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Andy Cohen photographed at 30 Rockefeller Plaza on Oct. 25, 2023.Justin J Wee for TODAY

Watch what happens now: Andy Cohen on fatherhood, BravoCon and, yes, the reality of reality tv

The host and executive producer opens up to TODAY about the highs and lows of feeding the clickbait machine — and how he’s sitting in his joy amidst it all.

/ Source: TODAY

In March, Bravo’s “Real Housewives” franchises will reach adulthood, turning 18 years old. Has it grown formulaic with age and the addition of nine other American franchises since its inaugural iteration, “The Real Housewives of Orange County”? Surprisingly not. In fact, it’s evolved into a somewhat meta-variant of its roots, with an ever-expanding cinematic universe of women willing to share their lives, creating can’t-look-away-television for throngs of loyal and loud Bravoholics.

Holding court since day one at the center of it all has been Andy Cohen, host and executive producer of “Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen,” executive producer on “The Real Housewives” franchises and host of reunions across the network. 

It can be dizzying the velocity at which the Bravo network pumps out content while still managing to find new stones to turn. (Earlier this year, the cultural phenomenon of the “Vanderpump Rules” cheating scandal that became known as “Scandoval” even made its way to the White House Correspondents Dinner.) 

Even more impressive is the fact that nearly 20 years into his tenure, Cohen — the network’s most front-facing personality — still manages to keep up with it all. 

“All” also includes being a father to two children under 5 years old, overseeing SiriusXM’s “Radio Andy,” co-hosting CNN’s “New Year’s Eve Live” specials and a recent cameo on “American Horror Story: Delicate.” That’s all in between having authored five books throughout his career.

And he doesn’t just keep himself busy, but the news cycle, too. A seemingly innocuous sentence from Cohen can spark headlines. Recently, a cursory Google search featured dueling headlines: “Andy Cohen Asks CNN to Allow Alcohol for New Year’s Eve Broadcast” and “Andy Cohen Spills the Tea About His Sex Life and Being a ‘Daddy.’”

So finding time in his schedule for this interview and photo shoot was enough to make anyone’s head spin, but Cohen somehow always remains cool, calm and steadfastly collected. “So far, I’m surprised to say I’m somehow, kind of, making it work,” he says with his signature grin. Moments later, he’s smizing in front of the camera for his second photo shoot look of the day at 30 Rock’s rooftop garden. 

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A week after the shoot, the exec jetted off to Las Vegas, where he was a main attraction at BravoCon, a three-day event where 165 Bravolebrities and the thousands of the Bravoholics who love them gathered to commune and worship.

“It’s fun to feel like Elvis for a few days,” he says of the event. “But there, everybody’s Elvis. Dolores Catania is Elvis. Austen Kroll is Elvis. And you know what? Tom Sandoval is Elvis,” he says, referencing the infamous “Vanderpump Rules” villain. “Everyone gets so much bile on social media, but it’s all love at this thing. And that’s why you just have to take all that stuff with the biggest grain of salt. … You just have to connect with what you’re getting on a human level.”

But when you spend as much time in front of a camera as Cohen does, criticism and controversy — the aforementioned “all that stuff” — is not only inescapable, but boundless. As I prepare to ask Cohen about some of these topics, I think about the many journalistic interview tactics that might help me steer the ship: blunt questions, intent listening, putting the subject at ease. But interviewing someone like Cohen, who spent a decade as a young producer at CBS News before his nearly 20 years at Bravo, means you’ve got a co-captain rather than a passenger. 

I think I’ve gotten way better at knowing what the line is. And I think it’s from sometimes getting burned.

He knows the questions before I ask them; this is one source I’m not going to catch off guard, and any juicy bits will be given, not extracted. “I think that sometimes when you do or say something that gets picked up everywhere, it’s initially very jarring,” he says. “It’s scary. So I think I’ve gotten way better at knowing what the line is. And I think it’s from sometimes getting burned.”

Take earlier this year, when the late-night host caught flack after he congratulatedNew Jersey’s” Dolores Catania on losing weight and inquired, “Ozempy?” in reference to Ozempic, a drug used to treat diabetes that has become a go-to for celebrities looking to shed pounds. 

Fans on social media were quick to criticize Cohen for praising weight loss. Reflecting on the incident, he says it taught him an important lesson. “What I have been careful to say (since then), especially with Emily Simpson, (“The Real Housewives of Orange County” star) who lost a ton of weight, is, ‘I thought you looked great before. You still look great.’” 

“The note (to self) is: Don’t pat someone on the back for being thin, because what you’re then doing is perpetuating a false narrative about beauty, and that’s not right.” 

Cohen’s willingness to take “the note” might just be one of the components to his longevity in the world of television, both in front of and behind the camera. And with three major anniversaries on the horizon — his 20th at Bravo, the 18th of “Housewives,” and the 15th of “Watch What Happens Live” — Cohen is doing some reflecting, while also keeping his eyes firmly on the future. 

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Whether the topic is reality stars’ quests for beauty or their personal lives, Cohen says he feels an important part of his job is to ask the questions many at home on their couch are wondering, regardless of how probing or intrusive they might be. 

