ended in a crying, screaming and finger-pointing, cringe-worthy performance.

Zarin was at the center of it all and says the show, and the Bravo TV network, couldn't get enough of it.

"There's no question there was fighting going on," Zarin said. "But I believe the format of the show encourages that. And even if someone doesn't say to you to have a fight or whatever, you feel like you're supposed to."

"The ratings encourage that," she said. "It's a toxic environment. It took me months to come down from it."

High ratings for the show are what led Bravo to build a franchise out of its original "Real Housewives" series that premiered in 2006 and followed five rich and toned housewives in Orange County, Calif.

"Real Housewives of New York" came next, followed quickly by New Jersey, Atlanta, Miami Washington, D.C. and, most recently, Beverly Hills.

The suicide last month of "Real Housewives of Beverly Hills" star Taylor Armstrong's husband, Russell Armstrong, put the "Real Housewives" franchise under a harsh spotlight, with critics questioning whether the show's push for fighting and ratings had become too much.