‘Real Housewives’: Take Notes from Bethenny Frankel

By: Matthew Chavira

While other Bravo housewives were playing checkers, The Real Housewives of New York City (RHONY) star Bethenny Frankel was playing chess. During the start of RHONY, Bethenny Frankel was strategically launching her soon-to-be successful lifestyle brand, Skinnygirl.[1] She used Bravo’s national platform to promote Skinnygirl Cocktails, which reportedly sold for an estimated whopping $120 million dollars.[2]

While many individuals would have appeared on a reality show solely for fame, Bethenny’s sole purpose was more important than fame—promoting her business.[3] During contract negotiations for the first season, Bravo originally gave her a contract with a clause requiring her to pay the network a percentage of any profits from business that she promotes on the show.[4] However, the then soon-to-be mogul removed the clause.[5] In its place, Bethenny’s contract explicitly stated that Bravo would not be entitled to any rights to any future business venture that she pursues.[6] Consequently, she only appeared in the season for a humble $7,250, but in return, she saved Skinnygirl from having to pay Bravo a share of its profits.[7] 

Shortly after the premiere of RHONY, Skinnygirl took off and Bravo was unable to profit off of her newly created business which garnered attention through its own platform.[8] The now-famous clause preventing Bravo from reaping any of Bethenny’s business profits is now known throughout the entertainment industry as the “Bethenny Clause.”[9]Most housewives, unlike Bethenny, have signed contracts that lack this notorious clause and have had to give the network a percentage of their profits.[10] This is important because many Bravo housewives are known for creating businesses and promoting them on their respective shows—so Bethenny Frankel was truly playing chess when she refused to sign her contract.[11]

As a result, Bethenny Frankel landed a spot on Forbes’ list of top-earning reality stars in 2016.[12] In fact, Bethenny was the only housewife to make the list and the only non-Kardashian and non-Jenner to make the list.[13] Additionally, while she only made $7,250 for her first season, she ended up making around $1.5 million dollars in the seventh season—proving her decision in season one was shrewd.[14]

However, Bethenny’s negotiating skills do not stop there. More recently, Bethenny Frankel got out of filming a new season of RHONY by finding a loophole in her contract.[15] Her contract contained a new clause aimed at preventing housewives from not filming due to conflicts with fellow castmates.[16] The clause stated that a housewife would not be paid for any episode that she does not appear in.[17] Bethenny used this technicality to not only “not appear in an episode,” but leave RHONY altogether.[18] Bethenny’s refusal to sign a percentage of  her company’s profits away and her use of a technicality to get out of filming proves her to be a master negotiator and model for all current and aspiring cast members of reality tv shows.

Any prospective reality tv show cast members should carefully read their contracts and make sure they are not signing away a certain percentage of any profits from products they could promote on their shows. Unfortunately for many housewives, it appears as though they will have to find loopholes in their contracts to avoid giving Bravo a percentage of their profits from businesses they promote on the show. If all housewives had Bethenny’s negotiating skills, perhaps they could evade divulging their profits. Fortunately for Bravo, this is not the case.

[1] See Elena Cardone, ‘Real Housewives’ Alum Had Legal ‘Bethenny Clause’ Named After Her, GCTV (Oct. 11, 2022), https://gctv.com/bethenny-clause/.    

[2] Leslie Bruce, How Bethenny Frankel Used Her Reality Show to Make $120 Million, Hollywood Reporter (April 21, 2011, 12:13 PM), https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/general-news/bethenny-frankel-skinnygirl-sale-181124/.

[3] Id.

[4] Lizzie Widdicombe, Perfect Pitching: Bethenny Frankel And The New Breed of Celebrity Entrepreneur, New Yorker (Sept. 14, 2015), https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/09/21/perfect-pitching.

[5] Id.

[6] Cardone, supra note 1.

[7] See id.

[8] Id.

[9] Cardone, supra note 1.

[10] Charlotte Chilton, 55 Rules Bravo’s ‘Real Housewives’ Cast Members Have To Follow, Women’s Health (Jan. 25, 2022), https://www.womenshealthmag.com/life/g31899425/real-housewives-bravo-rules/?slide=29.  

[11] Anna Tingley, 14 ‘Real Housewives’ Products for Die-Hard Bravo Fans, Variety (May 20, 2021, 3:25 PM), https://variety.com/shop/best-real-housewives-products-to-buy-1234975714/.

[12] Natalie Robehmed, Top-Earning Reality Stars 2016: Kardashians, Jenners Combine For $122.5 Million, Forbes (Nov. 16, 2016, 8:50 AM), https://www.forbes.com/sites/natalierobehmed/2016/11/16/top-earning-reality-stars-2016-kardashians-jenners-combine-for-122-5-million/?sh=549db2b1274d.

[13] Id.

[14] Paige McBride, The Important Legal Restriction in Every Real Housewife’s Contract, List (Sept. 30, 2020 11:57 AM), https://www.thelist.com/254350/the-important-legal-restriction-in-every-real-housewifes-contract/.

[15] Paige Strout, Bethenny Frankel Reveals the Surprising Way She Got Out of Her RHONY Contract, E News (July 6, 2022 3:23 PM), https://www.eonline.com/news/1337038/bethenny-frankel-reveals-the-surprising-way-she-got-out-of-her-rhony-contract.   

[16] Id.

[17] Id.

[18] See id.