There are few reality series as iconic as any show in the Real Housewives franchise. The series first premiered with The Real Housewives of Orange County in 2006, and it quickly picked up steam and began rolling out seasons in cities all over the United States. But while the drama and fighting are certainly what make the show entertaining, the luxury and excess of all the women featured also make it fun to watch.
Interestingly enough, many of the women on the Real Housewives don’t really need a paycheck from the show, but they still get one. In fact, some of their paychecks today are ridiculously high, but they weren’t always that way. Most of the Housewives, who were already wealthy when they started the show, had paychecks their first season that were usually pretty small. Of course, the longer they stayed with Bravo and the more drama they brought, they usually got raises. Still, looking at how much the Real Housewives were paid during their first season is pretty interesting because times have seriously changed.
Real Housewives star Bethenny Frankel wasn't paid much her first season
Some Housewives from the Real Housewives franchise definitely didn’t start out on the series as successful as they are now. Bethenny Frankel from The Real Housewives of New York City is the perfect example of that. The self-made businesswoman has been through many life changes since she first appeared on the show, and the biggest evidence of that is Frankel’s salary increase.
“I’m a good negotiator,” she told CNBC Make It. “In the first season of Housewives, I made $7,250 for the entire season, but was the only person to put in my contract [that] anything I ever do, I own.” Of course, Frankel is known for her shrewd business skills, so that should come as no surprise. “And that ended up being a pretty good thing when it came to Skinnygirl,” she said of her cocktail company.
Obviously, Frankel is worth a lot more than that now — close to $70 million — and she reportedly earned up to $40,000 per episode of The Real Housewives of New York City in later seasons, according to Celebrity Net Worth. Frankel has come a long way since her first Real Housewives episode, and $7,250 is basically pocket change to her now.
Vicki Gunvalson made nothing for her first Real Housewives season… literally
When it comes to Real Housewives, there is only one original cast member who kicked off the franchise and lasted for 14 seasons: Vicki Gunvalson. The longstanding cast member of The Real Housewives of Orange County may have gone into retirement in 2020 (via Entertainment Weekly), but there was a time she was on the show when she didn’t even get paid.
On an episode of her podcast, Whoop It Up with Vicki, Gunvalson revealed that, while she learned other Real Housewives got paid a few grand for their first seasons, she “got zero!” She said, “I got zero, zero. So you have to pay your dues.” However, Gunvalson also added that her lack of salary didn’t last long. Indeed, according to Celebrity Net Worth, she eventually made $500,000 per season, but she was smart with that money. “When I got that up front, all of it went to taxes,” she explained. “Then when I do my four months of pay, half of it goes to taxes. My last paycheck was all mine.” Fans know Gunvalson is all about planning and finances, so that part makes sense. Gunvalson truly increased her value as a Real Housewife, that’s for sure.
Lisa Rinna pulled in a huge salary for her first season of Real Housewives
On The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, the wealth is on a whole other level compared with wives in other cities. In fact, it’s home to most of the richest Real Housewives, and that’s clear when you see their homes, cars, and designer bags. When Lisa Rinna joined the series, she only added to that image of wealth, as the former actress had had plenty of success in life already. Still, her first paycheck from Bravo was reportedly huge, though fans wouldn’t expect anything less from Rinna.
Specifically, multiple sources have reported that Rinna pulled in a $450,000 paycheck from just her first season on the show in 2014. As Rinna became a staple on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, it’s likely that her salary probably increased over the years. With a $10 million net worth, according to Celebrity Net Worth, Rinna isn’t really desperate for cash, but that doesn’t make earning nearly half a million dollars for her first season any less impressive.
Denise Richards was seriously making bank when she joined Real Housewives
Much like Lisa Rinna had a successful acting career before she joined the cast of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, so did Denise Richards, who joined the cast in Season 9. Obviously, most people will recognize Richards from her many acting gigs, such as her roles in Bond movie The World Is Not Enough and Drop Dead Gorgeous, as well as her appearances in Friends, Love Actually, and Two and a Half Men. Richards has done quite well for herself, so it should come as no surprise that her paycheck from Bravo reflected that.
