TV is fond of opposites and odd couples, so maybe this makes sense:
When “Real Housewives of Potomac” starts its season Sunday (Aug. 2), a hard-working Nigerian-American – with four college degrees, three children and many jobs – will join the flashy crowd.
It’s not a total mismatch, Wendy Osefo said. “I’m in the same social circles as some of the ladies.” (She’s shown here. socially circling with her husband Edward and, right, Candiace Dillard._
Still, we think of the various “Real Housewives” reality shows as being filled with glitz, with privileged people who are ready to throw a drink or at raise a fuss. By comparison, Osefo’s life has involved constant motion. “I feel like I’m on a hamster wheel,” she said, without really complaining.
That notion – work and study, not glitz and glamour – may fit many immigrant families. “They came here with nothing,” Osefo said. “The only way to get ahead is through education.”
Just ask Dr. Sanjay Gupta. The son of two India-immigrant engineers, he took an accelerated route through college and into medical school. Now he’s both a surgeon and an endlessly busy TV medical expert; one day, he made 15 separate appearances on CNN.
Or ask Chuck Lorre. Already a top TV producer (“Big Bang,” “Mom,” “Two and a Half Men”), he told the Television Critics Association last summer he wanted a show about “the greatness of first-generation immigrants, about the focus and discipline, the hard work, the rigorous, rigorous honesty.”
Lorre wasn’t sure which immigrants he would choose until he met Gina Yashere, whose parents left Nigerian prosperity to start over again in England. The result is CBS’ “Bob (Hearts) Abishola”; Yashere is a producer, a writer and an actress, playing Kemi. “In a Nigerian family” she joked to the TCA, “there are only four choices of jobs – doctor, lawyer, engineer, disgrace-of-the-family.”
By those standards, Osefo’s life has been disgraceful. Born in Nigeria, she moved to Maryland when she was young. The daughter of a nurse and mail-carrier, she fully intended to be a veterinarian, until some classes – “especially the STEM ones” in science and math – tripped her up.
Still, she kept the diligence. She graduated from Temple, added two Master’s degrees (Johns Hopkins, where she now teaches, and Rutgers-Camden) and then a Ph.D. at Rutgers-Camden.
She married Edward, a Nigerian-American lawyer, nine years ago and they have a baby plus children who are 7 and 5. Add in her jobs and charities and she didn’t need to be on a reality show.
“I was really anxious and really nervous about doing it,” she said, but her husband said she should give it a try. “I don’t want to be 100 years old and looking back, wishing I had tried something.”
And if she doesn’t completely fit in? Well, she’s used to that. At Rutgers, she was reportedly the first black woman to get a Ph.D in public affairs/community development. She’s a Black progressive whose main TV work has been on the Fox News Channel, a white, conservative domain.
Osefo has also been on MSNBC and CNN and has written pieces for The Hill. Life is varied, she said; “we all come in different sizes and shapes.”
At 36, she might not fit any tweedy images of an associate professor. On the first day of a class, she said, she enjoys sitting to one side while students wonder when the prof will arrive.
Then she gets up and teaches, part of her hamster-wheel life. She’s been so busy, in fact, that she said she’d never heard of “Bob (Hearts) Abishola.”
It’s a successful show (8:30 p.m. Mondays on CBS), but that makes sense. Its second episode, after all, was entitled, “Nigerians Don’t Do Useless Things.”
– “The Real Housewives of Potomac” fifth-season opener, 9 p.m. Sunday, Bravo; reruns at 10:30
– Preceded by reruns: The second half of the third season (including two-part reunion) from 6 p.m. to 1 a.m. Saturday; most of the fourth season (including three-part reunion) from 4 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday