Reality came crashing in on Russell Armstrong. With the second season of "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills" set to premiere in a few weeks, and a pending lawsuit and divorce, the venture capitalist-turned reality personality hanged himself.
At least temporarily, Armstrong's suicide has shaken one of the genre's brashest franchises.
Bravo, which airs "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills," is re-editing the show's second season, which had planned to focus on the marital strife between Armstrong and his wife, Taylor. Beyond "Housewives," few people, including Russell Armstrong's own attorney, expect the suicide to have broad implications for the reality show industry.
Also incarcerated is Adam Jasinski, the winner of "Big Brother 9" who is serving a four-year sentence after pleading guilty to possession with attempt to distribute oxycodone and failure to file a tax return for the year he won the reality show's $500,000 prize.
The TLC-series "Jon and Kate Plus 8" was upended after it was revealed the couple's marriage was in shambles; the reconfigured show "Kate Plus 8" was recently cancelled.
Richards said he believes the show contributed to Russell Armstrong's problems, but he doesn't think producers or its network, Bravo, can be sued or punished.
Most reality shows do some background checks on participants, but mistakes happen. Major productions use psychological testing to try to predict how participants will respond to the pressures of the show.
Producers often want people on their shows who happen to have histories of being abused, depression or other issues. Levak no longer does psychological consults on reality series.
The series credited with being the first reality show, "An American Family," featured its share of upheaval. Both made for groundbreaking television, and the show differed radically from today's heavily-marketed fare. Doing a psychological evaluation on each participant is expensive, and Levak doubts many shows are spending the money. Each show is trying a new angle, and the pool of people willing to put their lives on screen has been diluted by this point, he said.
Your pool of eligible (participants) gets smaller, (there are) more shows and shows that are doing it on a shoestring and don't test," he said. Sternheimer, the USC sociologist who recently released a book titled, "Celebrity Culture and the American Dream: Stardom and Social Mobility," said the desire to appear on reality shows is linked to the longstanding American ideal of success.
Reality TV participants -- those who appear in front of the camera -- aren't supervised or covered by unions or entertainment industry watchdogs. They exist in a grey area in Hollywood -- and increasingly in other parts of the country -- that allows many reality shows to be produced for much less than a scripted show starring professional actors. During the Writers Guild strike in 2007-2008, reality shows blossomed as networks put the brakes on scripted shows and plugged their scheduling holes with reality fare.
Richards doubts any support network will ever emerge. The show must go on, even in the face of tragedy.
Bravo has not yet determined if they'll deviate from the originally-scheduled September 5th premiere date of Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, but for now, the show's producers are back in the cutting room.
Bravo president Frances Berwick says they've begun to re-edit the show following Monday's suicide of Russell Armstrong. Berwick declined to say which parts of the show were being edited, but it seems likely that they'll cut or slim down scenes featuring the heated relationship between Armstrong and his estranged “Housewife” Taylor Armstrong.
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The marital problems between Russell and Taylor Armstrong were a pivotal storyline of the first season, and the drama was expected to continue into season two. Taylor Armstrong filed for divorce on July 15. RUSSELL ARMSTRONG, one of the stars of Bravo's Real Housewives of Beverley Hills, committed suicide on Monday. There will be a funeral, organised by Taylor, then a cremation service in Texas, organised by Russell's family. The family's attorney told E!