By Dana Schuster | New York Post
Pictured: (l-r) Ramona Singer, Carole Radziwill, Luann D'Agostino, Sonja Morgan, Bethany Frankel of Bravo's "Real Housewives of New York City." (Bravo)
Aviva Drescher, who starred on Seasons 5 and 6 of “Real Housewives of New York,” said the show’s production team could sometimes go too far with their eagerness to liquor up the cast.
She recalled the time a producer phoned ahead of filming and asked her to take a shot of alcohol with castmate Ramona Singer during a reconciliation scene at a restaurant.
“I told the head producer, ‘I don’t want to do a shot. Can you just fill it with water?’” said Drescher, 47, who grew up with an alcoholic mother and says she had never taken a shot before. “And they said no.
Aviva Drescher was on the "Real Housewives of New York City" for seasons 5-6. (Bravo)
“I was so weak and so intimidated by the production team, and I had just gone through all the negotiations of my contract for the second season and those were demoralizing,” she said. “I took the shot. I felt tremendous pressure to do it.”
She’s hardly the only “Housewives” star who’s had a problem with the alcohol served while filming.
On a May 9 episode of Bravo’s “RHONY,” Dorinda Medley showed up to dinner seemingly wasted, slurring her words and picking a fight with the Puerto Rico hurricane-relief team she was dining with in Miami.
After disinviting Medley to Puerto Rico, Medley’s dinner companion and castmate, Bethenny Frankel, had a change of heart, but gave her a stern talking to during their private-jet ride to the islands.
“You’re a drunk,” Frankel said.
Bethenny Frankel, left, and Dorinda Medley. (Bravo)
In December, New York’s Luann de Lesseps, 53, was arrested for disorderly intoxication in Palm Beach, Fla., providing a major storyline for the current season. Meanwhile, on the “Real Housewives of Potomac,” Monique Samuels, 34, was accused of wrecking her Bentley after allegedly downing four martinis post-filming on a May 6 episode. (Samuels was then seen drinking an entire bottle of wine by herself that same episode.) There’s 54-year-old “RHONY” star Sonja Morgan, whom friends desperately tried to keep upright (and her nether regions covered) while she sloppily danced on a table during a 2015 trip to Atlantic City, cameras rolling. And then there’s former “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” star Kim Richards, 53, whose substance-abuse issues were so severe and apparent on the show, she went to rehab before returning to the series — and relapsing again.
Insiders say the stress of the show coupled with the free and flowing alcohol provided by producers and vendors is a dangerous combination. Some also wonder whether the series is exploiting cast members’ legitimate substance-abuse issues for the sake of drama.
Luann de Lesseps in her mug shot. (Palm Beach County Police Department)
“When I see some of the drunk scenes, it’s dark,” said Drescher. “It’s gone from being funny and giddy to being drunk and depressing and it makes me feel sad.”
“There are certain scenes where I’m just cringing for everybody involved.”
“Housewives” interviewed for this article say that while producers don’t explicitly push them to drink during filming, booze is always available — at no cost — courtesy of restaurants, events or the production team if a cast member is hosting a party that’s being filmed.
“At times, the producers would say, ‘Well, we’re not going to pay for Mr. Chow to cater your party because that’s over budget. But you’ll never hear them say, ‘We won’t pay for alcohol.’ It’s always readily available,” said Drescher.
“Everything is free, so the women drink in excess,” said Cindy Barshop, 53, who appeared on “RHONY” for one year in 2011. She added that the long shooting hours contributed to her co-stars’ boozing.
It also happens on trips out of town.
“You request the kind of alcohol you want and it’s there when you arrive to your villa,” said Heather Thomson, 47, who appeared on “RHONY” for three seasons. “And if you run out, they get you more.”
Other times, the pressure appeared to be more subtle.
Gretchen Rossi, who appeared on “Real Housewives of Orange County” primarily from 2008 to 2013, remembered an evening of filming at a dinner party where she got incredibly intoxicated.
“I woke up and thought, ‘Gosh, I never specifically went up and asked for another drink.’ My drink always seemed to be magically filled up,” said Rossi, 39.
“So I realized that, possibly, producers were in the background going to the server, ‘It looks like Gretchen needs more alcohol.’ ”
When Rossi approached producers about the party the next day, they retaliated with detailed notes.
“One of the producers goes, ‘Did anybody force you to drink? According to our notes here, you had two martinis, two shots of tequila . . .’ They had literally documented every single drink I had. I found that to be very strange,” she said. “It makes your stomach turn a little. It made me question what their intentions are.”
