By day, Andy Cohen holds the coveted title of Bravo’s Senior VP of Original Programming and Development. By night, he’s in front of the camera, cocktail in hand, hosting his own late night talk show, Watch What Happens: Live. Once a week, Andy sits down with featured guests from across the world of pop culture—as well as your favorite Bravolebrities—to discuss everything from what’s making headlines that week to the latest Housewives drama. Recently named one of TV Guide’s “25 Most Influential People in Television,” Andy is elevating Bravo, and himself, to a whole new level of acclaim. On the morning after Top Chef won its first Emmy, which was, coincidentally, also the night of the big Real Housewives of New Jersey Reunion throw-down, we caught up with the pop culture icon to discuss the divas of Bravo, Watch What Happens’ rapid success, and whether Bravo is in fact a gay network.
What does a typical day in the life of Andy Cohen look like? There’s really not a typical day. I usually take a few pitches everyday, I watch cuts of shows and do notes on them, I meet with my team and with other Bravo teams to sort out what’s going on. We have so many shows in production and development at the same time, so typically it’s mainly about that. The on-air stuff usually takes me away from the day things.
How do you decide what will work for the network and what won’t? It’s typically whether it’s on-brand. We have the most upscale and educated audience, so it’s about that. Is it different, is it definitional, is it going to pull in over a million viewers? Is it fun? Does it fit in with food, fashion, beauty, design, and pop culture? Those are kind of the filters.
What’s the casting process like for these shows? Well, it depends on the show. In terms of Housewives we look for people that know each other, who have different relationships with each other, and people who represent different things to each other.
Since Bravo is so involved with social media, how much does audience feedback drive the plot lines of the shows? We don’t really drive the plot lines. I think in terms of audience feedback, it’s important for us to see what people want to know. I think they inform future seasons. I think Top Chef is a good example of a show that has evolved and changed as we’ve gone on. It’s evolved with an eye to what people like and what they want to see.
The network is filled with diva-esque, campy women. Have you always been a fan of these big, over the top characters? I have, yes, absolutely. I love a strong woman. I think they’re unpredictable, fun to watch, exciting, funny, and sometimes unintentionally funny.
How do you feel about people saying Bravo is just Andy Cohen’s interests and you’re just puppeteering these people’s lives? I didn’t know any of the housewives before the show went on. I can’t push them in any direction. They determine the story line by what’s going on with them. I couldn’t in a million years make up what is happening or what is going to possibly happen with the housewives. It’s beyond the scope of my capability.
So tell me about how Watch What Happens came to be and how you ended up in front of the camera? In college I studied Broadcast Journalism. I wanted to be on camera as an anchor or a reporter. My last internship was at CBS News in New York, and I wound up working there behind the scenes for ten years, and my career grew and I kind of gave up the on-air thing. That was until I was at Bravo and Lauren Zalaznick, my boss, said that she would love to do a show online that was complimentary to my blog which I was writing on BravoTV.com. So I stated doing an online show after Top Chef, and funnily enough, they came to me and asked if I wanted to do my online show on air! I would have never in a million years have had the hubris, gumption, stupidity, idiocy, lunacy to think that I could wind up doing what I am doing now.
Over the past season, you’ve gained over two million viewers. What do you think it is about the show that grabs so many people? I think because it’s live and unpredictable and it’s fun. It’s often really complimentary to whatever we just had on the air. On our season premiere, we’re going to have Teresa from the Jersey Housewives and Stacie Turner from the DC Housewives. So that’s something that anybody who loves the housewives will be interested in seeing. Conversely, when you have someone like Jerry Seinfeld come to the Bravo Clubhouse it’s like, What’s he doing there and what’s he going to say? There he is kind of railing against the Housewives in the face of me, who’s in charge of programming for the network. It’s certainly unpredictable and fun.
Can you tell me about the reunion? It looked very physical. It’s nuts. It goes back to your questions about me controlling storylines or things like that. I cannot predict what’s going to happen with these women and on these shows and that’s one of the reasons why I love the show so much. It was the first time the women had been under the same roof in a year. It’s very raw and volatile—like lighting a match around a tank of gas—and I was lighting the match.
I saw some behind-the-scenes footage you had recorded and you weren’t sure how it was all going to come together. Did it all turn out like you hoped? It came together great. When you’re sitting there and you’re in the midst of this, you can’t imagine how it’s going to play out in a TV show, because it’s so meandering. My job is to keep everything in order, and there is no order. I think the shocking thing is how the two hours ends.
Do you think the Jersey Housewives have veered off in a different direction than the rest of the Housewives? I think they all have their own personality. I think the Orange County Housewives, who are the originals, are the Knots Landing of the group, whereas New York is kind of the Dynasty. New York is like a drawing room comedy—fighting about invitations and friendships and protocol. I find that especially entertaining and humorous. I think Jersey is loaded in, even though it has nothing to do with it, a Sopranos-esque vibe. To me, DC is the most intellectual of all of them because they do start fighting about politics. There’s a big debate about gay marriage that comes up that’s really surprising. There are real questions of race and class that keep coming up in DC that haven’t been seen in any of our other series.
Bethenny Frankel from Real Housewives of New York now has her own show. Are there other housewives that have been trying to push for their own show? There are some, but I think that their is great strength is being in an ensemble cast. I always make the analogy that Friends was a great ensemble cast, and then Joey came on after that and it was an unsuccessful spin off.
Bethenny is also an exception because she’s so candid about her life. She is bulls-eye Bravo.
Bravo seems to be a gay network, but is not as explicit gay as, say, Logo. How do you define it? I always saying we’re bi, but I think it’s kind of how I view myself being gay—it’s just one of things that I am. So Bravo may or may not be gay, but I think there’s a lot of other things going on. I think for the gay people on Bravo, it’s one of the things that they are—they’re not on Bravo because they’re gay. The people that are gay on Bravo, like Brad on Rachel Zoe or Jeff on Flipping Out, they’re gay but they’re also great at what they do and that’s why they’re on Bravo and that’s important.
What are some of your favorite places to go out in the city? I love the Boom Boom Room. I think it’s the most beautiful room in the New York City. There’s a new bar that opened on 8th Avenue between Jane and 12th called Anfora that I really like. I also like going to The Cubbyhole. It’s in my neighborhood because it has a great vibe, it’s fun, and they have Bravo on the TV, so I know I’ll be entertained.
Did you see the pictures of Danielle’s daughter in the latest Blackbook? Gorgeous, she’s really beautiful.