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Vanderpump Rules is going where its reality TV predecessor, The Hills, never did: Addressing the fame that comes along with a show like this on screen. The season 9 premiere proved as much, as drama stirred up by a press tour for Lala Kent's book and Scheana Shay's podcast came into the picture immediately. Star and executive producer Lisa Vanderpump tells ET the show simply had to go there.
"I think that it changes very much from the first season, when they were unknown, but ultimately we always try to tell the true, authentic story," she explains over video chat from her Villa Rosa estate. "I think we would be remiss in really portraying the reality if we didn't address what's going on in their lives right now. I mean, of course you've seen that on Housewives. People coming from obscurity to something, having book deals. I mean, it happened to myself. Over the years -- over four, 500 episodes or whatever I've done -- things change. My lifestyle didn't change so much, but my life did."
For years, the cast has been outspoken about how they wished the footage that makes it to TV would showcase their "real lives," from podcasts to book deals, fashion lines and more. Now -- to quote the tattoo on Scheana's arm -- it's all happening.
"I'm glad the show has evolved over the years, otherwise, we can't keep playing the same tune," she adds. "They have kind of grown up -- albeit struggling with maturity, a lot of them -- but, yeah, it has to go somewhere. It really does."
Like Lisa suggests, the conceit of the show has evolved alongside the cast. Season 8 felt like it was trying to cram the best of both worlds into every 42-minute episode: Follow the OG crew anda crop of newcomers, who still work in the restaurant around which the whole series is based, SUR. Now, in season 8, nearly no one works at the restaurant (save for Raquel Leviss and Charli Burnett, the lone survivor of season 8's cast additions). Instead, the cameras are focused on the stars whose lives changed forever because they once worked at LVP's Sexy Unique Restaurant.
"I think one of the great reasons that the show has been so successful is that all these relationships are truly authentic and they hang out with each other while they've been locked up," Lisa notes, giving a nod to the coronavirus pandemic, which delayed filming for more than a year.
"I think you're going to see they've matured somewhat," Lisa says. "Because they have to move on, they have to progress. But I think there's still the emotional content for sure. ... I think a lot of people feel like they've grown up with this group of people, and they're still there. I think it's almost like the Friends series, you kind of really invest in their lives and you knew them so well, because for nine seasons, they've really shown everything and then some."
While the likes of Tom Sandoval, Ariana Madix, Tom Schwartz and Katie Maloney-Schwartz returned to fans' screens last week, longtime stars Stassi Schroeder, Kristen Doute, Jax Taylor and Brittany Cartwright were nowhere to be found. They were all let go from (or, in the case of Jax and Brittany, "exited") the show before the end of 2020. While they were once staples -- and often the focus -- of the series, their departures are not expected to be addressed explicitly in season 9, despite the fact that many current stars are still friends (or, at least, friendly) with them.
"There are some," Lisa agrees, "but I think, ultimately, this group kind of also revolves around my world, the restaurant, coming to me for mentorship and how cohesive that group is -- of course things change -- but the same way we've also introduced new cast members. You see Charli, she's very comfortable in this group. You see Lala, you see James [Kennedy] and Raquel, how they've come to this group and things have changed. I think it's always sad to lose people that have been part of the initial success. But that was Bravo's decision and we've moved on. This [season] is so kind of action-packed and there are so many storylines, and the cast is pretty big as it is. So I don't think anything was, per se, missed."
While Lisa was quite close to Stassi, Jax and Brittany (all of whom became parents in the last year), she confesses that those relationships disappeared without the thread of Vanderpump Rules to connect them.
"I don't really have anything much to do with interacting with them," she says. "I did send baby presents and have kind of congratulated them and we have spoken, but they're not part of my life unless they're really on the show or working for me."
It's the combination of those two factors that seemingly landed Charli, a waitress at SUR and an aspiring actress, her spot on season 9. A bit of a background player in season 8, Charli shocked/won over the audience at the virtual reunion, going in on Jax and calling him "basically a bully" and announcing that the now 42-year-old is "retired, done and wrapped."
"When he said, 'Oh, you're boring me,' she said, 'Oh, go to bed, old man,' to Jax? I think, 'OK, there's the girl that sees the funny side. She's not afraid to speak her mind,'" Lisa shares. "So she's definitely a very valuable cast member."
"She's very quirky and she's very outspoken," Lisa adds of Charli. "And I think that she's also working continually at the restaurant so she's developed relationships with James and Raquel and the Toms, and been around that group. And she's got a lot to say. I think she brings a different flavor to it. She kind of cuts through things. Which makes me laugh actually, that she's got no fear about kind of really confronting issues. I think that makes her a lot of fun."
