Analysis: Are the Salahis Too Radioactive for Reality TV?

Bravo proceeds with caution on Real Housewives hopefuls amid legal fallout from White House party-crashing incident
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Bravo executives are taking a wait-and-see approach when it
comes to White House party crashers Michaele and Tareq Salahi, who are among
the couples being filmed for the newest iteration of The Real Housewives
franchise. 

While such notoriety normally would be a boon for the show,
the circumstances of how the Salahis earned it requires a quality not typically
associated with reality TV: delicacy.

"When you cause deep embarrassment to the White House," says
a Bravo insider, "you can't ignore that."

The Secret Service is conducting a criminal investigation
into how the Salahis gained entry into the Obama administration's first state
dinner Nov. 24, and the couple could face felony charges. A Congressional
committee voted to subpoena the couple for a Jan. 20 hearing; their lawyer has
said that they will invoke their Fifth Amendment right against
self-incrimination. And the Virginia
authorities are investigating the Salahis' America's Polo Cup company, which
holds a yearly charity match and gala.

Meanwhile, Bravo is still promoting The Real Housewives
of D.C.
in sales pitches with advertisers and the media. The show is
targeted to bow in 2010.  A Bravo
executive said the show has not yet gone into editing.

Bravo and Half Yard Productions, the Bethesda, Md.-based
production company filming the Salahis, say they were unaware the couple was
crashing. In the end, that may be enough to overcome any hesitation about
giving the Salahis a starring role.

"Anybody can get conned," says Bill Carroll, VP and director
of programming at Katz Television Group. "Just because you're a television
producer doesn't mean you're any savvier. If they've had direct involvement, I
would think even their lawyers would say, 'Let's avoid that.' But if they can
make the case with a straight face that they were duped as well, they'll
probably go ahead with it."

Also raising questions is NBC News' coverage of a story that
involves a sibling NBC Universal-owned network. Matt Lauer failed to ask the
couple about the Bravo show during a Dec. 1 interview on Today. NBC News President Steve Capus said the omission was an
"oversight" during a very short remote interview and added that subsequent
reports acknowledged the Bravo program. He also said the Salahis were under no
contractual obligation to appear on NBC News.

But for networks that traffic in reality TV, it seems the
line between acceptable and unacceptable behavior is growing ever more
fungible.

Crashing the White House, says Brad Adgate, senior VP of
research at Horizon Media, "was a pretty risky and risqué move. But we're
seeing more of that [kind of behavior].

"It's going to help Bravo initially," Adgate added. "No one
knew who these people were a few weeks ago. They're getting a lot of free
press, a lot of publicity. They're building up awareness. And you know someone,
somewhere, is hatching a plan to top that."

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