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Southern Charm is one of the more unique reality TV shows on air right now. It debuted on Bravo back in 2014 and after four successful seasons has led to several spin-offs including Southern Charm Savannah, Southern Charm New Orleans and RelationShep. Southern Charm focuses on southern culture and politics as it follows the professionals and personal lives of several socialites in Charleston, South Carolina, many of whom are from prominent American families. While we wait for news of a fifth season, here’s a look at 9 things you probably didn’t know about the show!
Many fans might not know this but Southern Charm star Whitney Sudler-Smith was actually the creative force behind the show. He was the one who pitched the show to Bravo after partnering with Haymaker Productions. When asked about the concept behind the series, Whitney said: “I think the idea was a little Downton Abbey, a little bit of Gone With the Wind, a little bit of The Bachelor and a little bit of Animal House.”
Show creator Whitney was introduced to Thomas Ravenel through his mother, Patricia Altschul. They met at a party around the holidays and shared an immediate connection. Ravenel has easily become the star of the show. He comes from one of the most influential families in Charleston. Not only that but he has political baggage. A big part of his storyline in season 1 was his 2007 public scandal when he pleaded guilty to “conspiring to buy and distribute less than 100 grams of cocaine” and was sentenced to serve 10 months in a federal prison. As a result of his conviction, he was forced to resign from office. “Basically, he was totally ostracized and a lightening rod. I found him incredibly amusing, I just thought, something should be done with this person,” said Whitney.
Whitney originally pitched the show as Southern Gentleman. After meeting some electic men in Charleston he conjured up the idea of a show that would follow four of the richest and most eligible bachelors. Southern Gentlemen was poised to feature himself, Shep Rose, a thirty-something bachelor who Whitney met at a party shortly after he met Thomas Ravenel and a few other men who never made the cut when the show went from being Southern Gentlemen to Southern Charm.
Since the original version of the show had a very male voice, it’s unusual that it ended up on Bravo. Whitney’s ideal network at the time was AMC because he wanted the show to have a ‘Mad Men‘ kind of feel. The premise of the show changed because, while Leslie Farrell, vice president of the production, thought the show had a great fresh outlook for Bravo, they needed some ladies in the mix. “What’s interesting about it is because Whitney, these really were his friends and it was his eye to producing, the group that came along with him really are male-oriented, and that was new for Bravo. Obviously, we’re a very female-oriented network and our main characters are female and Southern Charm turned that on its head by bringing men to the forefront. They’re not there because the main characters are their wives or girlfriends, they are actually main characters themselves.”
The only two people who made the cut from Whitney’s original reel are Thomas and Shep. The rest of the cast members were sought out once Bravo picked up the production. “It’s a small community, so we poked around and met their friends and hung out there,” said Aaron Rothman.
In an interview with E! News, Whitney said there’s a huge misconception about his involvement in the show. People assume that because he’s an executive producer on the show that he cast himself, but it was actually the opposite. He didn’t want to be on-camera and it was Rothman who encouraged him to take part in it. “He didn’t want to be on the show. I said, ‘I want you to be on the show,’ and then I interviewed him, and I convinced him to interview his mom. If we’ve had conflicts over the years, that is the primary nature of those conflicts,” said Rothman. It took Whitney a while to warm up to the cameras, but once he did he enjoyed it. When he agreed to be an official cast member, he had to give up control as executive producer. In the fourth season he went back to his original role again by giving up his series regular position to Austen Kroll and went back to producing, although he stilled appeared in every episode.
The twenty-something fiery red head from a prominent South Carolina family, Kathryn Dennis, was originally cast in Southern Charm as an extra, but ended up becoming one of the most well-known cast members who is responsible for a majority of the drama. “We had originally Skype interviewed her and we thought she was too young,” said Whitney to E! News, but the process of interviewing her introduced her to the cast members, and so she began showing up at their filming events. “She came on as someone to fill up a party. She was very nice, very pretty, and I think she was in school at the time, and then when we were shooting, we figured, hey, she’d be a good extra,” he said. Eventually it became clear that she and Thomas Ravenel had a serious connection and a relationship between them ensued.
The third season of Southern Charm saw it’s highest ratings ever which led to the idea of creating spin-offs. Vice president Leslie Farrell said: “Once it was clear that we had something really new and fresh, really unique, this idea of bringing in these male characters and making them such a focal point, and then that it works, yes, we started thinking about, can we spin this off? Where would it be? So the search began.” They came up with Southern Charm Savannah, which follows the same premise except in Savannah, Georgia, as well as two upcoming series. First there’s RelationShep, which is set to premiere later this year and will follow Southern Charm star Shep Rose as he travels around the country looking for love. There will also be another Southern Charm, but this time in New Orleans. This series is set to premiere sometime in 2018.
Bravo got lucky when they found an “exclusive” community in Savannah, Georgia. “We looked at a couple of cities. We met this Savannah cast and found something distinctly special that we didn’t necessarily have in Charleston: they grew up together. When we found this group of people who have grown up together, many of them who are very, very old Southern lineage, we fell for them a little bit,” said Aaron Rothman, co-founder Haymaker Productions to E! News. There’s a bit of crossover between the two shows — viewers will see some of the Southern Charm cast members make an appearance in episodes of Southern Charm Savannah every now and again.
As with any other reality show that brings a lot of drama and chaos, the local people of Charleston don’t share the same sentiment as the fans. “At first, the reception was horror. I think locals, they were thinking Honey Boo Boo and Jersey Shore, and unfortunately, it doesn’t stray far from that in some aspects, but I think now, despite some of the boorish behavior of the cast, I think they’ve come to begrudgingly accept it. The show, it showcases the city in a beautiful light…it’s a positive portrayal of the city and we’ve heard it helps tourism,” said Whitney. However, according to E! News who also interviewed Doug Warner, the director of media relations for the Charleston Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, he said there is no data to support that Southern Charm has impacted tourism in any form.