From Andy Cohen to Real Housewives and beyond: a beginner’s guide to the Bravo universe

With new free-to-air station 7Bravo launching in Australia, a Bravoholic dives into the reality network’s franchises, spin-offs and tropes

One person’s trash TV is another person’s trashy treasure. And when it comes to the American TV network Bravo, I am one of millions who treasure it.

More than 40 years into its existence, the NBCUniversal-owned channel has become something of a phenomenon, with a “Bravoverse” that mostly comprises unscripted reality shows. Host and producer Andy Cohen is its most recognisable figurehead, and The Real Housewives is its most prolific format: a franchise that follows a mix of affluent women in cities across the US and – as of last year – in Dubai.

In Australia, Bravo shows such as Housewives, Below Deck and Vanderpump Rules have been available across various networks and streamers, with the paid subscription service Hayu the most centralised place for up-to-date programming.

But now there’s a new destination. The Seven Network has launched the free-to-air station 7Bravo in partnership with NBCUniversal, offering a smattering of unscripted series from Bravo and beyond – a free entry point for those who want to dabble.

Here’s everything you need to know before you do.

What’s on 7Bravo?

Flick your telly to channel 75 and you could drop into an episode of Bravo’s Million Dollar Listing, Below Deck or Top Chef, as well as The Real Housewives of Dubai, Orange County or New Jersey. With a staged rollout that will pull from NBC’s broader networks, 7Bravo will also be airing episodes of The Tonight Show and the Kelly Clarkson Show, and select shows from NBC’s true crime network Oxygen.

The channel itself plays random episodes, for that classic free-to-air broadcast experience. If you were keen to binge at your own leisure, you can head to the 7Plus library to find Bravo content that has mostly already premiered elsewhere in Australia (only NBC’s talkshows are having their first Australian run with Seven).

7Bravo won’t feature flagship shows like The Real Housewives of New York, Atlanta or Beverly Hills, but it does have the “all stars” spin off, The Real Housewives Ultimate Girls Trip season 1 – and there is still more to be released, including the recently rebooted Real Housewives of Miami and Real Girlfriends of Paris, which follows glamorous twentysomething expats in France.

The channel seems like more of an “Andy Cohen starter pack” than something for true Bravoholics, who would find it a little quaint to flick on the telly to a 2016 episode of The Real Housewives of New Jersey. But if we’re known for anything, it’s for always wanting more, so a new free network can’t hurt.

A journey through the Bravoverse

Like many, my Bravo journey started with episode one, season one of the very first Real Housewives series: Orange County, which came out in 2006. Recovering from a tonsillectomy in 2018, I spent a sleepless month on the couch, letting wealthy middle-aged women scream for me when I couldn’t speak.

Within a year I’d watched more than a thousand episodes. Fully committed and up to date, I now watch all the Housewives – and the spin-off shows – the same day they air in the US. Question my priorities, I don’t mind: it’s Andy Cohen’s world and I’m just living in it.

Andy Cohen with the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills (season 11).
Andy Cohen with the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills (season 11). Photograph: Bravo/NBCU Photo Bank/Getty Images

Bravoholics treat watching these franchises like a sport. We follow seasons, pick sides, and often watch together. We listen to podcasts like Bitch Sesh or Sexy Unique Podcast, which dissect episodes and offer commentary about on- and off-screen scandals. We read gossip about our favourite “Bravolebrities”, and follow fan pages, TikToks and Instagram accounts dedicated to all things Bravo (my recent pick is this RHONY musical parody account). We frantically DM each other with breaking news multiple times a day. I’m even planning a pilgrimage to BravoCon 2023 with some other local stans (we need the dates please Andy!). Bravo’s not just a lifestyle network: it’s a lifestyle.

Cohen is the leader of the Bravoverse. An executive producer on a number of series, he also hosts all the Bravo reunion shows, where casts get back together and pull apart the season that just aired (AKA continue to fight, then make up). Cohen is also the host of Watch What Happens Live, a late-night talkshow mainly dedicated to dissecting Bravo shows we all enjoy.

Untangling the Bravo web

The Bravoverse is as insular as it sounds and, in a way, self-sustaining. It started with The Real Housewives of Orange County then branched out to other cities before the Housewives spin offs started up. Vanderpump Rules, launched in 2013, follows the young staff of Sexy Unique Restaurant (SUR) in West Hollywood, owned by former Real Housewife Lisa Vanderpump – and the shows remain intertwined to this day. In the trailer for the 10th season of Vanderpump Rules, for instance, current RHOBH cast member Garcelle Beauvais and her son have a guest spot.

Lisa Vanderpump and her dog Sean Combs at BravoCon 2019.
Lisa Vanderpump and her dog Sean Combs at BravoCon 2019. Photograph: Gregory Pace/REX/Shutterstock

The connections go even deeper. In the fifth season of Vanderpump Rules, cast members Stassi, Kristen, Scheana and Katie went to visit their “friends” in Montauk, New York. The episode was a crossover preview for new show Summer House, which then became a standalone series with its own cast of young professionals who let off steam on the weekends in a, well, summer house.

This led to Winter House, where the cast from Vanderpump, Summer House and Southern Charm get together in Vermont for a couple of weeks during winter. Southern Charm, you ask? That one follows the exploits of several socialites in Charleston, South Carolina – and just last year it got its own Charleston-based spin-off, Southern Hospitality, which follows the staff of Southern Charm’s Leva Bonaparte at the clubs and bars she owns in town.

Southern Hospitality will be airing on 7Bravo later this year alongside other niche titles, including Family Karma (one of my favourites), which chronicles intergenerational relationships between several Indian-American families in Miami. Also available is season six of Below Deck: a mix of all the best Bravo sub-genres (Real Housewives meets Vanderpump, but on a yacht!), it stars chief stew Kate Chastain, one of the all time great Bravolebrities IMO. The Australian spin-off Below Deck Down Under will be available on 7Bravo soon.

Do we need 7Bravo?

There are certain tropes that keep Bravo fans coming back for more: the wine glass-throwing, the trivial arguments, the fights over rooms on cast trips. These shows are equal parts comedy, tragedy and drama, with insight into lifestyles that are often beyond over the top.

For me, there’s something particularly special about watching “women of a certain age”, once written out of the scripted game, now dominating unscripted TV. We see marriages and lives breakdown; many (not all) rise from the ashes. We’re essentially watching soap operas here, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Do we need another dedicated station? Maybe not. But for fans of the Bravoverse, who consider Housewives casting changes as important as “the moon landing”, we’ll take what we can get.

And for those who whet their appetite, good news: there’s plenty more where that came from.


Stephanie Van Schilt

The GuardianTramp

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