Emmys: Andy Cohen on Landing A-Listers, On-Air Surprises and Juggling Network Duties

6:00 AM PST 06/27/2013 by Kimberly Nordyke
Peter Kramer/Bravo

Cohen, who hosts "Watch What Happens Live" and serves as Bravo's executive vp development and talent, talks to THR about the show's evolution from a web series into a nightly chatfest drawing the likes of Cher, Meryl Streep and Dan Rather.

Watch What Happens Live has one of its biggest gets this week in the form of guest Cher.

The talk show, hosted by Andy Cohen, who also executive produces alongside Michael Davies, will welcome the singer on Thursday night's episode.

"I'm so psyched about Cher and that she's [visiting] us before any late-night show," Cohen says of the singer, who is promoting her forthcoming album, Woman's World. "[Her rep] emailed me out of the blue on Sunday and said, 'I know you're kicking ass at 11 and doing so great with women, and we'd love to have Cher come on the show."

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She's the latest A-lister to stop by the "clubhouse" -- as the set is called -- of the show, which started out several years ago as an online series focusing on Bravo talent and series before gradually evolving into its current five-night-a-week format. The talker just kicked off its 10th season and is averaging 917,000 total viewers and ranks as the No. 2 talk show (behind The Daily Show) among women for the year to date.

Cohen -- who also serves as executive vp development and talent at Bravo -- recently spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about the show's evolution, luring A-list guests, his most memorable on-air moments and juggling multiple hats at the network.

The Hollywood Reporter: There is a lot of competition in late-night. Do you feel like it's getting easier to get the big-name guests?

Andy Cohen: I think the fact that we're having so much success is starting to penetrate with publicists and the creative community, and people are really starting to see what a good time it is and how celebrity-friendly we are, while also being a completely different experience for our guests.

THR: How do you feel like their experience differs from other talk shows?

Cohen: We're very celebratory while being off the cuff and spontaneous. We don't pre-interview our guests; we just bring them in and all we want to know is what they want to drink. The rest goes live and we see what happens. We celebrate our guests. Ultimately, the fan experience is unique too because this is the only live interactive show in late-night, so it gives fans the opportunity to ask questions. It feels like a party; it's a great time at the end of the day.

THR: Can you talk a little about the evolution of the show?

Cohen: It started out as an aftershow after Top Chef, actually, and it evolved into airing on Bravo once a week at midnight, four years ago this July, and then it moved to 11, and then twice a week at 11, and now we're a year and a half into it being a stripped show. We've had everyone on from Meryl Streep to Dan Rather to John Mayer to Martha Stewart and Liam Neeson and Tina Fey and on and on, so we feel really lucky. We're excited about the people the show is attracting and feel like, as every other show is going bigger, we like that we're an intimate show. The thing that is consistent from when we were a web show all those years ago -- six years ago -- is that it is live and interactive -- those are two hallmarks of the show.

THR: It's a very intimate set, with a small audience. What do you think that adds to the viewing experience?

Cohen: It feels like I'm allowing you into my home, and for the viewers at home, it makes it a really spontaneous, really authentic experience for everyone. If we make a mistake or something doesn't go right live, we keep on moving. Our size is actually our strength. And for the people at home, if they're watching from their beds, they can tweet something to me, call in and vote on a poll or playing a drinking game. People can play along at home and be involved. For the guests, it's a unique experience the minute they walk in the doors. We serve cocktails and try to prepare them for the ride as minimally as possible.

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THR: What are some of the most memorable moments you've had on the show?

Cohen: We had a fire alarm go off during the show. Doing shots on the air with everyone from Martha Stewart to Dan Rather is kind of incredible. I've been surprised by everyone from Marie Osmond to Charo to a little girl with a pony for my birthday [Real Housewives of New Jersey star Teresa Giudice's daughter Milania presented Cohen with a pony dressed up as a unicorn, which he dubbed a "ponycorn"]. I've been flashed by a Housewife. I've been serenaded by Jimmy Fallon. Christina Aguilera called in one night out of the blue. Another surprising thing is because we're interactive, all of a sudden people start tweeting us or calling us and [the reaction is], "We can't believe John McCain is watching the show right now." There are so many little, weird funny moments that just keep us all entertained and make it fun for the viewers at home. I feel like it's a collective experience.

THR: You're an executive, producer, on-air talent: What's it like wearing so many hats at the network?

Cohen: I've been a producer for so long; I've been producing TV for 23 years. The idea that I'm up there producing myself as I'm on the air is just natural from everything I've done. I spent 10 years at CBS News; I'm deadline oriented; I worked in live control rooms for 10 years. I’m not scared of live TV, and I feel like I know the Bravo audience and have a relationship with them. As an active executive producer of Watch What Happens Live, it comes naturally to me. When I started hosting the reunion shows, as I was sitting there, I thought to myself, what does the audience want? This is a natural extension of who I am. In terms of development, I love this brand and I love leading the team that is responsible for coming up with new shows and formats for the network.

THR: Who made the ultimate decision to go to a strip format?

Cohen: It was Bravo's. Michael Davies and I made the pitch to Bravo about why we thought it would work and what kinds of guests we could attach. I’m so glad they had faith in us. It's not a pickup I was involved in; it was me pitching with Michael. I'm so thrilled they believed in us and in the show as much as we did, and it wound up paying off for them. I will say I think one thing the strip [format] proved, and will be proven with Cher [on Thursday] night and Martha Stewart and Maggie Gyllenhall [on Wednesday night] and on and on, is that this isn't just "the Housewives show." We really broke out about a year and a half ago, and that's something we're really proud of as we go up against Chelsea Handler and Conan O'Brien and The Daily Show.

THR: Do you have a dream guest -- someone that hasn't appeared on the show yet?

Cohen: My dreams are really being fulfilled every week. But I'd still like to have Madonna or Michelle Obama on.

THR: The paperback version of your book, Most Talkative: Stories from the Front Lines of Pop Culture, recently hit stores. What inspired you to write that?

Cohen: I've gotten so many questions: Where did I come from? How did all this happen? This is about my love affair with pop culture that I've had through my life, and it's a lot of funny stories. How I wound up going from sitting two inches from my TV in St. Louis to not only being on TV and making TV but crossing paths with pop culture icons from my life. The fact that Cher picked us over everybody else is huge for me; it's going to be a real bucket-list moment.

Watch What Happens Live, produced by Embassy Row, airs at 11 p.m. Sunday-Thursday on Bravo.

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