This is the fourth in a five-part series profiling the panelists from GO’s virtual Pride event “LGBTQ+ Representations in Film and TV.”
Robyn Levy is looking to change the face of television — literally.
The New Jersey-based entrepreneur, mother of two, and former “Real Housewives of New Jersey” personality has just launched her own production company, Famed Entertainment, and is looking to cast a diverse group of LGBTQ+ women for the new reality show “The Facts of Wife.”
Citing a need to see more lesbian families on TV, Levy describes “The Facts of Wife” as a mixture of “Modern Family” and what happens after the “The Real L Word.” The show will focus on an ensemble of diverse lesbian/same-sex families in their daily lives, who will come together in order to address larger issues facing the LGBTQ+ community. By broadening the representation of LGBTQ+ women and families on television, Levy aims to change how the traditional family unit is viewed and open up a multi-perspective dialogue.
“We’re going to be covering the lives of the cast members, the diversity that exists between us, but also the similarities,” Levy tells GO. In addition to covering the domestic angle, the ensemble cast will also travel around the country, campaigning on behalf of LGBTQ+ persons in need.
“It’ll be sort of like the lesbian ‘Avengers,’ going around the country making change,” Levy says. “And that’s the purpose of the show: making change and becoming the best versions of ourselves.”
Levy was inspired to create “The Facts of Wife” so that she could create change in real life and on our screens. The lack of same-sex families — specifically, lesbian families — on television is a gap in our popular culture Levy wants to fill in. While shows like “Modern Family” address the same-sex family angle, and others, like “The L Word”, feature lesbian characters, few, if any, do both.
On a more personal level, Levy was inspired by her own reality show experience. She and her wife Christina Flores were the first lesbian couple featured on “The Real Housewives of New Jersey” in the show’s seventh season. Levy and Flores tended to stay out of the on-screen drama and weren’t featured much — that is, until long-simmering tensions reached a boiling point between Levy and one of her fellow Housewives. Suddenly she was front and center on screen, embroiled in a verbal feud with a castmate.
While the incident defined her character on the show, Levy says it’s not at all representative of who she is. “I was so mortified from that,” she says. “It’s built up the whole season of me not wanting to do that. And then, finally, I just totally exploded.”
The view of one critic in particular weighed on her mind: her son, Jake, who was then two years old. “I thought to myself, ‘Oh my gosh, he is going to see this and he is going to be mortified that that’s his mother,’” she says.
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“That’s kind of like where ‘Facts of Wife’ began,” Levy tells GO. “I have, full creative control over my show, and I can also make change. That’s more of my style. I want to help our community. I want to help parents in our community. And fighting just isn’t really who I am or what I want my kids to see.”
While fighting might not be her style, Levy does believe that respectful disagreement in the form of discussion, argument, and debate is a critical form of discourse that thrives when people from different backgrounds come together. “It’s going to be so interesting to see, with such diversity that we also bring to the table, what happens organically,” she says of “The Facts of Wife.” She notes challenging one’s own perspective is a necessary step toward affecting larger change, and that she hopes having a diverse group of women on her show will highlight this type of transformative discourse.
Unlike other reality shows, Levy’s “focus would be on allowing people to be fully themselves,” which is why it’s important for her to find the best cast for the ensemble. “It’s smart TV; it’s educational, make-change, family TV,” she says.
Levy and her team are currently looking to cast LGBTQ+ women and their families — both cis and transgender — of different races, religions, ethnicities, views, and backgrounds to form the ensemble cast. They are also looking to hire secondary cast members, known as ambassadors — show representatives from different parts of the country whose role is to monitor and report regional issues that affect the LGBTQ+ community.
Levy, who will be part of the ensemble cast along with her wife, tells GO that she is looking to work with a culturally diverse cast because it’s through such representations that change can be first negotiated and then implemented.
“I want full representation,” she says, “so I’m looking for diversity in my casting. What I want is honesty, and I want, also, for us to be looked at the same as any heterosexual human being.”
“We don’t need a twin of me,” she adds. “I’m casting people who are different from me to make changes that affect all of us.”
Filming of the pilot for “The Facts of Wife” is underway with its current cast members: Levy, Flores, and Nicole Guest. It was initially to begin in April but was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic. The casting process will be filmed as part of the first season and will be broken into the show in two distinct stages. The first stage includes Zoom interviews between Levy and her team and qualified candidates from the applicant pool. Candidates who make it through the first round will then be invited for a face-to-face meeting with the production team to take place under socially distanced guidelines.
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NEVER GIVE UP ON YOUR DREAM! I have disciplined myself to work everyday, like clock work on the things I want… the things I believe in. I had a choice. I chose the pain of discipline over the pain of regret. I have fallen so many times… but I kept falling forward and I never gave up! 🥂 to the beginning! @thefactsofwife_tv 🌈🎥
“The show is going to be organic; it’s going to be real,” says Levy. “The casting is going to be filmed so that even [for] the people who don’t make it for whatever reason, there’s still an opportunity for them to showcase a piece of their story.” And while she is hoping to fill the ensemble with cast members drawn from the tri-state area, where primary filming will take place, it’s more important for Levy to find the right cast, regardless of where a qualified candidate comes from.
Famed Entertainment — which is owned solely by Levy — is partnering with Red Coral Casting on an open casting call for the show (Red Coral Casting in an arm of Red Coral, which Levy is also a partner in). Thoseinterested in trying out for “The Facts of Wife” can apply for a spot in the ensemble cast or as an ambassador on Red Coral Casting’s website. A subscription that will allow applicants access to the casting database — a standard practice for most casting networks — costs $5 a month.
Levy’s production team is also looking to hire LGBTQ+ persons at all levels of crew, including as producers, directors, and PR persons. (Interested applicants can email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.)
Levy, an experienced entrepreneur, is no stranger to the behind-the-scenes elements of the entertainment industry. For years, she was the publisher and owner of Dining Out Magazine NJ. During her time with the publication, she created the YouTube series, “Dining Out with the Manzos,” featuring Albie and Chris Manzo. The devoted mother is also the creator of Tushy Brand, a clothing line for infants and toddlers.
Family is at the center of everything Levy does. Her wife and their two sons, Jake (5) and Tyler (1 ½) are the inspiration behind her creative endeavors. She credits her entrepreneurial drive to her father, Steve, who owns an advertising agency, while her desire to give back comes from her mother, Ellyn, a retired school teacher.
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Although she is extremely close to her parents, coming out — after her sister, Cari, had already done so — wasn’t an easy process. “So my sister came out first, and my parents did not deal with that well,” she says. Levy had her own girlfriend at the time but remained determined not to tell her parents ever, if necessary. It wasn’t until she was with Flores that she finally told them. And although her parents have since come around and remain a source of love and support, Levy says the initial experience was “horrible.”
While things are much better now (she counts her parents among her biggest champions), Levy hopes that by showcasing LGBTQ+ persons and having honest conversations with her own family — who will be part of “The Facts of Wife” — she will be able to broaden how queer persons and same-sex families are represented in popular media and subsequently accepted into the wider culture.
“We are love,” she says of her family. “This house is so filled with love that that’s all my kids know. I know that there are going to be challenges that we’re going to face as a same-sex family that I don’t honestly know if I’m prepared for, so if I can start to make change while they’re at such a young age, then my biggest hope in the world is that they can speak eloquently and proudly of the way they were raised. That’s the most important thing for me.”