Specifically though, according to Radar Online, Richards signed a $4 million contract to do four years of the show, with the intent to receive $1 million per season, the highest salary of anyone on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. Of course, fans know that Richards had a rough go of things during her second season on the show, and she left before Season 11 kicked off. Still, she probably got a good amount of that $4 million, which only helped to increase her value. According to Celebrity Net Worth, Richards is worth $12 million, so her role on Real Housewives wasn’t all that necessary for the actor to make ends meet.
Real Housewives star Stephanie Hollman truly makes Dallas shine
On The Real Housewives of Dallas, the ladies of the Lone Star state show the rest of the world that everything truly is bigger in Texas, including houses, families, and net worth. Stephanie Hollman, one of the original Dallas Housewives, certainly has plenty of money to go around, but since she’s a fan-favorite, no one is complaining about her wealth. Still, as entertaining, sweet, and fun as Hollman is the watch, her salary from Season 1 of The Real Housewives of Dallas was literally a fraction of her own net worth.
While Hollman has never really talked about her salary, multiple sources have claimed that she makes $275,000 per season, so she likely made around that amount her first season. That’s pretty impressive considering that The Real Housewives of Dallas is one of the newer cities of the franchise and has only been around since 2016. Still, Hollman’s net worth is estimated to be around $18 million, according to the Gazette Review, so her salary from the show isn’t really all that important, but with as hilarious as she is on camera, many would say that she’s definitely earned every penny.
Real Housewives star Tamra Judge didn't make much at first
Wealth and excess are definitely the norm on The Real Housewives of Orange County. But when Tamra Judge, one of the eventual “Tres Amigas” and pillars of the show, first joined, her salary wasn’t a lot to brag about. Judge joined the show in Season 3, back in 2007, making her practically an original cast member. But being an early cast member didn’t necessarily mean her salary reflected that at first.
As Judge told David Yontef on the Behind the Velvet Rope podcast (via Reality Tea), her first season wasn’t all that exciting in terms of a paycheck. “I was paid $7,000 my first year,” she said. “That’s what I got paid. I probably spent more than that just on clothes and stuff. The show was so different back then.” Judge then added that her small salary didn’t last long, fortunately. “I probably made $50,000 by the next year,” she added. “You really have to put your time in to make money.” At least Judge’s salary increased, and as she has brought plenty of drama to The Real Housewives of Orange County, that pay raise was earned.
Real Housewives' Shannon Beador earned a pretty penny for airing her dirty laundry
Shannon Beador joined the cast of The Real Housewives of Orange County in Season 9, and she quickly became one of the most memorable cast members. When the show started, Beador was unhappily married to David Beador, and viewers got to see an insider’s look into the end of her marriage, as well as the start of her divorce.
And since Beador joined later than Tamra Judge, she probably made a lot more her first season than Judge did, which costar Vicki Gunvalson said was around $7,000. According to court records from her divorce settlement, obtained by Radar Online, her salary from the show in Season 12 was $31,500, a relatively low amount. As that was just three seasons after she started, it’s likely that she originally made near that amount or less.
Shannon Beador, who’s had a stunning transformation, might not have been one of the original cast members of RHOC, but she has truly made the show what it is. Makes sense then that her paycheck has risen since she first started. According to Radar Online, Beador earned $583,338 for Season 13.
Nene Leakes made a pittance her first season of Real Housewives
One of the most iconic Real Housewives is definitely Nene Leakes. The star from The Real Housewives of Atlanta has been bringing the heat, drama, and money on the series since she joined. Leakes is also one of the few original members of The Real Housewives of Atlanta that stuck around, though she officially said goodbye to the franchise in 2020.
But back when Leakes first signed on to The Real Housewives of Atlanta, she didn’t make a lot of money for appearing in the first season. Specifically, Leakes stated on The Wendy Williams Show (via Entertainment Tonight) that the ladies of Season 1 only earned $5,000 for filming the season. Obviously that’s not much, but Leakes was able to negotiate a better salary for herself later on. Much better. According to Radar Online, she made $2.85 million in Season 12 of the show, an incredibly massive raise. Leakes might have said goodbye to the Real Housewives world, but it’s understandable to see why she stayed around that long with that kind of paycheck.
