She may not be a household name herself, but it is thanks to Lauren Zalaznick that American audiences have come to know and love—and loathe—such outsize personalities as Rachel Zoe, Tabatha Coffey (of Tabatha’s Salon Takeover), Millionaire Matchmaker Patti Stanger, the five Queer Eye guys and far too many Real Housewives and project Runway contestants to rattle off here. As President of NBC Universal Women and Lifestyle Entertainment Networks, Zalaznick has reshaped the way this country zones out.
Even though she hasn’t singlehandedly massacred the traditional sitcom, her hands certainly have traces of blood on them. “at Bravo, we saw, through these extreme personalities—whether it was Jonathan antin of Blow out, or the five guys of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy—that people seemed to derive their comedy and drama needs from non-fiction and reality television instead of classic sitcoms and one-hour dramas,” she says. “everyday people are our stars. you don’t have to write characters if they exist in real life.” Welcome to the world of the “Bravo-lebrity.”
Under her guidance, the once-marginal network has become an integral part of the pop-culture conversation. “yet another series of water cooler moments,” she says, summing up the recent success of The Real Housewives of new Jersey. a quaint reference, perhaps, but she notes: “They’re coming back—literally this month—because we’re such a green company that this is the end of bottled water.”
Zalaznick, clad today in a bolero jacket by The Fashion Show castoff Merlin, wasn’t always the queen of campy, highly addictive TV. she got her start producing art house hits such as Todd Haynes’ work of genius, Safe (she remains best friends with his production partner Christine Vachon), and larry clark’s Kids, before she was brought on to re-brand VH1 in the ’90s, and ascended to the reigning ranks of reality TV at the Trio network. Part of the allure of reality programming for Zalaznick is that “everything is a surprise. The beauty of our shows is that we don’t control anything. We certainly didn’t plan on the table flip.” she is, of course, referring to the season finale of The Real Housewives of new Jersey, one of the most iconic TV moments of the year. Zalaznick can’t wait to watch what happens when the next incarnation of the Real Housewives franchise invades the nation’s capital. “We’ve got to nail the right ladies,” she says, “women who have been in an environment, for at least the past eight years, that has radically changed with the energy of the White House. it should be interesting to see what they do everyday in relation to that changing energy.”
There’s that word again: “everyday.” if everyday people are her stars, it’s the everyday viewer with whom she hopes to connect. “Bravo’s intention is to never take itself too seriously,” says Zalaznick. “still, in the moment, viewers care deeply about whether or not Rachel Zoe is going to find the perfect pair of shoes for some event. For that episode, it carries the weight of ‘can we end world hunger?’ i’m not sure about world hunger. But in the meantime, we can find the perfect pair of shoes.”
Lauren’s Favorite Japanese Restaurant: Ippudo
Photography by Michael Scott Slosar