Real Housewives of D.C. Can't Beat C-SPAN

Bravo announced this week that it is expanding its Real Housewives franchise to the nation's capital, with its "influential players, cultural connoisseurs, fashion sophisticates and philanthropic leaders."

Have they been here lately? The best-dressed aide on Capitol Hill would horrify the lowest grip at Universal Studios. There are no cultural connoisseurs. Congressional leaders can be dragged to the Kennedy Center once a year for a televised gala, and they leave early.

For women, fashion is low heels and the Hillary Clinton pantsuit; for men, any tie that doesn't have a soup stain. As for philanthropy, there is no Bill Gates or Ford Foundation. The Rockefeller we have is in the Senate, lives quietly and leaves handing out the family fortune to relatives.

But we do have influential players, and the most influential of all sells everything from magazines to bobblehead dolls. Barack Obama has made Washington interesting again -- young, smart, out and about. He has a beautiful wife, who he appears to be in love with, and two photogenic daughters, who appear amazingly well-behaved.

But that doesn't translate into fodder for Bravo.

Let's face it: Michelle Obama isn't one of the 25 housewives on Bravo's short list. And none of the mini-Michelles in the White House -- like Sarah Feinberg, the blond and beautiful aide to Rahm Emanuel -- would think of taking a call from a reality TV producer. A potential assistant deputy undersecretary of something someday, she's not taking any risks. To be wild and crazy in the West Wing is to tape a segment for PBS's News Hour.

As for ratings, must-watch TV in D.C. is Timothy Geithner testifying before the House Banking Committee and making the market arrow in the corner of the screen go up -- or down -- 100 points. See the cameras click as Nancy Pelosi in her sensible suit accuses a CIA briefer of lying. Tune in as Dick Cheney expels former Secretary of State Colin Powell, one of the most admired people in America, from the Republican party on Face the Nation, Washington's version of American Idol.

What's won the Real Housewives high ratings is in short supply here: obvious wealth, shopping as sport, conspicuous beauty and indulgent husbands. It's not North Korea's nuclear bomb and TARP. Squabbles over Sarbanes-Oxley rock our world.

In the real Washington, housewives don't have the discretionary income to be interesting. They are widowed by husbands working on -- or living off of -- Capitol Hill or the White House, virtually raising the children alone. They try to snatch a few minutes listening to National Public Radio while driving the carpool in a futile effort not to be ignored at the rare cocktail party where someone might deign to talk to them. If they have money, they can't hire help because their husbands don't want a nanny problem should they be face vetting as a nominee to run Treasury.

Which brings us to another deficit Real Housewives needs to consider: Job lust is the only kind of lust here. We're too busy for sex, burning the midnight oil reading up on new rules to curb credit default swaps or watching Jon Stewart to see if a colleague is being lampooned.

And the morning. Forget it. We're speed-clicking the remote dropping in on Morning Joe and Today while reading three papers to make sure we can say yes when asked if we saw that piece on land-use planning while at the gym, where we're working off the slabs of rare roast beef served at not-to-be-missed fundraisers.

The only sign of sex is the kind over which politicians lose their jobs. Which brings us to the city's escort business which as the Emperor's VIP Club patronized by Client #9 shows is thriving. It's so vibrant you would think Congress was subsidizing it, like soybeans.

To duplicate the drama of the other real wives, Bravo would have to go outside the Beltway where McMansions, day spas, manipulated husbands, spoiled children, frozen smiles and country clubs abound.

As a final cautionary note, let me refer Bravo executives to the experience of the most famous Washington housewife, often called the most beautiful movie star in the world, Elizabeth Taylor. In 1976 she made John Warner, a former Navy secretary who would go on to the U.S. Senate, her sixth husband.

Even she couldn't cut through the singular focus of politicians on the make. At parties, she would stand alone as guests proved power is the ultimate aphrodisiac by making a beeline for Henry Kissinger. She knew she was in the wrong town when a photographer aiming his camera at a four-star admiral talking with Warner asked Taylor to step out of the picture.

The two divorced in 1982, but not before Taylor complained that she gained 50 pounds watching old movies and eating hot fudge sundaes alone, waiting for Warner to get home.

I wish Bravo the best of luck. And I'll be sure to tune in, as long as it doesn't conflict with C-SPAN's Journalist Roundtable.

Originally published on Bloomberg News.

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