The suicide of Russell Armstrong, estranged husband of Taylor Armstrong of "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills," has caused finger-pointing in every direction: at Bravo, at the show's producers and at the Armstrongs themselves. But has it occurred to you that we the viewers might carry a little of the blame on our own shoulders?
We're the ones who follow the show, and our numbers increase exponentially when something really juicy happens. Those involved in the show are just pandering to our tastes. They tease us and we tune in. We multiply their ratings and we buy their sponsors' products. We, as free and willing viewers, encourage this ridiculous, and now fatal, excess.
Those of you who believe that you're innocently observing "reality" could use a reality check. This is not how people behave under normal circumstances. There are lights, cameras, stylists, crew members and prodding producers digging for drama.
That drama takes precedence over reality, even in the casting process. Since the death of Russell Armstrong, it's become common knowledge that the couple was swimming in debt, hardly the rich and glamorous jet setters they appeared to be.
Let's just say the casting agents do only cursory background checks, and they'll overlook controversial facts if you have the personality and storyline potential to make the show sizzle.
I know this because I've been consulted on a number of reality show castings, including "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills." One day I got a call from a perky woman who said, "We're casting a show about affluent women in the Beverly Hills area, and we thought you might be able to help us. Are you super-wealthy? Do you live in a mansion, always go first class and wear designer everything? Are you a big personality? If not, could you direct us to some of your friends who are?"
Being wise to the ways of reality television, I had zero desire to risk my reputation and my family in the name of potential fortune and fame, and politely declined the invitation. Well, there was also the fact that I don't even come close to meeting their requirements. But I was told that they could work around that -- including my not living in Beverly Hills. I DO live near a street that eventually runs through Beverly Hills.
It appears the Armstrongs were ready, willing and able to give the appearance of a lavish lifestyle and come across as "big personalities." They probably saw the show as a way to help cure their ailing finances.
As some have said, no one made the Armstrongs air their dirty laundry on national television. But it's made crystal clear that the more extreme you act on camera, the more screen time you get. The more screen time you get, the more money you can demand. Then if you're really lucky, the real cash starts flowing in a revered river called product endorsements.
Bethenny Frankel, from "The Real Housewives of New York City," set the gold standard. She got a spinoff show and licensing deals worth millions for her Skinny Girl Margaritas and other products. There isn't a reality personality out there who's not gunning for a makeup, fragrance or clothing line, book deal or their own show. And incidentally, the network that airs the show gets a piece of all that, so it behooves everyone to create super reality stars.
(Side note: Frankel was not a real "housewife" when she first appeared in the series. She was a single working girl.)
Even though producers deny they told the Taylors they were to be the "crisis couple" and they'd be cut from the show if they didn't perform, the Taylors had to be well aware that the cameras zoom in when you're doing something wild and controversial. Be loyal to your friends and family and act like a lady and you disappear, your contract never to be renewed. These days, you have to live large and lasciviously to catch the public eye.
If the cast has trouble coming up with enough drama on their own, the producers and story editors are adept at creating it. Look carefully and you'll see that alcohol flows freely on most sets. When cast members are pulled aside for one-on-one comments, you, the viewer, have no idea what kind of questions they're responding to. It could be "I heard that Housewife X thinks you're a skanky ho. How do you feel about that?" Whether or not Housewife X really said that matters not.
What you do know is that Bravo and other cable channels develop and air these types of shows for one reason, and one reason only: It's all about the money. The bigger the train wreck, the better the ratings, and the more they can charge the sponsors. No audience, no show. No show, no platform for these sad people. No platform, no reward for catty behavior, spousal spats or rank materialism.
The Taylors seem to have become caught up in a web that we, the viewers, ultimately wove by rewarding the show with our attention. It might be funny to see someone take a glass of Champagne in the face, but a suicide, and a 6-year-old who has lost a father, is definitely not entertaining. If you watch, in your own small way, you're encouraging it.
Note: This was written by a Yahoo! contributor. Join the Yahoo! Contributor Network to start publishing your own articles.