BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. —The cast members of "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills" insist they're not ladies who lunch. Ignore the fact that they're at Villa Blanca in Beverly Hills shortly before noon poking at platters topped with ahi tuna tartare, crispy rock shrimp and smoked salmon pizza.
"This is a rarity. Really, it is," said Lisa Vanderpump-Todd, one of the newest inductees to the "Housewives" franchise who also happens to own the restaurant. "We're really not women who lunch. I mean, look at these ladies. Do they look like they eat?"
Bringing the "real" to Rodeo Drive are former child actors (and sometimes feuding sisters) Kim and Kyle Richards, aka Paris Hilton's aunts; Vanderpump-Todd, a sharp-tongued British restaurateur; Camille Grammer, a former dancer known mostly for her marriage to Kelsey Grammer; Taylor Armstrong, an Oklahoma native who runs a consulting firm; and Adrienne Maloof, whose family owns the Las Vegas Palms Casino Resort and the Sacramento Kings, and who is married to Paul Nassif, a cosmetic surgeon featured on E!' s reality series "Dr. 90210."
They say they're looking to combat the stereotypes that shadow them — no matter how close to the truth those labels may be.
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"Society has this image of the Beverly Hills woman walking down Rodeo Drive with her poodle, eating bonbons," said Vanderpump-Todd, who is almost never too far away from Giggy, her pint-sized pooch. "But that's not the case. I mean, Giggy doesn't walk. Giggy gets carried," she deadpanned.
Armstrong chimed in, more earnestly: "Just because we live in this ZIP Code, doesn't mean we don't struggle."
Struggle is in the eye of the beholder, of course. In the show's Oct. 14 premiere episode, which drew more than 1.5 million viewers, Grammer laments, "God this is going to sound so obnoxious," when she talks about flying in private jets, or "This is going to sound crazy, don't judge me" before informing viewers that she employs four nannies for her two children. Later in the season, Armstrong will throw a $50,000 birthday party for her 4-year-old daughter.
Since the Orange County version launched in 2006, the "Real Housewives" chain has expanded to include New York, Atlanta, New Jersey and Washington, D.C.
Sometimes the reality of the drama is a little too real, with marriages ending in shambles. In the Beverly Hills division, viewers watch the dissolution of Grammer's marriage.
The former Playboy model filed for divorce from the "Frasier" star in July after 13 years of marriage. Not exactly what she had in mind when she expressed her desire to break free from his shadow and show that she is a "real person" in the first episode.
But it's the dynamic within the "Housewives" sorority that has made the franchise a success.
"We're like 'Sex and the City,' " Grammer said. "We argue but in the end we find a way to all come back together."
'The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills'
Where: Bravo, cable Channel 61
When: 9 p.m. Thursdays
Rating: TV-14 (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14)