Stories From the Front Lines of Pop Culture
Can Bravo host Andy Cohen's life possibly be as entertaining as his outrageous talk show?
The new memoir from Andy Cohen, the host of Bravo's Watch What Happens Live, arrives with a lot of buzz (a reported seven-figure advance) and publisher hype ("dishy, funny, full of heart") but lands with a thud. Most Talkative lacks the kitschy, low-budget, alcohol-fueled charm that can make the TV show such fun.
Here's the thing: Andy Cohen's life just isn't that interesting. He had a conventional suburban St. Louis childhood devoid of drama. Even his coming-out story is unremarkable as these tales go. After graduating from Boston University, Cohen took a job at CBS News, where he rose to become a producer on CBS This Morning and 48 Hours. His job was interesting, but only occasionally does he offer real insight into the emotional strains of covering disasters like the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing or the pressures on junior producers as they balanced temperamental anchors, high-strung celebrity guests and outlandish middle-of-the-night errands, such as when anchor Harry Smith asked Cohen to buy him a toothbrush after a day spent covering a flood. One of the few revealing (and really fun) stories occurs when Cohen lies to his bosses and to Oprah Winfrey to piggyback a second interview for a series on talk show hosts onto her scheduled appearance on CBS This Morning. After the ruse was revealed, Cohen received a peeved call from Winfrey and came thisclose to losing his job, though ultimately she let him use the interview ("This was Forgiving Pleasing-Others, Early-Nineties Oprah"). Mostly Cohen substitutes gratuitous name-dropping for real storytelling. Look, there's Dan Rather! Quick, over there is Susan Lucci! Don't blink or you'll miss Tammy Faye Baker!
After a decade, Cohen took a job as a programming executive at the cable channel TRIO, which led to a job at Bravo, where he helped develop Real Housewives into a multishow hit. His discussion of the reality franchise is at once too detailed and too vague (pages spent reproducing an entire Saturday Night Live skit about the show; paragraphs spent on the origins of the New Jersey and Atlanta editions). The anecdotes about the Housewives are so detailed as to only appeal to hardcore fans, while the larger story of how the show became a cultural touchstone is sketchily told. In recent years, Cohen has become a minor celebrity because of Watch What Happens Live, which is fun, witty and unconventional (and will expand to five nights a week this fall). In short, it is everything the book is not.
Most Talkative brings to mind the famous scene from The Wizard of Oz, where the curtain is pulled back and the wizard is revealed as just an ordinary guy from the Midwest.
Most Talkative: Stories From the Front Lines of Pop Culture
By Andy Cohen (Henry Holt, 288 pages, $25)
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