Reality Chicks And Their Reality Checks: Are They Really Worth The Loot?

August 6, 2013  |  

Since the media got wind of Real Housewives of Atlanta star Kenya Moore’s pay raise recently, tongues have been wagging.  In case you haven’t heard, Kenya is rumored to be earning a whopping $600,000 next season (though Andy Cohen makes it sound like that number is inflated). And her more seasoned colleagues are cashing some serious reality checks, too: Kandi Burress earns a reported $800,000 per season, and the ubiquitous Nene Leakes has neck-snapped her way to a $1 M paycheck each season. These exorbitant salaries have proven that there is serious money to be made in reality television. But the more interesting question is: what makes someone worth the pay raise – and others not?  There are conflicting reports on Phaedra Parks’ and Cynthia Bailey’s salaries (somewhere between $50,000 and $300,000), and newcomer Porsha Williams is allegedly only netting $50,000 per season. All of the ladies feature prominently on the show and all share the personal — sometimes embarrassing — details of their lives. So why is it that some cast members’ time is more valuable than others?

The easiest salary to explain is Nene’s.  Simply put, she’s everywhere. Ms. Leakes has actually used her “housewife” status as a springboard to a legitimate acting career. Nene was cast as a show regular on the short-lived NBC comedy, The New Normal and also landed a recurring role as a formidable-but-definitely-hilarious nemesis of Sue Sylvester on Fox’s uber-hit Glee. Nene’s personal brand is strong and financially viable – even without Housewives. It would be silly of Bravo to not recognize that and step up to the plate monetarily.

Strong personal branding also explains why Kandi Burress makes more than most of her cast mates. In addition to her own singing career, Burress is also an incredibly talented songwriter who has penned hits for various A-listers (TLC, Destiny’s Child, Mariah, Alicia Keys, Pink).  She also debuted a new reality series, The Kandi Factory, on Bravo this year. She and Nene also share longevity — another important factor to consider — having appeared on Housewives for a majority of the show’s run.

Many who watch the show religiously say that without Moore’s antics, the show would be a bore (with Nene decidedly more subdued now that her acting career has taken off). Fans say that Moore has breathed new life into the series, due in large part to her affinity for drama, and her unique quips and phrasing (her own version of personal branding). This past season, she gifted us with a catchphrase that even Beyonce could not resist.  But convincing the network, after only one season, to agree to a figure as Gone With the Wind-fabulous as $600K? That is a question that only Moore and her attorneys can answer.

While salaries for the ATL ladies may seem steep, other popular reality shows are paying their stars inflated salaries as well. By way of comparison, all but one of the cast members of MTV’s Jersey Shore made over $1 million per season in its final season. According to Wet Paint though, the ATL ladies are commanding some of the largest salaries in the Real Housewives franchise:  Beverly Hills make between $100K and$250K per season; New Jersey, between $275K – $650K; Orange County, between $30K and $500K; New York, between $175K and $500K; and Miami, $55K to $75K.

In an era where some lament the loss of privacy, it is clear that our society still places quite a premium on it.  While we may be more willing than ever to relinquish our right to it, we can be rewarded quite handsomely for the sacrifice.  And hate it or love it — that is the reality.  Check.

Karen J. Francis is a freelance writer and media attorney living in New York City.  Please follow her on Twitter @karebelle.

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