How Andy Cohen wrangles the 'Housewives'
Don't get him wrong: Andy Cohen loves each of his 26 housewives equally. But Bravo's senior vp original programming -- and host of the network's infamous "Real Housewives" reunion specials and his own boozy-feeling aftershow -- has extra big love for the Jersey four, whose Aug. 23 finale garnered the network its biggest audience this year; more than 3 million viewers tuned in for the catfight-tastic conclusion to the show's second season. With five series in the franchise -- Orange County, New York, Atlanta, New Jersey and Washington -- and one more on the way (Beverly Hills), it seems the 42-year-old New Yorker has cooked up the perfect recipe for reality-show staying power. Cohen chats with THR about his sister wives.
The Hollywood Reporter: What can you reveal about the two-part "Real Housewives of New Jersey" reunion that begins airing tonight?
Andy Cohen: The New Jersey reunion is the best one we've done. It's the icing on the cake of two intense seasons. The last 10 minutes of Part 2 is totally under wraps, but it's the party that will really have people talking -- even beyond me being thrown around like a rag doll by ["RHNJ" star] Teresa [Giudice]. I get a first-hand account of how strong she is.
THR: It looked like "The Skinny Italian" cookbook author took you down.
Cohen: She did! The tweets I'm getting are hilarious. People are saying, "How could you let her push you?" and "Andy, are you hurt?" I should have gotten hazard pay for this one.
THR: Why is there such an intense buildup to this "RHNJ" reunion special?
Cohen: This is the first time these women have been under the same roof since the last reunion. Historically, these shows take eight hours to tape. I usually come out shell-shocked, needing a shower and needing a drink, not necessarily in that order.
THR: Your "wives" can be erratic characters. As a businessman and sometime baby-sitter, how do you manage such a kooky harem?
Cohen: I've always had strong-minded, independent women in my life. What's most important to me is making sure they all feel like they're being heard and that I'm on their side. Being a housewife is a roller-coaster ride that you're never prepared for until it starts. It's a tremendously jarring experience. These women are becoming very famous.
THR: From an outsider's perspective, you seem to play favorites with certain wives. Are the other women sensitive about that?
Cohen: I think I treat everyone the same way, but I consider whom I'm dealing with. They react to jokes and to comments differently. Vicki Gunvalson from "Orange County" and Jill Zarin from "New York" take things more personally than others. It really depends on whom I'm dealing with.
THR: In June, "New York" star Bethenny Frankel debuted her own show, "Bethenny Getting Married?" How do you manage expectations when your other wives expect the same star treatment?
Cohen: Bethenny is the exception, not the rule. She's not only a great character, but she was having a baby and getting married. I've told the housewives [who have asked for her own show] that there is great strength in being part of an ensemble on a hit show. Look at "Friends." After that, there was a show called "Joey." No one wants to be "Joey." We had luck with Bethenny, but what if the next one is "Joey"?
THR: Bravo is supportive of any outside ventures the women pursue, especially their singing careers.
Cohen: Every time I hear that a housewife has a song, I am both shocked and thrilled. I hadn't heard ["RHNJ's"] Danielle Staub's song until she performed it in front of me on my show "Watch What Happens Live." I think my face told it all. I just wanted to experience it along with everyone else.
THR: In July 2009, THR reported that salary negotiations for the cast of "RHNY" prompted Bravo to recast certain housewives. Are these scenarios unavoidable?
Cohen: Look, ["Flipping Out" star] Jeff Lewis will e-mail me every week and say, "Oh, the ratings were great last night; I guess this means I get a raise." There have been situations when housewives have wanted to have frank talks about salary, and I say, "If you really want to have this conversation, let's have it." I have the benefit of knowing the research, knowing the ratings and knowing how much it costs to make every show. I give them my perspective.
THR: In the finale of MTV's "The Hills," producers suggested to viewers that the show was scripted. What response do you have for critics who say the same about "Housewives"?
Cohen: Whenever anyone wonders about whether these shows are real, I tell them, "If you were to tell me that Jeana [Keough] from 'Real Housewives of Orange County' was going to split from her husband while we were shooting, I wouldn't have believed you. You never know what road the show is going down.
THR: The most recent addition to the franchise, "Real Housewives of D.C.," premiered Aug. 5 with an extra tinge of scandal by adding White House party crasher Michaele Salahi to the cast -- who also recently accused "The View" co-host Whoopi Goldberg of assault. To what degree do you get involved with these incidents?
Cohen: We don't editorialize. If someone says on the show, "I'm the best mother in the world" and then the next scene you see her smoking a cigarette and blowing smoke in her daughter's face, that says it. We let viewers decide. What we're really involved in are the stories. We let them deal with their own stuff.
THR: During the reunion specials and on your talk show, it seems you aren't afraid to voice your own opinion of things.
Cohen: Any opinion I have usually reflects viewer opinion. During the "Real Housewives of New York" reunion, I was hammering Jill with questions because I knew fans weren't going to be happy until she responded. Surprisingly, it was [onscreen frenemy] Bethenny that came to her defense and said, "Why don't you just nail her to a stake and burn her?"
THR: Speaking of the reunion shows, it's almost a guarantee that one of your wives will storm off the set. Do producers have to coax them back on?
Cohen: Typically, they come back on their own accord. We had a situation with Danielle that viewers will see [tonight] where I had to talk her off the ledge, bring her back and negotiate with the other women.
THR: How often does production get involved with the cattiness that occurs among the cast?
Cohen: I've learned that strong women are going to do and say whatever it is they are going to do and say. Before we started shooting last season of "New York,"Jill told me she was pissed at Bethenny. And I said, "Can't you get over it before we start shooting?" I was worried, and there was nothing I could do about it. As it turned out, it was the backdrop for a very successful season.
THR: In one of the most dramatic episodes of the franchise, Staub claims that she feared for her safety during a scene in which fellow housewife Jacqueline Laurita's daughter, Ashley, pulls out a piece of her hair extension. Why didn't production step in?
Cohen: Actually, we discuss that during the reunion. If there would ever be a situation where someone was in jeopardy of physical harm, production would ensure that it didn't get to that level. We don't want anyone to feel threatened. On [tonight's] reunion episode, there is a moment where I'm actually concerned. We've had two situations where someone has gotten out of their seat in a threatening way. And in this case, I thought, "OK, I have to intervene." And just watch what happens when I try to get between Teresa and Danielle.
THR: Bravo announced that the ball is rolling on "Real Housewives of Beverly Hills." Are there any other series in the works?
Cohen: We always want to grow everything to be bigger and better, but we're mindful of not doing too much too soon.
THR: With the "D.C." reunion taping in a few weeks, are you hitting the gym extra hard to prepare?
Cohen: I'll give you the number to my trainer; he can attest! And if anyone goes after [Bravo fashion star] Rachel Zoe, they'll have to deal with me first.