Is Tom Sandoval of ‘Vanderpump Rules’ the Most Hated Man in America?

Is Tom Sandoval of ‘Vanderpump Rules’ the Most Hated Man in America?

Contrary to a popular misconception, “Vanderpump” is not about Lisa Vanderpump, a former Bravo Housewife. It started as a show about waiters and bartenders who lived in crappy apartments around Hollywood and, for the most part, wanted to be actors. That dream didn’t work out, but they became reality-TV stars instead. For a while, this ruined the show. It became less honest. The cast still worked shifts at a restaurant, but actually they drove nice cars and bought $2 million houses. Once the show stopped pretending that nothing had changed, it turned out that a reality show about reality stars was not any less interesting. On the last season alone, there was “Scandoval,” in which Sandoval, a reality star approaching middle age, proceeded to start a cover band, open a bar and sleep with Leviss, a former beauty queen. A couple that had been on the show since the first season finally decided to divorce, leading the wife to realize that she may never have kids. And a woman who once bragged that her private-jet lifestyle was financed by Randall Emmett, the direct-to-video film producer, left him and became a breadwinner as she fought for custody of their daughter.

Alex Baskin, an executive producer of “Vanderpump,” developed it as a spinoff of “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills,” which featured Vanderpump as the owner of several mediocre restaurants. Baskin noticed that SUR, which stands for “Sexy Unique Restaurant,” indeed had a sexy unique atmosphere. In 2011, he sent a screenshot of SUR’s website — with Vanderpump on a throne surrounded by her good-looking staff — to Andy Cohen, who was then Bravo’s vice president for original programming. The network provided a small budget for Baskin to explore the idea. What Baskin found was an incestuous friend group in which everyone was either living or sleeping with one another. “It was everything you look for in a TV show,” Baskin told me. “It just hit me in the face.”

At the time, prestige TV was on the rise, and writers’ rooms across Hollywood became overly preoccupied with chasing critical approval, rather than audiences and revenue. In this context, “Vanderpump” was an appealing alternative. Yes, it looked and acted like reality TV, but at its core it was more like the great scripted shows of the 1990s in that it was about a group of friends living life, dating one another, giving up the hopes of their 20s for the realities of their 30s. It relied on time-tested screenwriting tenets: good, unexpected stories about original characters going through relatable cycles of jealousy, regret, insecurity and longing.

The show was also a brilliant premise, commercially speaking. The TV business shepherded crowds to the real-world business and vice versa. You could watch Sandoval and his friends on TV, then drop by and have him make you a “Pumptini.” The show’s main draw was the cheating scandals, of which there were three by the end of the second season. As the show took place more outside the restaurant, it went through an identity crisis. In 2020, it was further debilitated by the pandemic and the departure of four members of the cast because of past racist incidents and resurfaced social media posts. By Season 9, there were rumors that “Vanderpump” was on the brink of cancellation. “We were hobbling,” Baskin told me. The very next season, “Scandoval” dropped into Bravo’s lap.

The show’s producers treated it like a news story. Late on the evening of March 1, 2023, when principal filming for the 10th season was wrapped and episodes were already airing, Sandoval was performing a new single with his band when his phone fell out of his pocket. Madix opened it to discover an intimate recording of Leviss. The next morning, Madix notified the show’s talent producer, who called the showrunner, who called Baskin, who called Bravo, which scrambled to approve budgets. On March 3, crews were pulled off another Bravo set, and cameras were back up to capture the fallout as the cast processed the affair.

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