While she may no longer be boss (at least in the service industry sense) to most of the Pump Rules cast, she still plays surrogate mom to many -- and business partner to the Toms. Lisa named her West Hollywood bar TomTom after them, the success of which inspired the identically named pals to explore opening their own, standalone establishment. The pair biting off more than they can chew seemingly plays a large part in season 9.
"Look, for me, I'd had a lot of experience," Lisa says. "I think they started to realize that as they got into something, that suddenly I wasn't holding their hand. If you remember, when I set TomTom up, it was [my husband, Ken Todd], [our designer] Nick Alain, and I, we literally said, 'OK, you guys can come in when it's finished.' So their level of expertise was bringing the joie de vivre, Tom [Sandoval] behind the bar. I wasn't asking for their kind of expertise in other areas. Now, got to figure it out on their own. Do I help them try to guide them? Yes. Do they always want my help? Well, you're going to find out about that as well."
"There's a lot that goes into running a restaurant, creating a brand," she continues. "There's a lot of things that maybe they weren't aware of. Yes. That they will find out themselves."
The premiere set the stage for what seems to be a business match not made in heaven for the boys. They can't even agree on a name, with Sandoval pitching "Schwartz and Sandy's" repeatedly.
"I didn't love it," Lisa admits of the moniker. "But I think a place becomes a name, like a baby becomes the name. I think if you kind of put something out there and say, 'I'm thinking of calling my baby this...' you're going to get just so many different opinions. I've never really asked that. I've never really asked for people's opinion on anything I do. I kind of put it out there. I'm confident. I mean, I might listen to people, but I'm basically going to go with my own belief. If that's their dream, they should 1,000 percent just go for it."
Unfortunately, it appears to only be Sandoval's dream, to which Lisa says, "That actually gets more complicated. You're just seeing the tip of the iceberg with that one." Also complicating the duo's deal is the fact that they're bringing their significant others -- Schwartz's wife, Katie, and Sandoval's girlfriend, Ariana -- into the business. The season sneak peeks tease major tension between Katie and Sandoval.
"I felt that Katie had experience, but ... they get supremely irritated with each other," Lisa teases. "And you can see both sides, and that's the story, isn't it?"
It's almost impossible to talk about Vanderpump Rules without discussing the show from which it sprang, The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. While Lisa hasn't been on that series in more than three years, her name is forever associated with it -- with the current cast often being asked about her, or bringing her name up out of nowhere (and vice versa). One of the more recent cases is Garcelle Beauvais saying in an interview that the idea of LVP returning to RHOBH excites her, despite the fact that the two never appeared on the program together.
"Well, I think that's a compliment," Lisa coos when asked about Garcelle's comment. "From what I hear, she's a lovely woman. ... That's very sweet that she would say that. But I answered that honestly: With this cast? No, it'd be impossible. I hear Garcelle is very nice, and Sutton [Stracke], I hear is doing a good job. I haven't watched the show. As I said, it's been, what, three years now? It's '18 that I left. I haven't watched the show. And I don't think that's going to happen anytime soon. Unless they kind of cleaned house, then maybe. It'd be great. Just be Sutton, Garcelle, and me, right?"
Lisa didn't even finish out her final season on Real Housewives -- season 9 -- after clashing with just about the entire cast over drama involving a returned dog to her rescue center, all while grieving the death of her brother (and soon after, her mother). Fans never got clear answers about just what happened with puppy-gate, as it was dubbed, seeing as Lisa skipped out on the all-cast reunion at season's end. That move seemingly inspired the show's other Lisa, Lisa Rinna, to proclaim on Instagram that LVP "doesn't have the balls" to return to the show when asked about it on Instagram around the same time as Garcelle's suggestion she return.
"Well, that's her opinion," Lisa quips of Rinna. "She says a lot of negative things. I certainly sat there for four reunions prior to the last one that I missed with them all ganging up on me. So it wouldn't have been the first time. I just felt that I'd had enough."
For now, Lisa is focused on all the positive in her life: the return of Vanderpump Rules, the expansion of her business in Las Vegas, finishing up her memoir and preparing to become "Nanny Pinky." Lisa's daughter, Pandora, is pregnant with what will be LVP's first grandchild.
"I'm excited for that baby to be here because it's been a very stressful time through the COVID and how careful we've been and how protective we've been of [Pandora]," Lisa shares. "So I'm excited for that to happen, but it's wonderful. It's the cycle of life. I think our family, after having a couple of major losses in the family, it's a really exciting time for us."
Vanderpump Rules airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Bravo.
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