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Pop the champagne and break out the shotskis because Wednesday marks the 1000th episode of Bravo’s late-night show Watch What Happens Live. “I just can’t believe it’s been a thousand,” host and executive producer Andy Cohen tells The Hollywood Reporter.
The “little engine that could,” as Cohen calls it, has come a long way since its July 2009 debut. Sure, there are still plenty of visits from Real Housewives and other Bravo network stars, but the show’s small Tribeca set — or clubhouse as it’s better known — has also welcomed impressive guests ranging from Oprah Winfrey to Cher.
Ahead of the show’s 1000th episode celebration, Cohen spoke with THR about the show’s most shocking celebrity reveals, his toughest interviews and the secret to handling guests after a few too many cocktails.
How do you think you’ve changed as a host between the first show and now?
Well, the evolution of the show is that we’re just getting more and more people that we’ve never gotten before. The bookings are continuing to get better. Two weeks ago, we had Ben Stiller and Penelope Cruz, which was really exciting. I was relying on my friends for bookings early on and now it’s the studios that want to get on board and want to get their people on. So that’s great. In terms of myself, I want to say that I’ve grown so much as a host but I don’t know that I have (Laughs). I have to have. Look, I’m no David Letterman, but I definitely feel like in my own little ways I’ve grown.
How has the pitch evolved over the years to get people on the show now that you’ve gotten bigger names?
We’re No. 1 and we have been for a long time amongst women at 11 [p.m.] It’s a lot about getting female eyeballs. It’s just a great experience for talent. Everybody walks away with a smile. It’s really fun to do. It’s a different experience. We don’t pre-interview our guests. Plus: You can have a cocktail. It’s the only live show in late night so it’s very spontaneous and very authentic. As dangerous as I am sometimes considered as an interviewer, it’s very celebratory.
After getting Oprah and Cher on the show, who’s still at the top of your wish list at this point?
We’ve been going after the First Lady forever. I’m kind of giving up hope at this point. There are so many more. There’s more people who haven’t done the show, obviously, than have but it’s endless.
Over the years, you’ve had celebrities reveal some shocking things on the show that have made headlines the next day. Is there one reveal that particularly shocked you?
Scott Eastwood was on last spring and he so inadvertently wound up kind of telling this story about an ex-girlfriend he had who was the girl that broke up Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore. It was so random and it was so out of the blue and so not even necessarily attached to what I was asking him so that was like, “Whoa.” I just couldn’t believe it. But there are so many at this point, it’s just fun.
You had previously banned Vanderpump Rules stars Lala Kent and James Kennedy from coming back because their first visit didn’t go so well, but you just welcomed her back to the show last week. How do you decide when to lift those kind of bans?
I think it was a combination of the two of them that, first of all, was bad. Second of all, I know both of them felt very badly about it. I saw both of them at the [Vanderpump Rules] reunion and I got to talk to both of them. It was after I talked to both of them that I thought, I’m certainly ready to give her another chance.
Who else is on the banned list? It sounds like James isn’t coming back anytime soon.
I think every talk show host has their own private list of people that they’ve banned in their heads for one reason or another. And I certainly do have that list.
Talking about Vanderpump Rules, for all the A-listers you’ve gotten, you still have a lot of Bravolebrities on the show. What is the secret to finding the balance between network stars and others?
Howard Stern is really my broadcasting role model. I love how, through all of these years, he’s been able to balance having his “Wack Pack”-ers and A-list stars. I kind of look at what we do the same way. The [Real] Housewives and some of the Vanderpump [stars] — those are our bread and butter and then everyone else is the cherry on top. When it’s a big Housewives night, we have on Housewives and etc., and then every other time we have on legitimate actors who we love to. We just try to mix it up.
How do you figure out those pairings when you have one Bravo guest on with an actor or musician?
They not only have to be familiar, but typically you want them to be big fans of whatever this show is because then it’s fun for the viewers and it’s fun for the guests too.
You’ve also branched off and started doing these more serious one-on-one sit-downs with Teresa Giudice and Jill Zarin. What was the idea behind that?
I certainly love it as an interviewer. It’s a more serious occasion. It’s usually when the Housewives are in the news. If there’s something really serious to discuss. If they’ve just had a divorce or a big personal crisis or in the case of Teresa, she was coming out for the first time [since prison]. If there was a big news event, then that would be the way to do it. So we sit and we talk. Because otherwise, Watch What Happens Live is really short-attention span theater. We don’t let anything play for longer than about a minute. But these one-on-ones give me an opportunity to sit and let it breathe a little bit.
Are there any other interviews or guests that stand out as the toughest?
Oprah was tough just because I wanted it to be perfect and then she came in, and it kind of was perfect. Now, pretty much everyone who comes to the show comes to play and they’re really excited about it.
One that comes to mind as a viewer is Amber Rose. There seemed to be a disconnect there. What do you do as a host when the show is live but things aren’t necessarily clicking?
I have a sip of my cocktail and go to the phones. I just get the people involved, because I think, ‘This isn’t going great with me, then maybe it will go better with this caller.’
What is your word of advice for guests before they come on the show for the first time since you don’t do pre-interviews?
We give them a sense of what the games are, and I say, “Look, I’m like a crazy person and I just throw stuff at you the whole time so just know that I’m going to be throwing stuff at you.”
You have a lot of games on the shows. Do you have favorites?
I love “Plead the Fifth.” It’s generated so much news. I like getting spanked or getting a bottle shattered over my head or things where I get hurt on TV is usually very amusing.
Any least favorites or least successful?
I wish I could remember. There was one that we played about a month ago that was so bad. But usually what happens is I will just reference it on the air and say, “Oh my God, that game was so bad. I’m so sorry.” People are so forgiving. People love honesty and authenticity on TV. If you don’t pretend that everything’s great, then the audience is very forgiving of you. They’re kind of going along on the ride with you. And then, when something’s especially fun and you didn’t expect it to be, you can kind of turn to the audience say, “Oh my God, can you believe how fun that was?”
Because you serve cocktails on the show, has there ever been a time where you’ve thought about cutting a guest off?
I remember that Jackee [Harry] and Regina King episode, they came in and they were so drunk and I was so freaked out. I remember we went to commercial break and I just had no control and it was so crazy. I said to the control room, “Oh my God, what are we going to do?” They were like, “Are you kidding? This is so wildly entertaining. We are trending worldwide on Twitter right now.” I just try to go with whatever’s happening. And it’s fun because then the viewers will tweet in because we’re live, the viewers will be like, “Oh my God, they’re so drunk.” And I’ll turn to [the guests] and say, “You realize you’re so drunk right now.” Live TV is so fun and it allows anything to happen as long as we’re transparent about what is happening. We’ve had fire alarms go off during the show. We’ve had the lights go out during the show. We were displaced because of the hurricane.
What is your take on similar programs popping up now like Kocktails With Khloe? Khloe Kardashian has been on your show several times.
She said on my show and The Tonight Show that her show was definitely inspired by Watch What Happens Live. When I turn on Good Morning America and I see one of our games, it’s flattering. It’s great because our audience is so passionate. I get tweets all the time [saying], “Oh my God, turn on this show, they’re doing a Watch What Happens Live thing!” It’s very flattering because we’re the little engine that could. We broadcast out of a closet on Bravo at 11 and all these big shows are inspired by us and that’s very cool.
Watch What Happens Live airs Sunday-Thursday at 11 p.m. on Bravo.
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