In December of 2022, it was announced that Season 15 of RuPaul’s Drag Race would air on MTV. This marked the third different network that had hosted the show, although fans were outraged for a different reason: the episodes were shortened from their usual 90 minute run-time to just 60 minutes in order to fit its new show The Real Friends of WeHo into the schedule.
This anger was even visible in the ratings – only 20,000 people watched the first episode of The Real Friends of WeHo according to a tweet by MTV, compared to the premier of Season 15 of RuPaul’s Drag Race which had over 700,000 viewers.
But why didn’t it work?
Firstly, RuPaul’s Drag Race is such a beloved show because it appeals to so many people. It’s a reality show and a game show. It has people from all sorts of different backgrounds, including casts of contestants that are increasingly non-cis. It’s consistently engaging for the audience, and even when staples like the Lipsync For your Life segment or the Snatch Game are shown, it never feels formulaic. The reason why RuPaul’s Drag Race has won so many Emmys probably isn’t just for its entertainment value – there is something innately informative about the program because of the exposure to LGBTQ+, and specifically Queer Black and Ethnic Minority culture in the USA, the likes of which haven’t been seen in media since Jennie Livingston’s Paris is Burning in 1990.
Because of this, taking away even just a fraction of Drag Race in order to put The Real Friends of WeHo on the air feels insulting – despite the often-criticised editing of RuPaul’s Drag Race that can make certain contestants come across as more or less likeable to the audience, the humanity of the contestants is always evident, and it is both humbling and heart-breaking to hear what some of the queens have experienced in their lives.
Secondly, The Real Friends of WeHo is not, despite MTV’s assertions, a particularly novel idea for a show. The format is very obviously a spinoff of the Real Housewives of *Insert Location Here*, which is a very tired TV show in and of itself, and it also has the unique problem of making everyone ask “who are these people?!” MTV says that the show includes “some of Hollywood’s most influential and successful LGBTQ+ celebrities, personalities and entrepreneurs.” But if that’s the case, then why are none of them in the adverts, or even in the show itself? The most well-known cast member of The Real Friends is by far Todrick Hall, a singer, dancer, and choreographer who has worked with the likes of RuPaul and Beyoncé, and he became notorious after being accused of not paying his dancers and not paying his rent in recent years.
This, coupled with the fact that almost the entire main cast seems to be trying to sell you something (whether that’s James Vaughn’s gay travel agency, Joey Zauzig’s skincare line or Todrick’s music (and his attempts to mitigate the lingering damage from his previous scandals)), makes for a cast of rather unlikeable people.
Of course, in reality TV, you don’t necessarily have to be nice in order to be liked by fans – the catfights on Keeping Up with the Kardashians, Abby Lee Miller’s tantrums on Dance Moms, and the constant shade on RuPaul’s Drag Race are part of why those shows are so well received, but there’s something about The Real Friends of WeHo that means these moments aren’t endearing, or even all that entertaining.
This might be because the cast of The Real Friends all come across as a bit too curated. Unlike Drag Race, when the queens are constantly being critiqued by RuPaul, the other judges, their fellow queens and themselves, there’s a lack of genuine self-reflection in The Real Friends of WeHo that forms a barrier between the Friends and the viewers. We cannot empathise with them because there is nothing to empathise with.
Perhaps the strangest thing of all in this reality TV nightmare is that when The Real Friends of Weho’s 4-week run has concluded, the old format of 90-minute Drag Race episodes will be returning, according to MTV. Was this always the plan? Was the backlash so strong that they decided not to film more episodes of The Real Friends? Was there another show that was supposed to air in that slot after the 4-week run of The Real Friends had ended? Most importantly, where is the 90-minute edit of the Snatch Game episode?!