On The Real Housewives of New York City, Sonja Morgan called herself a “drag queen in a woman’s body.” If that sounds familiar, it’s because Megan Mullally basically described her iconic Will & Grace character, Karen Walker, in the same way. Bravo’s Real Housewives franchise attributes its origins to daytime soap operas and primetime dramas like Desperate Housewives (obviously). But if there’s one show, nay character, that deserves more credit for helping to craft the Real Housewife archetype, it’s Karen. You can argue she’s the first-ever Real Housewife of New York, created eight years before The Real Housewives of Orange County premiered in 2006, and a decade before the franchise expanded to the Big Apple. (No, Ramona Singer wouldn’t like hearing this.)
Over the 1998 sitcom’s 11 seasons, Karen displayed many of the qualities that make the greatest Real Housewives — both good and bad. To start, she’s a wealthy millionaire who’s completely unfazed by said wealth and has no problem flaunting it in any way she can, including calling flowers “poor people's jewelry.” Her rich husband, Stan Walker, is never seen on camera, which is an anomaly on Bravo but does recall elusive figures in Housewives lore, such as Atlanta’s Big Poppa. And like Ramona and Mario, Bethenny and Jason, and Luann and the Count, Karen and Stan’s marriage ended in divorce (then reconciliation, then divorce again, then another reconciliation, but still divorce, nonetheless).
Of course, there’s nothing Karen loved more than a good martini (or just straight-up vodka), not unlike Sonja, who proudly proclaims to be “the straw that stirs the drink.” Karen was very close to her maid Rosario, the only person who could roast Karen as brutally as she dragged everyone else, just as Luann’s former housekeeper Rosie delivered great subtle shade. (Even their names are similar!) Karen’s lack of decorum, teamed with her unawareness (“You’re all boring, and I’m fun”), brings to mind some of the other ladies — *cough* Ramona *cough*. Yet, she remains lovable and is always forgiven. She’s truly Teflon, as Jill Zarin would say.
Karen is not afraid to criticize anyone’s bad fashion sense and tear up their wardrobes — in a literal sense when it comes to Grace. But instead of keeping her shady remarks to herself (or on Bravo, a confessional interview), Karen dragged her friends’ looks to their faces. All New York housewives could take notes — except Jenna Lyons, for obvious reasons, and Luann, who reminded us that even Louis Vuitton makes mistakes.
Possibly the most damning evidence of Karen being a RHONY prototype is that she is a Republican. The 2017 revival saw the Will & Grace character as a proud Donald Trump supporter and part of his wife Melania’s inner circle, and some New York Housewives are not reportedly far off. At the Season 9 reunion, Ramona revealed she goes to Trump’s country club Mar-a-Lago “because my friends are friends with him,” while Sonja said she knew his whole family after doing “consulting for hotels and restaurants.” When Andy Cohen asked who they voted for in the 2016 election, they didn’t answer, but Ramona was seen dancing at Mar-a-Lago in February 2022.
Most importantly, no matter what she did, who she did, or how she did it, Karen remained top-tier television, as evidenced by Mullally’s two Emmy wins. The Bravo stars may not have been thinking of Karen or even watching Will & Grace before becoming Housewives, but she certainly paved the way for the RHONY stars to be their unabashed and abundantly rich selves on TV. Andy Cohen may have just recast RHONY to great success, but I’d imagine he would drop everything if Karen could actually be a Real Housewife.