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'Real Housewives of D.C.': Move over Kate, Michaele's here!

By Jocelyn Noveck

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, June 22 2010 11:57 a.m. MDT

"I love to just make an entrance," declares one of the new "Real Housewives of D.C." on the show's debut episode, set to air in August.

Quick, guess which one!

Of course, that grimace-inducing line, given what we all know, comes from Michaele Salahi — whose uninvited "entrance" into the White House last fall threw Washington into a tizzy, raised serious questions about presidential security, caused major fallout at the Secret Service and led to the departure of the White House social secretary.

And it isn't over: A federal grand jury has been conducting a criminal investigation of Michaele and Tareq Salahi and how they got into the White House. But for now, all that trouble seems SO last year.

Because, judging from a sneak peek at the first episode of "Real Housewives," Michaele is the unquestioned star of the new franchise. In fact, on a show that sets out to profile well-connected players in Washington — well, rich, beautiful, catty well-connected players in Washington — the newly famous Salahi is perhaps the closest to a player they've got. Heck, at least she's met the president!

But let's pause for a little history. It was back in May of 2009 that Bravo, already home to the "Real Housewives" of Orange County, Atlanta, New York City and New Jersey, let it be known it was coming to the nation's capital.

Immediately, tongues started wagging in Washington's social circles. Who would the show find to equal the wealthy, colorful, surgically enhanced, backbiting, table-flipping heroines of those other cities? Was the wonky capital interesting enough? Some were horrified the show was coming, others a little proud, and some both.

A production company, Half Yard Productions, meanwhile, was searching for women who, in Bravo's words, "have their hands on the pulse of what's going on culturally and politically." They knew, of course, that it would be tough to get to the center of political power. "I imagine it would be a challenge if we were trying for, say, (social secretary) Desiree Rogers," Bravo programming executive Andy Cohen told The Associated Press at the time, a comment that seems a bit eerie now.

In a secretive process — candidates weren't told initially what show they were "auditioning" for — camera crews followed women into parties, leading to talk that they might be "Housewives." The buzz led to more invitations, making their notoriety rather a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Enter Michaele Salahi — and excuse the pun. After she and her polo-playing husband from Virginia wine country made their way into the November state dinner, Bravo said they were being considered for the show but that the cast was not yet set.

What they didn't say then was that shooting was already almost finished, as Cohen said last week when the cast was announced. There was no way at that stage, Cohen said, to replace her — and during editing, it had become clear how connected Salahi was to the other characters' stories.

And how important she would be to ratings, he might have added. "The Salahis are the golden egg," says Carol Joynt, who writes a column on Washington society for the New York Social Diary. Especially because prominent Washington players wouldn't go near the show, she says.

In fact, Joynt, who interviewed the Salahis last week for her local cable interview show, had never heard of any of the five chosen women until Bravo started shooting the show in September, two months before the White House incident. "If people in America think these are players in Washington, they're delusional," she says.

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