Brian J. Moylan, who recaps the Real Housewives franchise for Vulture and wrote an essay about the impact of the pandemic on Bravo shows, believes that reality TV fans exist on a spectrum of sincerity and irony, and the earnest fans are the ones at risk. “I think there are some fans who are very sincere in their fandom and love Kelly Dodd, and they want to be a housewife and have all this drama and have this affluent lifestyle, and they might think: ‘Kelly Dodd’s not wearing a mask and she has a point,’” he said.
But it’s possible that watching reality stars who are spreading virus misinformation get pilloried by commenters and their castmates may be beneficial. Reality show cast members and influencers are what academics refer to as “super-peers,” which means we’re watching them try out risky and outrageous behavior we possibly haven’t experienced ourselves, and seeing what the response is, Mr. Flynn said. If the response is bad, earnest viewers may be deterred from copying them.
“I think that if these characters modeled good behavior, or at least indicated they were concerned about mask wearing and the virus, that would have a positive effect on viewers,” said Peter Christenson, an emeritus professor of rhetoric and media studies at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Ore.
There has been a lot of good behavior by housewives, too. “The Real Housewives of New York City” filmed an in-person reunion episode, and “all the women tweeted their looks with accompanying masks,” Mr. Moylan said. “It showed people ‘we can be safe and be stylish and bring the housewivesey-ness of it to the pandemic.’”
Mr. Cohen, the Bravo impresario, has also been a beacon of good science, chronicling his own case of the virus in March and pushing back on misinformation during reunions and on “Watch What Happens Live.”
Though there have been reports of filming suspensions because of coronavirus exposures during new seasons of Bravo reality shows, “the health and safety of our cast and crews are our top priority,” a Bravo spokeswoman said. “Our shows have resumed production with comprehensive health and safety plans.”