You can thank him for the New Jersey table flip heard ’round the world. And for making “ba-na-nas” a fashion compliment. Since joining Bravo in 2005, senior vice president of original programming and development Andy Cohen has masterminded hits such as “Top Chef,” “The Real Housewives” and “The Rachel Zoe Project,” in addition to hosting the network’s drama-filled “reunion” specials on the side.
Last summer, Cohen’s public profile exploded when he was granted his own weekly late night talk show, “Watch What Happens Live” on Thursdays at midnight. On the half-hour show, a surprising ratings success, Cohen dishes on news and pop culture with guests from the network’s stable of reality “stars” as well as celebrity friends like Sarah Jessica Parker, Mark Consuelos and Kristen Johnston.
Here, the affable executive-turned-late-night-gabber talks to WWD from his office in 30 Rock about his new role and what lies ahead for him and his network in 2010.
WWD: How have you been balancing your day job with the added responsibility of hosting “Watch What Happens Live”?
Andy Cohen: It’s actually more manageable than I thought. My day job is an all-encompassing experience. The show is a half-hour at midnight on Thursdays, so on the one hand, it has tied me down on Thursday nights, but on the other hand, I love walking into the Boom Boom Room at 1:10 in the morning and celebrating a good show every week. In terms of how it’s affected my day job, it so far hasn’t — it’s a half-hour call every day at noon to talk about the show for 20 minutes.
WWD: On a personal level, has having your own show been liberating?
A.C.: What happens at midnight when you’re hanging out with your friends? You’re sitting around shooting the breeze, having a cocktail, talking about what’s going on. And that’s really the atmosphere we wanted. We want it to feel live, which it is, and we want it to feel unscripted, which it is, and really opinionated. So that’s really fun.
WWD: How many people write “Watch What Happens Live”?
A.C.: It’s pretty much me and this girl, Casey. It’s really my point of view. All week I’m looking for [content] because I don’t want to say anything I don’t believe.
WWD: Speaking of which, since you’ve been at the helm of programming at Bravo, do you think the network has gotten gayer?
A.C.: I don’t. I think it’s always been pretty gay. “Queer Eye” was on before I got here and “Boy Meets Boy.” If you’re going to have “Queer Eye” and “Boy Meets Boy” on, I can’t gay it up any more than that. And [Bravo’s executive vice president] Frances Berwick and [president] Lauren Zalaznick are like.…They are straight women who are as gay as I am. The bottom line is this: Bravo is about food, fashion, beauty, design and pop culture. I mean, who rises to the top of the boil in that group?
WWD: In terms of development moving forward, are you looking more at extending existing series concepts, as you have with “The Real Housewives” in different cities, or searching for new ideas? Or is it more organic?
A.C.: When you have a hit, you want to see if you can extend that franchise, which is what we’re doing with “Top Chef” right now, with [the Gail Simmons-hosted pastry competition] “Top Chef: Just Desserts.” It’s certainly something we’ve been aware of with “Housewives” and there are a couple of other franchises that we’re always looking at. We’re expanding Jackie Warner’s role on Bravo from the show “Work Out” to a new show that we’re in heavy pre-production on called “Jackie Warner’s Thintervention.”
WWD: What else are you looking forward to on Bravo’s 2010 schedule?
A.C.: We’re looking to build our audience any way that we can, as long as we stay on-brand. We’re always looking for new shows and we’re always looking to break out the next big Bravo character. I think [the upcoming Kelly Cutrone show] “Kell on Earth” is a great example of that, and “Double Exposure” with [celebrity/fashion photography duo] Markus [Klinko] and Indrani, which is going to be on later this year. And a new show called “Nine By Design,” which is following a couple called the Novogratzes as they rehab houses that they live in, and they have seven kids and live in New York City.
WWD: “Kell on Earth” and “Double Exposure” are both rooted in the fashion world. Does this mean audiences have not yet had their fill of fashion reality programming?
A.C.: Fashion has always been a big part of our wheelhouse and I think it always will be.
WWD: Why do you think these shows work so well?
A.C.: I think fashion is really fun and everyone has their own point of entry. “Rachel Zoe” for some people is great because it’s fashion porn. For others, they can’t believe that people are going so hysterical over a dress, and others watch it for tips about how to dress.
WWD: Which series do you consider your most successful, or your biggest thus far?
A.C.: “Top Chef” and “Housewives.” Certainly “[Project] Runway” used to be on that list.…I think “Kell on Earth” is going to be really big….We’ve got some good franchises.
WWD: What makes a good personality for a Bravo series?
A.C.: Someone who’s fun to watch, addictive to watch, a big personality. Someone who knows what they’re doing and who’s at the top of their game. If you look at Rachel [Zoe] or Jeff Lewis or Jackie Warner or the Million Dollar Listing guys or Patti Stanger or Tabatha [Coffey] — these are people who have big personalities, they are opinionated, they are larger than life, they’re at the top of their fields, they’re eminently watchable and eminently addictive and you never know what is going to happen or what they’re going to say.
WWD: In the next year, or in the next several years, do you have new goals for Bravo?
A.C.: Look, we’ve had something like 17 quarters of growth, consecutively. And so we want to keep topping ourselves, we want to keep growing while keeping people who love Bravo — we have the most passionate and engaged audience on cable — passionate about our brand and engaged in our brand. We want them to say, ‘Wow, I didn’t think I could love it more, but now I do.’