Real Housewives star Teresa Giudice really didn't make much her first season
If there is one scene in the Real Housewives fandom that everyone knows and loves, it’s the Teresa Giudice table flip from Season 1. The moment instantly made The Real Housewives of New Jersey an iconic show and gave Giudice all the attention necessary to ensure her future on the series. Still, while the show was full of drama from the get-go, Giudice’s salary wasn’t near what she earns for new seasons.
According to Radar Online and the court documents they obtained, Giudice actually did pretty well during her first season as a Housewife. In fact, she only brought in “$7,083.33 in gross monthly income… as an ‘actress/tv personality,'” per the documents. While that’s definitely not a ton of cash, it evens out to about $84,000 a year, which is pretty good for a new wife in the franchise. Obviously, Giudice makes a lot more now. In 2019, Radar Online reported that Giudice got a raise for $62,000 per episode of The Real Housewives of New Jersey, which would have her pulling in over $1 million per season. Hey, she brings the drama, so Bravo brings the cash.
Real Housewives' Brandi Glanville didn't do bad her first season
On The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, Brandi Glanville came onto the scene to seemingly do nothing but stir up drama. At first, Glanville was just a “friend of” in Season 2 of the show, but because she was so entertaining, she was bumped up to a full-time cast member. But even though Glanville brought the drama, she didn’t bring home the bacon.
During an appearance on The Howard Stern Show (via E! News), Glanville revealed what she made on the show, and it wasn’t a lot. “My first year I was a friend of, so I think I made $16,000,” she said. However, Glanville also explained that she made sure she made more her second year, which she said was $136,000 for the season. “I was making more money,” she said. “And it would have bumped up to a lot more money if I came back this year.” Though obviously she didn’t. Still, Celebrity Net Worth reported that Glanville has a net worth of $5 million, so her Real Housewives paycheck might not have been all that important in the grand scheme of things.
Leah McSweeney held out for a better offer from Real Housewives execs
Season 12 of The Real Housewives of New York City saw newcomer Leah McSweeney enter the scene, and hold nothing back. McSweeney made quite the impression on viewers at home from the start, and fans definitely wanted her back for a second season at least. But because of some contract negotiations with Bravo, that almost didn’t happen.
According to TMZ, on McSweeney’s first season on The Real Housewives of New York City, she only earned about $3,000 per episode, which would have put her at $60,000 for the season. As noted by TMZ, McSweeney thought she should make more money her second season, so she held back for a better offer from Bravo. Apparently that better offer came through, because McSweeney officially announced her return to The Real Housewives of New York City in a September 2020 Instagram post, according to People.
Lisa Vanderpump obviously did well for herself on Real Housewives
Lisa Vanderpump was another founding member of a Real Housewives franchise, and her salary reflects that. Vanderpump was an original cast member of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, and just as her own wealth was staggering when the series premiered, so was her initial paycheck.
While Vanderpump obviously started earning more money as The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills went on and as Vanderpump Rules took off, her initial salary was likely still pretty impressive. According to The Christian Post, Vanderpump’s salary was around $250,000 in 2012, two years after the start of RHOBH, so her starting salary may have been in that ball park. And it’s only continued to climb. As Money reported, Vanderpump ended up bringing in closer to $500,000 in 2018. Vanderpump is known as one of the richest Housewives, with her many successful business ventures, and she has a net worth of $90 million, according to Celebrity Net Worth. For Vanderpump, a $500,000 paycheck probably wasn’t of that much importance to her, but it was still extremely brag-worthy that’s for sure.
Dolores Catania wasn't bringing in the big bucks her first Real Housewives season
The drama on The Real Housewives of New Jersey hasn’t ever subsided over the series’ long run. When it premiered in 2009, the show had everyone talking, and it only got better as the years went on. In Season 7, for instance, Dolores Catania joined the cast, and things were truly never the same. That said, even though Catania joined later on after the show had found success, she still didn’t make a ton of money.
Catania was rumored to only be bringing in $30,000 for her entire first season, according to All About the Tea, and she was also brought on for a specific reason. As a source told the website, Catania was brought on to be a sort of “ally” for Teresa Giudice, who had been a regular on the series since it first premiered. Since then, though, Catania has become a main cast member in her own right, meaning she likely makes a lot more than $30,000 these days. Specifically, Wealthy Genius reported that Catania now makes $60,000 per episode, an impressive raise if there ever were one.
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