All cast members are made aware that producers “aren’t baby-sitters” when they sign up for the show, according to former “RHONY” star Kelly Bensimon.
“It said on the contract: Anything goes and you can’t sue for defamation of character — because you wanted to be on the show, and wanted to be famous,” she said.
Nonetheless, there have been moments when she thought the show’s staff was taking it too far and ignoring a potentially serious situation for the sake of ratings.
Bensimon, 50, said that one night, while filming, castmate Morgan was drunk and unable to walk as her hair extensions were falling off her head.
“I was like, ‘I need to bring this woman home. This is just not cool,’ ” said Bensimon. “The producers said, ‘Don’t help her, don’t help her.’
“If someone is in a bad situation, I don’t care if the cameras are rolling or not. I’m not going to let someone look bad because they are getting crazy. I know what’s going to happen once the footage airs, so let me help them out,” said Bensimon. She believes that her professional reputation was tarnished after appearing on the series.
“It almost ruined my life,” admitted Bensimon, who barely drank on the show but was made to appear unstable, she said. “When I got off the show, people said I was crazy and unhirable.”
Thomson similarly defied producers’ requests for her to film with an inebriated Morgan in 2014.
“When we were in Saratoga at the horse race, Sonja had been drinking and the producers wanted us to go outside because she was leaving . . . and she was falling down with her suitcase,” Thomson said. “I refused. I’m not going to put her vulnerabilities on camera . . . I felt like it was irresponsible. And the producer was unhappy that we wouldn’t go outside.”
Sonja Morgan currently stars on the "Real Housewives of New York City." (Bravo)
“I think if [behavior like Morgan’s] happens once or twice, they need to let the cameras run,” said Thomson. “But if it’s reoccurring, the producers may have to question if the cast member is right for the program.”
Another Real Housewife of New York, who asked to remain anonymous, said that Morgan’s behavior raised eyebrows again months later, when the women visited Atlantic City for shooting and Morgan was incoherent and trying to makeout with de Lesseps.
It was so bad, a meeting between some cast members and the production staff was called regarding Morgan.
“Bethenny said, ‘I didn’t realize how bad it was’ and ‘I didn’t realize she’s a f–king liability.’ And [the producers] said, ‘I know, I know.’ But at the end of the day, they invite [Morgan] back every year,” said the Housewife.
A Bravo spokeswoman told The Post, “The franchise follows the women in their real lives. No one is pressured to drink alcohol. If the network, production company or castmates have deemed that someone is putting themselves at risk in their overall lives, we have taken and will continue to take responsible action.”
Morgan, who didn’t drink on-camera for most of the current season, told The Post: “I think I’m very funny when I drink. I’m very transparent on the show. For me, with my businesses [including a namesake clothing line], I can show people that I can drink, or that I don’t have to drink. It’s just good to show both sides.”
A source said that Bravo has intervened in the past for cast members dealing with addiction. After the second season of “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills,” the network paid for Kim Richards to go to rehab. She returned to the show afterward — as did her substance-abuse problems.
According to the same source, Taylor Armstrong, 47, also previously on “RHOBH,” was encouraged by production to go to rehab after she appeared in a 2013 episode drunkenly calling castmate Kyle Richards, 49, to inform her that she was en route to the airport for an impromptu romantic getaway and had no idea where her 6-year-old daughter was. Armstrong opted not to go to rehab and appeared on the show for three more years.
Kim Richards attended rehab for her alcohol addiction. (Reuters)
Drescher said that, for the most part, the women who drink excessively on the show, drink excessively in real life, too. But real life becomes magnified — as do personal demons — when you land the Bravo gig.
“I think a lot of women in NYC who are [in their 40s and 50s] self-medicate with alcohol,” said Drescher. “But then you throw in a reality show where you are basically a gladiator with tits, and you have the perfect recipe for a drinking disaster.”
And a disaster for the women can be a win for the network.
“The producers just have two goals,” continued Drescher. “One is to create a great television show. And two, if they can capture reality, that’s TV gold. A lot of the time, it’s not always 100-percent authentic. But when you catch somebody drunk, that’s as real as can be.”
But some insiders don’t like that their “Real Housewives” franchise has transformed from a glossy show about rich women and their families into a real-time view of addicts’ rapid decline.
“It’s disappointing,” said Bensimon. “I don’t want people to think when they come to New York, it’s going to be like that. It’s embarrassing to me.”
“You don’t come to New York to get divorced, and end up at 40 broke and just drinking a lot. That’s not chic.”