The two former 'Real Housewives' stars pulled back the curtain on the breakdown of the bond they seemingly had with their former Bravo boss
During a lengthy discussion on Tuesday's episode of Just B with Bethenny Frankel, the two former Housewives discussed the fallout they've each had with the show's executive producer in the wake of their respective crusades for fair treatment.
Both women have a long history with Cohen, with all rising to fame at the same time — Frankel as an original star of The Real Housewives of New York City, Leakes as an OG cast member of The Real Housewives of Atlanta and Cohen as a Bravo development executive, EP and emerging on-air host.
And while they each noted how they appeared to be "Andy's Favorite" in the public's eye, often sitting next to him at the reunions and making regular appearances on Watch What Happens Live, the women said on this week's podcast that their closeness with Cohen, 55, wasn't indicative of a strong bond.
"I don't feel like we were good friends," said Leakes, 55. "My good friends, I go to their house or I visit their home at some point, so I never visited his home. ... [We were] probably a little more than [colleagues] because I could call him on his cell. I have gone out with him, out on the town, and I’ve gone drinking with him and I’ve partied with him. ... [But] I did not know where it stood. I thought we had a good relationship."
She went on to refer to a friendship with Cohen as "a real game" every Housewife has to play. "He's at the top and he is moving everybody around on the board," said Leakes.
Frankel agreed, explaining how she thinks the game works. "There's always questions, 'Who texts you the most? Who do you text the most?' And the thing is, we're all in the game," said the Skinnygirl founder, 52. "I remember one year, I was off the Housewives and I went to his house for his Christmas party and there were all these famous people there and I felt special. And then, you know, I'm sitting next to him at this reunion and now I feel special. And it reminds me of you with your parents ... we all want his approval, we all want to be the favorite. We want to be able to say, 'I've been on that show the most.' It's like a calling card."
"There's a psychology that goes on with this group and this show," Frankel said. "He used to be an executive and he's a producer so there's this power play. ... It's tricky."
In July, Frankel made headlines by launching a "reality reckoning," a call to arms charge to revolutionize unscripted TV. She's currently working with lawyers to not only expose some of the injustices she claims reality stars have experienced at the hands of the networks, but also to unionize those personalities in the fight for fair conditions and residual-like payments.
Her campaign, which has been supported by SAG-AFTRA, has seemingly made an impact. Earlier this month, Deadline obtained an internal memo that said Bravo's parent company NBC/Universal would be implementing stronger protocols around alcohol consumption and mental health support, as well as updating their anti-discrimination and harassment policies and putting new procedures in place to report concerns and violations.
On her podcast Thursday, Frankel said that she felt compelled to speak out when she realized her silence was in place, in part, to protect Cohen.
"I thought this whole time that Andy and I were kind of really friends 'cause we text back and forth, but we don’t really — I’ve been to his house once for a Christmas party 10 years ago," Frankel said. "Every time we’re together, we’re only talking about the Housewives. Am I coming on, am I going off? Is that person getting fired, is that person coming on? We’re not really — you know what your real friends are like."
Walking Leakes through her train of thought before speaking out, Frankel continued: "So now I’m in this hybrid world where I think, 'We kind of really don’t like each other, but we’re both playing this game.' And yet, when things are happening for me, he’s not really congratulating me. And I feel like he has this sort of resentment because I’m supposed to be beneath him, because we sort of came up at the same time. ... So I’m thinking, 'I don't think he likes me at all. I think we were both playing this game for some time.' And one day I just decided not to be afraid and open my f---ing mouth because the only person I was protecting in that whole realm was him, and he hasn't been protecting me."
"Hello!" Leakes responded, acknowledging her agreement with Frankel. "I kind of feel the same you do. I don’t think he ever liked me."
Frankel also said that her latest appearance on WWHL was eye-opening.
"We're so used to that environment," the podcast host noted, explaining that the things Housewives say on the show often spark a cycle of endless feuds between stars that play out in the press when the women are asked "questions that are so problematic."
Frankel claimed that Cohen is "always protected from [these kinds of questions], and we’re always f---ing skinned alive with Tabasco sauce all over us, naked. … We’re out there and we get thrown like pieces of meat to just get ripped apart by that vehicle that we kiss the ass to get on. … And we all play the god d--- f---ing game, because we’re using him like he’s using us, because we want to promote our s---. But it all just seems so gross."
Leakes has also had her experience going against Cohen in the public eye, though her battle was less about sweeping changes for industry and more about her own personal issues surrounding her exit from the show in 2020.
In April 2022, the Linnethia Lounge owner filed a lawsuit against Cohen as well as Bravo, NBC Universal, network executives and RHOA's production company, accusing them of violating federal employment and anti-discrimination laws by fostering "a corporate and workplace culture in which racially-insensitive and inappropriate behavior is tolerated — if not, encouraged." That August, she dismissed this action without prejudice.
On Just B with Bethenny Frankel, Leakes doubled down on her claims, noting that she still has an ongoing complaint regarding the matter. She alleged that she has been "severely retaliated against" since speaking out, and has "not been able to work at all in any area of entertainment."
"Listen, I’m a talent, and I am talented," she said. "I am not just a reality star, I’m an entertainer. I sing, dance, act, and do reality, OK? As a Black woman, I have to be able to do everything. At the end of the day, I do cartwheels and flips. They shut my work down. I do everything. So you mean to tell me as talented person, there was nothing for me to host, there was nothing for me to act in, sing in, dance in, jump in clap in — nothing?"
"The doors were closed," Leakes added, noting that Cohen had also written as much in his recent book. "He said the door is closed, and apparently when he says when the door is closed, the door is closed across the industry."
She also used Real Housewives of Orange County star Vicki Gunvalson as an example of the different way she says white and Black Bravo stars are treated, pointing out that Gunvalson was able to return to the airwaves for multiple shows with the network after withdrawing her 2019 lawsuit against the company.
"My feelings are they pretty much said, 'F that Black bitch!' ” said Leakes. "They never respected me, no one, to even give me one call. ... I want fair treatment."
Bravo did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's request for comment, but a source close to the situation says that there's "no truth" to the claim that either Cohen or the network have blackballed Leakes from working in the industry.
As for a future of a friendship with Cohen, Leakes wasn't optimistic, saying that she hasn't spoken to him in three years.
"I did call him. He has not taken my phone call," said Leakes, adding he didn't respond either when contacted through their reps. "I’ve tried to find a way for he and I to sit down and talk but he’s never wanted to do that. ... This is just to clear the air, not for anything else — not to be a Housewife, not for anything. Just to understand him and for him to understand me, pretty much."
"I actually feel sad for a person who doesn’t have a forgiving heart. I can be mad at you, but I’m not going to be forever mad at you. I can’t carry that grudge and that hatred in my heart forever," Leakes shared. "He's he’s never wanted to [move on]. And it’s OK. I’m not pushing it. Everybody moves when they’re ready in their time. He’s not ready and that’s okay."
Both women still stood by their crusades — though Frankel, who previously said Cohen "likely despises me," admitted she does consider how he is feeling.
"I feel badly for how I envision his mind is perceiving it," she said. "He’s perceiving it that he represents an institution that has given us opportunities that have been amazing for us, and we do not negate that. But we’ve all worked for that… I feel badly for the way, he must think I have f---ed him over when it’s not about him."
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Cohen has not made any public statement about Frankel or Leakes' ongoing claims. PEOPLE has reached out for comment.
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