Why Kyle Richards Made A TV Show About Her Mom

by Rebecca Patton
Paramount Network

Finally, fans of Clueless, The Real Housewives franchise, and second-wave feminism now have a show where all of their interests intersect. American Woman premieres on Thursday, June 7, on Paramount Network and stars Alicia Silverstone (Clueless) as Bonnie Nolan. The show is loosely based on the life of Kyle Richards' (The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills) mother, Kathleen. But ahead of its premiere, fans may be wondering what Kyle Richards' role was in bringing American Woman to life.

While the mother of four and reality star has a sufficiently busy schedule, Kyle was heavily involved with both the inception and creation of the show. Not only did she serve as co-executive producer on American Woman, but she seemed to be involved in the minutiae of the show, as well. "[W]e really wanted to make it so that you felt like you were in the '70s," Kyle told Megyn Kelly TODAY, explaining that many of the set pieces were vintage and authentic, right down to the cars, jewelry, and makeup.

However, in an LA Times interview, Kyle explained that although she'd been acting her whole life, she didn't realize how much was involved in making a TV show until American Woman. "I remember the first time that we had a conference call, talking about the palette of the show," she recalled. "And I was like, 'Um, what?' I was sweating bullets. I finally said, "Guys, I just have to be honest with you. I'm not sure what you mean; I've never heard these words used for a TV show.' I knew the idea of the story I wanted to tell, I knew the look of the show I wanted, the feel, the vibe, the music, all of that. But there was just so much more to it than that. And I didn't realize it."

Paramount Network

Obviously, the reality star learned on the job, and the result looks both fizzy and heartfelt. Kyle told Megyn Kelly that American Woman is a love letter to her mom. Per an Instagram posted by Kyle's sister, Kim, their mother died of breast cancer about 16 years ago. And, according to Kyle, Kathleen's death was a catalyst for bringing American Woman to the silver screen. As she told the LA Times in the same interview:

"When my mom passed away, I thought, 'I really wanna share who she was, because she really was a special and unique woman.' And it took my being a mom and an adult to have that extra appreciation for her.... She's strict, and she could get, you know, a temper sometimes or whatever it was. But as an adult you're like well, yeah, hello, she was raising these kids on her own. She was stressed. She wanted the best for us, and you know, she was doing her best like we all are trying to do. And I just really wanted to share that story once I lost my mom as a, I guess, sort of love letter to her, too. And just inspire other women."

Kyle and her two sisters, Kim and Kathy, all went into acting at an early age. While Kim (a fellow Real Housewife) is most known for Escape to Witch Mountain, Kyle's acting credits include the Jamie Lee Curtis vehicle Halloween as well as Little House on the Prairie, where she played a character named Alicia Sanderson. Kyle even went on to appear in the medical procedural ER, where she played a background nurse for almost 10 years, per the LA Times.

However, while Kyle told the LA Times that American Woman is inspired by her family life, it's not completely autobiographical. "The show has two sisters," she said. "It's not three. My dad's a jerk in the show; in my real life my dad was not. Yes, he cheated on my mom. That part of the story's true. The other stuff, the way he talked to my mom, no. My dad was a good guy."

Kathleen's strength and self-sufficiency is sure to be a focal point of the show. "My mom was a very strong, outspoken woman, and in that time, women weren't supposed to be like that," Kyle told Megyn Kelly. "[I]n the seventies, if you were strong and opinionated and outspoken...it was looked down upon, and my mom was that woman."

And who better to play a strong, outspoken woman than the actress who arguably catapulted the brand Alaïa to the mainstream and added the phrase "As if!" to the zeitgeist? Alongside the iconic Alicia Silverstone, American Woman also stars Mena Suvari (American Beauty) and Jennifer Bartels as Bonnie Nolan's friends.

But audiences will have to tune in to Paramount Network to see what other storylines American Woman will pull from the Richards' family's life. Maybe there will be some insider knowledge on Escape to Witch Mountain in the not-so-distant future.