Andy Cohen is behind some of the most popular, and often rainbow-colored, TV programming on Bravo. In June, the ‘Watch What Happens Live’ host comes to Houston as Celebrity Grand Marshal for our Pride Parade.
by Steven Foster
It’s surprising it hasn’t happened earlier. Programming Executive is the television industry’s most coveted position, attracting egos so enormous they should come with their own Nielsen rating, or at least viewer warning. But no suit has ever moved from the boardroom to the living room before. Ever. Much less attracted more viewers than shows they themselves have greenlit. Yet, in a shockingly short time, Bravo’s Andy Cohen has done exactly that. Sure, you can blame him for the repetitive manic horror of glorified personal shopper Rachel Zoe, or for transforming anal-retentive realtors and screaming housewhores into TV hardly-stars. Or you might praise him for the consistent deliciousness that is Top Chef, or for introducing us to Jackie Warner, one of the most complex and gorgeous lesbians on television. But whether you think his programming sensibility is as lofty as Sundance, or so lowest-common-denominator that it makes E! look like PBS, you cannot deny his surprising fame—fame usually reserved for those working in the scenes, not behind them. For Cohen is now a star himself, host of his own dishy, boozy, sometimes fabulous talk show Watch What Happens Live. And in June he’ll be starring as the Celebrity Grand Marshal of Houston’s Pride Parade.
Like any celebrity—or, to use the more grating term Cohen & Co. uses for its own stars, “Bravolebrity” (note to Bravo: Stop it. Now.) — Cohen can be cloying at times. His eyes bulge with I’m-on-TV! giddiness, the spray tan makes George Hamilton appear albino, and when he gushes over a guest, you find yourself looking for waders. What saves Cohen, and gives him an undeniable charm, is that he is doing exactly what most people would do in the same situation: being giddy because they’re on TV, primping like it’s a prom, and kind of freaking out that, yes, Sarah Jessica Parker is having a cocktail with you in your living room. But Cohen is not most people. He has a cadre of assistants (before even speaking with Cohen, the tally hit three), a Manhattan office most aspiring Jerry Zuckers would kill for, and an iPhone that has practically every hot star on speed dial. Still, Cohen is both accessible and affable. It’s easy to see why celebs fall for him, dropping by (as Neil Patrick Harris did recently) or calling in to his show (as Anderson Cooper does) just to say Hi. This month, Cohen drops by Houston to say Hi to us.
Steven Foster: You got your start at CBS, right?
Andy Cohen: I was there for 10 years, dude. I was producing.
Then you were at Trio.
Yeah, I was at a small cable channel called Trio for about four years, and I’ve been at Bravo for just about six years. I think this year is my sixth anniversary.
Trio was a class act. Miss it.
Trio was awesome. I’m so glad you know what that is. A lot of people don’t know what that was.
Brilliant But Cancelled [a series that resurrected favorite, failed TV series from other networks] was a fantastic concept.
We wound up being brilliant but cancelled. [Both laugh]
So Trio went down, and then came the Bravo offer.
That’s right. Trio was owned by Universal, and then Universal and NBC merged, and my boss went over to Bravo and brought me with her.
Bravo’s created some influential television. What shows have you been responsible for from the get-go?
Top Chef. All the Housewives. Flipping Out. Rachel Zoe. Workout. Basically everything over the last four or five years.
The loss of Project Runway to Lifetime hit Bravo really hard, and then Runway stumbled badly on its new network. That had to give you a little satisfaction.
Look, you never enjoy losing your flagship show. And I was very gratified that we had our best year ever after we lost it. What it told all of us was that we have great bench strength. And we’ve got a number of shows that just do phenomenally well for us that people are passionate about and engaged by. [One of Cohen’s assistants enters his office bringing flowers.] Oh, that’s gorgeous. Do we know who they’re from?
Dude, open the card.
I am. I’m going to open it right now. Well, I’ll tell you who they’re not from. A boy. I guarantee it.
Are you single?
[Reading the card.] Oh, that’s nice. That’s really nice.
Who are they from?
I can’t say. Wow, these are great. Uh…what was the question? I’m single, yes.
Is there anything groundbreaking coming up in Bravo’s future?
Is there anything not groundbreaking coming up in Bravo’s future? [Laughs] I’m kidding. I’m really excited about about Work of Art, which is going to be on Wednesday nights. And you know this is the show that we’re producing with the folks who produced Top Chef and Sarah Jessica Parker’s production company, and it’s the search for the next great artist. We’re gonna do for art what we did for food and fashion. So that should be great. We have a huge summer on Bravo. I’m really excited about the next season of Top Chef. I am very excited about Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List. This new season of The Real Housewives of New Jersey, Bethenny’s new show Bethenny Getting Married? She’s so fun and entertaining to watch. Really excited about that show.
