Andy Cohen joins his Watch What Happens Live team to discuss the nature of celebrity, his most memorable guests, and how he came to host yet another successful TV show.
Paul Stack, Andy Cohen and Deirdre Connolly at the AOL Build Series in New York City
Getting Susan Sarandon and Ralph Fiennes in the same room to talk about posing for Playboy is no small feat for the common mortal but, for Andy Cohen, it is just another average Thursday night.
The mastermind behind the exceedingly successful The Real Housewives franchise, Cohen has been welcoming celebrities and Bravolebrities alike on his own stage for over six years while hosting Watch What Happens Live, Bravo’s iteration of a late night show, during which guests are taken out of their comfort zone courtesy of alcohol and a very cozy couch.
Joining Paul Stack, the creator of the show’s exciting celebrity-driven games, and Deirdre Connolly, one of WWHL’s executive producers, on the AOL Build stage, Cohen discussed the show’s triumphs, which stars he still hopes to take tequila shots with, and revisited some of the program’s most memorable guest appearances. Most importantly, he let us in on some show secrets. So, just in case you’re looking to develop the next big thing on TV, here are some things to keep in mind:
The premise of the show (join Cohen at his home for a drink and some fun conversation) catapults celebrities inside the homes of viewers in ways that exude the genuineness that has been lacking throughout the industry in recent years (a feat undoubtedly indebted to the guests’ compliance with the drinking-while-shooting-live scenario). “The concept of the show is: I’m inviting you over to my house live at 11 o’clock,” explains Cohen. “And, if you came to my house at 11 o’clock, the first thing I would do is say, What are you drinking? And I would give it to you and try to plow you for gossip and information.”
The only live show at 11 p.m. each night, Watch What Happens Live highly relies on the guests’ candidness. “I think people crave authenticity in a world where everything is so canned,” explains Cohen. Fun fact: the show doesn’t rely on pre-interviews, therefore allowing the guests to run with their own thoughts. Scott Eastwood mentioning that his ex-girlfriend was actually the woman whom Ashton Kutcher cheated on Demi Moore with while in San Diego? Authentic.
Meryl Streep indulging in a round of kill/shag/marry (Dustin Hoffman, Jack Nicholson, and Robert Redford, respectively), Oprah playing a trivia game inspired by herself, and Lady Gaga sticking her hand inside a hole to guess an object’s origin while sipping on wine are just some of the defining games that guests are asked to participate in.
What makes a good celebrity game? "It’s about simple explanation, if you can play along at home, [and] guests getting into it,” says Connolly. Paul Stack, the show’s graphics and game producer, concedes that, most of the time, the game’s extravagant name comes first and the concept second.
The random celebrity pairings are, arguably, the most exciting aspect of the entire production. Personal favorites include Dan Rather and John Mayer (the former played a round of “would you rather” written by the latter), Meredith Vieira and Mindy Kaling (the two indulged in a raunchier version of the classic hot potato game), and Whoopi Goldberg and Molly Ringwald (both espoused their out-of-the-ordinary talents).
But, sometimes, the pairings don’t really work out. “We had Reza from Shahs of Sunset with this actor Zachary Levi and I don’t think they looked at each other the entire time,” recalls Cohen.
“I look at Howard Stern as a role model,” says Cohen when asked about the future of the show. “Not just in the way I approach interviews, but he has his Wack Pack and, to me, the Housewives are our Wack Pack. They’re our bread and butter and we go back to them and we love them and it’s really important that they’re on the show. We’re not snobs, we love all pop culture.”
What if the abundance of reality TV guest appearances compromises the show’s image when compared to more traditional late night programs? “That’s their problem, right?” responds the host. “We know who we are and we like it and the people who get us, really get us, and the people who don’t, don’t.”
The Bravo Clubhouse, which functions as the show's studio in Manhattan’s Soho neighborhood, has sort of become one of the programs’s characters. “It’s a real place,” says Connolly. “It doesn’t feel like a studio, it feels like an extension of home.” Returning to the importance of authenticity, Cohen mentions that the studio’s small size is what inspires most of them. Connolly echoes the host: “It makes us more creative, in a way. We have this limited space so it’s all about wacky names and what we can do within that space, so it’s a good challenge.”
PHOTOGRAPHY VIA LAURA CAVANAUGH/GETTY IMAGES (AOL BUILD)