Shep Rose set his sights on being a modern-day Charles Dickens… then he got realistic. The result is his new collection of essays, Average Expectations: Lessons in Lowering the Bar, a part-memoir, part-travelogue, part-family history of sorts, titled as a nod to the Dickens classic, Great Expectations.
"I was going to call the book Cancel Me, and it was going to be all about cancel culture and where we're at," Shep shares with ET over video chat, explaining how the book came about (for the record, there is a chapter on that subject). "It was going to be, like, a sociology book, and I don't think that anyone was listening when I was proposing that. And then I went to the offices of Simon and Schuster, and was sort of high on life at the moment and wasn't really paying attention, and they got me to somehow agree to do a tongue-in-cheek book about being a Southern gentleman, which I could write probably five pages about. It'd be more of a pamphlet."
Shep was able to convince his publisher to meet him in the middle. He offers musings about life in the South, but Average Expectations is in no way a guide to being a Southern gentleman. Ironically, though, Shep owes a lot to the title "Southern gentlemen," or rather Southern Gentlemen. That was the original name for Southern Charm, based on an original concept by Whitney Sudler-Smith. Shep writes about the Bravo hit's origins in his book, revealing he actually moved to Charleston, South Carolina, to be a part of season 1.
"I was looking to open up a restaurant, franchise a restaurant out of Atlanta," Shep recalls. "And I was looking at Charleston, Raleigh and Charlotte as potential sites. And so, that's when I met Whitney, and that's when he told me about the show. And he was like, I was here for a party at a rooftop on New Year's Eve, and he was like, ‘You would be perfect for the show,’ because we had so much fun."
"He was like, ‘You're who we're looking for,’" he continues. "So very flattering, but I still was in the middle of trying to do this deal. And so, the best place I'd found was Raleigh, that's true. But Whitney kept in touch, and was like, ‘Don't do that. Come to Charleston, it's all happening.’ And then it all fell apart and everything happened for a reason."
Shep filmed a sizzle reel for the show, a quick trailer that could sell the concept of the series to networks. While many men appear in the spot (which was recently unearthed online), only Shep and Thomas Ravenel made it to the final show -- and even Shep admits he doesn’t fully see what the network saw in him!
"Of course the powers that be probably loved how brazen and much of an idiot I sounded like," he says after rewatching the sizzle for the first time in years. "I was trying to mug for the camera a little bit, and I learned a lesson right there: You don't try too hard."
"But I guess in a sizzle reel, that's kind of the whole point," he quickly counters. "So maybe I did the right thing. Maybe my instincts were right. But I definitely learned a little bit of a lesson."
Outside of Whitney (who's credited as creator and executive producer on the show), Shep might be the Charmer who cares the most about the series' success. He says he's been invested from day one, and feels just as passionately about making the show work seven seasons in as he did when shooting the sizzle.
"I mean, if you're not proud of what you do, stop doing it," he says. "You don't have to think you're saving the world -- and I don't either -- but if you're going to invest your time into something, you better care about it or else what are you doing? So I very much care about it."
"In the beginning of the show, you're not so sure how much you want to reveal about yourself," he adds. "It turns out the best thing is honesty, the best policy is honesty. Own it. Be as respectful as you can, but own yourself. But that's a lesson learned over time -- and especially when cameras are in your life for the first time, you're really trying to figure out how to navigate these waters and what the consequences are going to be."
In his book, Shep references a quote by Bill Murray multiple times: "When you become famous, you've got like a year or two where you act like a real a**hole. You can't help yourself. It happens to everybody. You've got like two years to pull it together — or it's permanent." He says the window may have lasted more than two years for him.
"I'll say this -- I won't name names -- we were about to film a scene of me walking down the stairs in the morning, and making a cup of coffee, which is just filler, which is fine, I get it," Shep shares. "And this producer was like, now normally, what would you do? Would you do calisthenics? And I was hung over, and that just set me off. I was like, ‘Do you even know who I am? Can you ever see me ever doing calisthenics, jumping jacks in my kitchen?!’ And I just kind of blew up. She was upset."
"I write about that in the book, yeah, I have done and said some maybe harmful things, but it's out of the passion that I really feel for the show,” he adds. “So my compromise was, I went and got a 12-pack and loaded the fridge. I was like, 'That's what I do. That's my calisthenics.'"
"I've had a few of those moments and I've learned," Shep continues. "I've learned from them. I've had producers and people at Haymaker, the company that produces our show, sit down with me and be like, ‘Look, you can be collaborative and we love your collaboration, but do it more positively at times.’ And they're absolutely right. So I've learned a lot. I've learned a lot."
Even with seven seasons under his belt, Shep admits he’s still learning.
"It takes you a couple of seasons to realize that, be honest, be yourself and the audience will like you for that," he says. "And if you try to be someone else, you will be called out on it. And rightfully so. I think [Landon Clements], my friend Landon -- hi Landon, if you're out there -- she had trouble about who she wanted to be on the TV. And sometimes she was snarky, and sometimes she was the hippie girl, and the audience ate her alive for that. And so you got to pick a lane and show your real personality."
Season 6 threw Shep for a loop, though, as he watched himself become the show's "villain" for the first time, getting into heated exchanges with Austen Kroll's then-girlfriend, Madison LeCroy.
"That's a no-win situation," he remarks, noting that his differences with Madison trickled into season 7, which finished airing earlier this year. "I felt this season, she had a tumultuous one, I'll say, to say the least, she and Austen. I feel a very small measure of vindication, a little bit -- and not about her. Just about the dysfunctionality of their relationship. I called it early and everybody jumped on me. And, yes, I said some mean things directed her way, but I'd like to say for the record, that's because it's my friend. She's messing with my friend."
