Andy Cohen, host of Bravo’s “Watch What Happens Live,” grew up obsessed with Susan Lucci and the soap “All My Children.”
In his teen years, he also loved to bury himself in the drama of his female friends’ relationships.
Nearly three decades later, he now oversees the “Real Housewives” franchise, firmly ensconced in soap operatics of Lucci-esque women in New York, New Jersey, Miami, Atlanta and California. In his new autobiography “Most Talkative,” the gabby 44-year-old St. Louis native provides the skinny on his life and how he handles those women. He’ll be hosting a book signing and Q&A at SCAD in Midtown Wednesday evening.
“I’ve had an amazing career in TV,” Cohen said in a phone interview earlier this month. “I’ve had so many stories I’ve been sitting on all these years about my life. This was a way to get it all out.”
Viewers are used to seeing Cohen grill NeNe Leakes about her marital status on a “Housewives” reunion show or ply alcohol to celebrities such as Liam Neeson and Jerry Seinfeld on his nightly talk show “Watch What Happens Live.” But he’s actually a seasoned journalist. He spent the 1990s as a producer for the CBS “Early Show” and “48 Hours” helping cover events ranging from the Oklahoma City bombing to a plane crash in Sioux City, Iowa.
TV journalism taught Cohen how to frame stories, how to find the emotional center, how to hone in on what viewers want to see. These are all methods that make “Real Housewives” so addictive. But this also means firing “housewives” such as Sheree Whitfield from “The Real Housewives of Atlanta” when their storylines no longer resonate.
Cohen, ever the people pleaser, refused to badmouth any one housewife, including Whitfield: “It is what it is. I love Sheree. I hope we get to work together again.”
And he deflected any questions seeking “Housewives of Atlanta” dirt, including who is taking Whitfield’s place season five, which is currently in production.
Bravo, which has thrived on reality TV, is expanding beyond its comfort zone. Cohen said the network is looking into pricier scripted programming, an arena other networks have entered with success (e.g. VH1, History, MTV). And he is psyched by the solid ratings performance of his own talk show, which recently expanded to five days a week and often creates odd couple celebrity pairings. It’s even been mocked on “Saturday Night Live.”
“I’m excited by the level of guests we’re getting,” he said. “We’re on a good roll right now.”
His favorite pairing to date on “Watch What Happens” came last month: former CBS newsman Dan Rather and former Atlanta musician John Mayer. While at CBS, Cohen had done a story with Rather so for him, “This was truly full circle.”
His book provides some mildly interesting insights into “The Real Housewives of Atlanta.” For instance, he was initially confused about Kim Zolciak, who he didn’t think felt very “Bravo.” He admitted he was wrong. He also felt bad forcing NeNe to go on that bus tour at the end of season three, which resulted in a big fight between her and Kim.
He also became exasperated during the season one reunion show when Kim initially said she had cancer in the past, then said she didn’t. That reunion wasn’t even planned. NeNe convinced him to do it. The NeNe outburst during that show was edited because it was so harsh, too. He also agreed that the women deliberately decided to scale back the drama during the season two reunion and it ended up being a “snore.” During a break, he even castigated the women for being boring. He also complimented Kandi Burruss for being real, implying without naming names that some of the women fake it.
Andy Cohen signs copies of “Most Talkative”
6:30 p.m. Wednesday. SCAD 1600 Peachtree St NE Atlanta.
(877) 722-3285, www.scad.edu.