Let’s talk about another show. Your show.
Greenlit for another 22 episodes. Niiiice.
And this all began because you were blogging scoop from the set of a really crappy show, right?
I was e-mailing kind of dishy e-mails to my boss from the set, and she said, “You should start blogging on bravotv.com.” And then she said, “You should do a live show online and let’s see what that looks like. A live, interactive show.” So we did it—about 40 episodes. And it was really fun and people really dug it, and I had thought that that was over. Then almost exactly a year ago, Lauren [Zalaznick, Bravo’s president]and Francis [Berwick] said to me, “Would you want to take your online show on-air and do it on Bravo?” And I said, “Yeah, I’d love it.” And it did really well. Now I think we’re in our 16th week of our second season, and they’ve been testing us out at 11 and we’ve been doing very well at 11. I’m so excited that we actually beat The Daily Show last week, which was huge for us.
You shoulda popped a big-ass bottle of champagne for that.
I probably did.
You’re a big drinker on your show, aren’t ya?
I am. Whiskey. Whiskey’s my choice. Maker’s Mark.
You seem to know everybody. Sarah Jessica Parker. Anderson Cooper calls you out of the blue. Neal Patrick Harris just shows up.
Yeah, isn’t it wild?
How much of the gadfly are you?
Is gadfly a good thing or a bad thing?
Well…let’s just call it a good thing, in your case.
Well, good, then I am one.
You get around.
I get around. I’ve lived in New York for 20 years. I have a lot of friends; I’ve always been a very social person. What’s really cool is that a lot of people that I don’t know have come by the Bravo Clubhouse. Like Tracy Ullman, Rashida Jones, Jackie Collins, Patty LaBelle. Jimmy Fallon, who I’ve met in the hallway a few times, said, “I wanna come and do your show.” And he did, and I was just so psyched. In the next few weeks Sarah Jessica’s coming back, Jerry Seinfeld’s coming on—it’s just so fun.
You look like you’re having a good time on the show. And this is gonna sound really shitty and I don’t mean it to be, but you’ve gotten to be a much better interviewer.
Oh, that doesn’t sound shitty. I mean look — I think when I started it I was decent, and I think I’ve gotten better.
And people are responding to it.
People come up to me and tell me it’s just like being at a friend’s house having a cocktail, just hanging out. It’s old school to me. It feels kind of “Public Access.” And I mean that in a good way.
New York Magazine said you were a throwback, even comparing you to Joe Franklin. That’s a high compliment.
Yes, I liked that.
There are a couple of pics floating around the Internet that have gotten you a lot of attention. You and Daniel Craig on the beach . . .
I’m in so much better shape now! [Laughs] It took those pictures for me to get in shape. Jesus! I mean, had I known…If you could have known you were going to be photographed with James Bond, you’d get yourself in better shape.
Well, you redeemed yourself with the Kelly Ripa out-of-the-pool pic.
That was another hilarity. They live down the street from me in the Hamptons and they’re just so much fun to be around. We were hanging out and she is obsessed with her iPhone and taking pictures, and she’s like, “Here, let me take one of you coming out of the pool.” And then we did all these pictures, and she’s like, “Can I tweet this?” And I’m like, “If you’re tweeting this, I need photo approval.” So she showed it to me and I said, “Alright, tweet it.” So she tweeted it and we didn’t think anything of it, but then it just kind of got around. It’s kind of funny.
When I searched, the pic showed up on hotdaddy.com or something like that.
Oh, God. [Sadly] I guess I am a Daddy.
You’re 38—you’re not a Daddy.
Sweetie, I’m turning 42 on June 2.
Oh, wow. Happy Birthday.
Awww, thank you!
Last questions: So do we have you to blame for Levi Johnston posing nude?
I take full credit. But I wasn’t entirely pleased with the results. He didn’t look so good. He’s hilarious on the new season of Kathy Griffin: My Life, by the way.
You were at 30 Rock when Betty White was hosting. That must have been fantastic. Such a great moment.
It was amazing to be there. When she walked from the stage to her dressing room, everyone in the hallways—the entire place—was cheering for her, and she was so moved. She and I did a little skit for Watch What Happens Live. I literally went into her dressing room and said, “Here’s what we’re doing.” I sat down, we did it one time, that was it, and she said, “I have no idea what we just did, but I enjoyed it.” She was just hilarious.
So have you been practicing your beauty pageant wave for the Houston Pride Parade?
I haven’t! I’m throwing out the first pitch at a Cardinals game in St. Louis in two weeks, so practicing on my pitch is what I need to be doing.
Because you throw like a girl?
I do. I need to learn how to throw like a boy.
Steven Foster is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine. He also interviews Mayor Annise Parker and community activist Ray Hill in this issue.