"Sometimes you get defensive about people you care about," he continues. "And so that was what happened. And I apologized to her, but it's been sort of interesting to see everything come to bear right now."
The season 7 reunion featured explosive confrontation after explosive confrontation between Madison and Craig Conover, who jumped to Austen’s defense more times than he needed.
"Craig was shot out of a cannon," Shep offers, "and I think he kind of overplayed his hand a little bit there. But he was, again, he was defending his friend, Austen. They've become very close … and so, you sometimes can go overboard when defending your friend. That happens. And we've seen it happen now two years in a row."
The reunion took a tabloid turn when Craig accused Madison of flying to Miami during the pandemic to “f**k an ex-MLB player.” While the network censored the name of the pro baseball player Craig referenced, it was quickly confirmed that Alex Rodriguez was the baller at the center of the Madison drama. At the time of the revelation, a source denied to ET that Alex had ever met Madison, while Madison was adamant that any contact they had never left her phone -- it was just DMs and FaceTime calls. Shep has since revealed Madison signed an NDA, and that's why Alex's name was bleeped on the show.
"How far we've come," Shep quips of A-Rod and, by default, his fiancée Jennifer Lopez, entering the orbit of Southern Charm. "The show originally, season 1, was a bunch of people -- normal, literally normal everyday people living in the South, with no aspirations of entertainment fame or riches or anything like that -- and so now we've got professional athletes sliding into DMs and all this crazy s**t? Part of me is laughing about it and understands that the more eyeballs, the better. But another part of me is sort of nostalgic for the innocence of the origins of our show. And obviously that train has left the station."
The train left the station, and the longer it's been out the more people it’s picked up along the way. With each new season of Southern Charm comes new faces. Or, new-ish, peripheral players stepping into the main drama.
"I don't envy the people that come on the show in midstream, that's a difficult thing," Shep notes. "You don't know the rhythms of, first of all, you don't know what being in front of a camera is like. For some, it's debilitating. For others -- for me -- I thrive when the cameras are on. I really believe that. And there's little dynamics between the existing cast members."
With the comings are the goings, most notably OG star Cameran Eubanks Wimberly, who opted not to return for season 7 of Southern Charm. ET surprised Shep with a video message from his former castmate, which immediately had him professing how much he misses her on the show. Shep previously told ET he contemplated leaving alongside Cam, but ultimately stuck around after formulating a pros/cons list with his therapist. He’s currently working on a list ahead of season 8 (Bravo has yet to formally announce a pick-up).
"It's pretty close," he admits. "Of course … I want the fans to be happy, and I don't want to sink any ships or anything like that. Not saying that I have the power to do that, but if people are really enjoying it, and I go to places like BravoCon, and you can tell people are really, really enjoying your brand of humor or whatever you bring to the table. That's a big factor in my mind -- and it's fun. It's fun to film the show. It's three and a half months, your life is crazy. You're going to parties and everything. It's fun. And then at the end, you feel like you accomplished something."
"But how long can this thing go on?" he asks. "I have no idea. That's another thing. Do you want to go down til the wheels come off, and I don't know about that."
With that said, Shep does think "the party’s still going," so don’t expect him off TV anytime soon. A season 8 Shep might be the most reserved version of the one-time party boy viewers have seen yet. He’s spent the last year-plus settling into life with his girlfriend, Taylor Ann Green, who's helped reform his pessimistic outlook on love.
"I think a lot of my trepidation comes from selfishness, quite frankly, and being able to move at a moment's notice and go wherever I want," he says, speaking to his fear of commitment. "Or flirt or whatever, innocently flirt and stuff like that. That's scared me, but I've been having so much fun, and life is really, really good with sweet Taylor. So it's definitely given me pause about my philosophies in life."
Shep even opens up about potential fatherhood in the book. It comes in a chapter exploring the two kinds of men in Hollywood: You have the Jeff Bridges types, who settled down early and slipped into family man duties with ease. Then, there are the Leonardo DiCaprios of the world, whose relationships never seem to last more than a few paparazzi shots. Eventually, though, those guys settle down, too (see: George Clooney, Warren Beatty) for as Shep writes, "They understood that perhaps life isn't truly enriching without a family." The line hints at the 40-year-old's desire for kids of his own one day.
"There's no doubt, I think that that's definitely something I'd like," he confesses. "Just to be able to create a little person, and teach them the things to do, and what not to do, and watch them fail, and watch them succeed has to be one of the coolest things in the world. So I'm not blind to that fact."
"Here's the problem," he pivots. "To get to where they're even making those decisions, and their personality is forming, you have to go through a lot of years of just a little lump of flesh. I would love if people could just fast forward their baby till five years old, and then move from there."
While Shep waits for a toddler to materialize, he says he’s still taking things day by day with Taylor (who popped in for a mid-interview cameo) and his dog, Little Craig. The topic of parenthood only pops up when he and Taylor are “at least” into a bottle of wine.
"I don't think that there's, like, an epiphany," he adds of bringing kids into the world. "I think it's, you take Door A or Door B and you wonder about the other door sometimes. That's how we're all wired. There's nothing certain in this life if that's the right decision. Well, that's untrue -- some things are clearly the right decision. I think it's healthy to have internal debate, and sometimes you walk around and you read the signs of what maybe your life is leaning in one direction and it's kind of lovely, and you got to pay attention to them."
And who knows, maybe Average Expectations will serve as a sign of sorts to readers. Shep says, at the least, he hopes anyone who picks it up has a "really good time."
"To be in on the joke is the most important thing," he remarks. "I don't mean to sound that everybody's enjoying life at all times. I completely understand that that's not the case, but we have to laugh at ourselves. That's really the only way we can get through this life. That's how I feel."