Andy Cohen has not braved a single globetrotting challenge, walked through the wild naked and afraid, or risked the ire of a presidential hopeful or drug lord, and yet there are viewers who would argue the man deserves hazard pay.
Chatting up celebrities week after week might seem like a cushy job. After all, for many of them, drama — artful, real, or manufactured — is their stock and trade. Cohen, who started his tenure at cable reality juggernaut Bravo as a producer, flipped the script in 2009 when he stepped in front of the cameras and brought all of the sturm und drang of his Housewives into his television living room and by extension, ours. The pre- and post-season reunion shows led to his continuing talk show.
Watch What Happens: Live premiered on July 16, 2009. It is by turns a chat show and a satellite to the constellation of Bravo reality stars who make periodic appearances to offer Cohen their thoughts on seasons that are about to begin, or those that have just finished airing.
Cohen rides herd over celebrity guests who are either game for his rather unique format or who think they will somehow game the format. The latter rarely happens. This is because Andy Cohen, an alumnus of Boston University’s School of Journalism, spent years as a producer for Today, Morning Joe, and The View, among other shows before heading into the quickly evolving genre of reality TV.
Prior to Andy Cohen’s jump to collaboration with the NBC-owned cable channel, Bravo, reality TV was a sub-genre known for a few series that were critically viewed as isolated successes. The Real World, Bunim-Murray’s housemate-cum-social petri dish was evolving from MTV’s attempt at an anthropological experiment to a soap opera with participants who were willing to exhibit every pathology and foible for a chance at some airtime. Meanwhile, over at the Big Three, CBS brought Mark Burnett’s superannuated Lord of the Flies competition to prime time, creating the show that would launch a thousand message boards and a market for “collectable buffs.“
Andy Cohen’s track record for producing smart, fun anthology television series, such as “Brilliant But Cancelled,” led to the powers that be at Bravo allowing for more avenues for reality series that were not only competitive, but served as outlets for promoting creativity in different fields. His Bravo profile includes an impressive list of shows that run the entire gamut of good reality television. The feel-good makeover magic of Queer Eye For the Straight Guy was followed by Project Runway, Top Chef, Shear Genius, as well as smart, sharp, funny documentaries following fame-culture observers like Kathy Griffin: My Life On The D List, Guide To Style, and The A-List Awards.
The success of Cohen’s 2006 series, Real Housewives Of Orange County, a soapy, contentious reality show that followed five households in one of the wealthier communities in California, caused the executives at Bravo to take notice of his work beyond the auf-ed designers and disappointed chefs packing up their knives. This new sub-genre not only raised the profiles of the O.C. kittens with big cat claws, it helped usher in a new generation of upper crust and aspiring upper crust matrons in New York (2008 to present), Atlanta (2008 to present), New Jersey (2009 to present), Washington D.C. (2010), Miami (2010 to 2013), and Beverly Hills (2010 to present).
Weaving its way like a tiny explorer craft that was more like a basement den comfortably appointed with nearly everything pop culture geeks forgot they loved and allowed Mom to throw away is the studio where Cohen films Watch What Happens: Live. Segments might include Jason Sudeikis answering what might be considered by some — not Sudeikis, though — to be uncomfortable questions about his marital status.
The surprise for many viewers was an element of the show that has been present from the beginning. Unlike many reality reunion shows which often include former rivals hugging it out, various cast members, especially the Real Housewives, have often used Andy Cohen’s den as a killing ground. The drama spills from their luxe homes to the chat show’s home base. If there is no safe place for Lindsay Lohan to skip more than one question, it is a no-holds-barred arena for housewives to discuss their feelings about their series and each other.
What’s next for Andy Cohen? He resigned from his position as head of development in 2013, and now works as a producer of some of the remaining shows in the Real Housewives franchise. He has a new radio series on Sirius, and he’s still hosting Watch What Happens: Live. Being the savvy purveyor of the drama he knows Bravo watchers love, he promised Mary Jane of StarPulse.com the ladies of RHONY (Real Housewives Of New York) will have as much going on as they always have. After almost a decade of seeing Cohen dodge literal and figurative hits from some of cable’s mean girls, it seems we can trust Andy Cohen to not only lead us into temptation, but show us shortcuts to the good stuff.
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