Television viewers by the millions have followed "The Real Housewives of Orange County" and "The Real Housewives" of Atlanta, New Jersey, New York City. Now one of cable's most successful reality shows is moving to the nation's capital. It premieres on the Bravo Channel this Thursday. NPR's Neda Ulaby wondered how her adopted hometown is presented in "The Real Housewives of Washington, D.C."

NEDA ULABY: It's actually one location at two places - Washington and D.C.

Washington is the federal government - monuments, museums. It's the power elite of the city and the Maryland and Virginia suburbs.

(Soundbite of song)

PARLIAMENT FUNKADELIC (Music Group): God bless D.C. and its vanilla suburbs.

ULABY: D.C., to Parliament Funkadelic, is Chocolate City. It's taxation without representation, it's so-called Mayor for Life Marion Barry. Even the Washingtonian magazine draws a distinction between Washington and D.C., says editor Alyssa Rosenberg.

ALYSSA ROSENBERG (Senior Web Editor, Washingtonian): If we're talking about Washington, it's the area as a whole. If we're talking about the district, it's D.C. proper.

ULABY: Here's the one you'll see in The Real Housewives of Washington, D.C.

(Soundbite of TV show, "The Real Housewives of Washington, D.C.")

Unidentified Woman #1: This city is filled with galas and events. Its important to know which ones to attend.

Unidentified Woman #2: This town is small. Everybody has an agenda.

ULABY: I asked anthropology professor Sabiyah Prince to look at the new season's first episode. She studies the cultural history of Washington and D.C.

Professor SABBIYHA PRINCE (Cultural Anthropologist): These women are inhabiting, perhaps - to use that dichotomy - the world of Washington more so than they are D.C.

ULABY: Indeed, it's hard to imagine a sport less of D.C. than - polo?

(Soundbite of TV show, "The Real Housewives of Washington, D.C.")

Unidentified Man: (Unintelligible) on the field...

ULABY: But the first episode of The Real Housewives of Washington, D.C. features a polo match incongruously plopped right on the National Mall, one of the country's great public spaces. It was organized by America's most famous gatecrashers, Tareq and Michaele Salahi.

(Soundbite of TV show, "The Real Housewives of Washington, D.C.")

Unidentified Man: Salahi shoots. Boo-yah.

ULABY: One of the so-called housewives sees this match as worse than ridiculous. Her D.C.-based business had a bad experience with the event in the past.

(Soundbite of TV show, "The Real Housewives of Washington, D.C.")

Unidentified Woman #3: Its not good for my business, and its definitely not good for the city. I just have no desire to ever go back or be associated with that little goat rodeo.

ULABY: The first season of any Real Housewives is about building relationships between women who are not necessarily friends in real life. Washington, D.C.'s, black majority in this version is represented by one African-American - a District resident - and four white women who live in Maryland or Northern Virginia.

(Soundbite of TV show, "The Real Housewives of Washington, D.C.")

Unidentified Woman #4: Girlfriend...

ULABY: Some unfortunate girlfriending and snapping of fingers from a housewife at a party, who also brags about living near Dick Cheney in McLean, Virginia. She gets tipsy, and corners two black guests to lecture them about a pressing social problem.

(Soundbite of TV show, "The Real Housewives of Washington, D.C.")

Unidentified Housewife #5: Salons need to integrate. We have different hair, different needs, but why do we have to be in a different salon?

ULABY: The Real Housewives franchise purports to give its viewers a look at a place through one of its largely closed worlds athletes' wives in Atlanta, or a volatile New Jersey family. A story about white Washington suburbs versus a black urban D.C. is completely out of date, says anthropology professor Sabiyah Prince.

Prof. PRINCE: Washington is getting more diverse now. For so long, D.C. was about the dichotomy between black and white. And thats not even accurate anymore.

ULABY: Prince describes Washington, D.C.'s, culture as layered and complicated. She says maybe it's even big enough for party-crashing Virginians playing polo by the Washington monument.

Prof. PRINCE: One group does not have a monopoly over this place that we call Washington, D.C. So I'm okay with highlighting bits and pieces of what else is going on. Its a part of the cultural dynamism of the place.

ULABY: But the cultural dynamics of Washington, D.C. - or the dynamics of the cast - was apparently not enough for series producers. They failed to get enough material for 13 episodes. The Real Housewives of Washington, D.C. has only nine, which even for a cable show is pretty short.

Neda Ulaby, NPR News.

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