“I’ve asked incredibly personal, incredibly direct questions of Real Housewives for years. I think that was kind of my practice ground for going in and then saying to J. Lo, ‘Why were you on your phone texting during Mariah Carey’s performance?’ I think the show has a reputation of being the place that you go for uncensored, unpredictable fun.”

He adds: “If I go too far, believe me — my audience calls me out, and so does the talent. I’ve had guests turn on me during the show. That is authentic and interesting TV, and I think it’s why people like the show. I’ve had guests really get mad at me, but I’ve also had many a Kardashian say, ‘I’m so glad we talked about that.’”

About that. In the lead-up to this interview, there’s an oft-referenced moment from Season Eight of “The Real Housewives of New York City” that kept cycling through my mind. When star Bethenny Frankel says that she has something to tell her co-star/frenemy Luann de Lesseps, de Lesseps responds: “Please don’t let it be about Tom,” referring to her soon-to-be husband. Bethenny immediately responds with both deflation and despondency: “It’s about Tom.” 

In the interview for this story, the elephant in the room is not about Tom, but rather … Bethenny. Since her first season in 2008, Frankel has successfully utilized the “Housewives” platform and parlayed it into a multimillion-dollar low-calorie alcoholic drink brand, Skinnygirl (founded in 2009 and sold for an estimated $100 million two years later), as well as a slew of television gigs, including her own talk show. In 2022, she launched a “Housewives” recap podcast called “ReWives,” distributed by iHeartPodcasts. 

If I go too far, believe me — my audience calls me out, and so does the talent.

This year, however, she has seemingly set her sights on burning down the house that helped build her. In a July TikTok video, Frankel launched what she calls a “reality reckoning.” Her intention, she explained, is that she’s “fighting for systemic change” for the treatment of reality television personalities. (Disclaimer: Bravo and TODAY share the same parent company, NBCUniversal.)

In August, attorneys on behalf of Frankel issued a legal letter to NBCUniversal alleging that “a significant number of individuals” who had appeared on Bravo had been “mentally, physically, and financially victimized by NBC and threatened with ruin should they decide to speak out about their mistreatment.” Bravo responded in a statement to Variety: “Confidentiality clauses are standard practice in reality programming to prevent disclosure of storylines prior to air. They are not intended to prevent disclosure by cast and crew of unlawful acts in the workplace, and they have not been enforced in that manner.”

On Oct. 30, Vanity Fair published an article in which former “Housewives” cast members spoke about a lack of intervention from producers when it came to excessive drinking, as well as allegations of discrimination and microaggressions. (Bravo has declined to comment further to on the Vanity Fair piece.) When sharing the article on Instagram, Frankel alleged that Bravo is a “polluted environment profiting from women’s mistakes and misery” and accused her former workplace of “abus[ing cast members] nightly with games and questions designed to ruin their lives while making the masters of this universe rich and famous.”

It’s a pivot from her earlier stance of often crediting the show with helping her build her empire. “It’s amazing, the gift that you guys have given me… you’ve been amazing to me,” Frankel said to Andy on his show in 2015. To Vanity Fair in October, she said: “I loved that I was Andy’s favorite. I loved that I was able to make good television and produce it at the same time. I loved that producers knew I was the best. I was in the machine. I was the machine. I created the machine.” 

It’s a machine she stayed a part of, even after ending her time on screen. In a Nov. 8 interview with Variety, Frances Berwick, chairman of NBCUniversal Entertainment — and former president of Bravo — shared that Frankel has even pitched three shows to Bravo, all around Bravo IP, including a TV version of her podcast. In response, Frankel told Variety: Me pitching shows to Bravo months before opening my eyes isn’t the smoking gun they think they have…and if that’s their biggest argument against the reality reckoning, they better get back to the drawing board.”

A week prior to the Vanity Fair article’s release, when Cohen and I first spoke on Zoom, before I could even broach the subject, he gave me a knowing look. “Look, there’s always one question that you feel like you really want to ask. You might be scared, it might be off limits. For you, for this interview, it may have been about that former Housewife,” he said, clearly purposely not referring to Frankel by name. 

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But it’s not just about Frankel. In recent years, like other streamers and networks that air reality TV shows, Bravo and the production companies it partners with have been at the center of allegations about on-set racism, claims of hostile work environments and criticisms of excessive drinking on reality series. 

In 2021, an NBCUniversal internal investigation into “The Real Housewives of New York City” star Ramona Singer and her alleged usage of the N-word during a conversation with a Black producer was found inconclusive. On Oct. 31 of this year, Page Six published text messages Singer allegedly sent to their reporter stating that during the conversation, she said “N-word” and did not actually use the racist slur. A week later, Singer was noticeably absent from BravoCon. (Both Singer and Bravo have declined’s request for comment on Singer’s current and future status with the network. As of publish time of this story, “RHONY Legacy: Ultimate Girls Trip,” which stars Singer, was still slated for a Dec. 14 premiere on Peacock.) 

In September, NBCUniversal sent out updated workplace conduct guidelines to its production partners, which included requirements for alcohol training, new mental health support measures and guidance for improved communications between production companies and the network. 

Despite solely serving in the role of executive producer and reunion host, as a face for Bravo, Cohen is often the recipient of blame, expected to provide answers when scenarios like these arise. A week after the Vanity Fair story was published, I spoke to him again, this time on the phone to further probe on the topic of the “reality reckoning” and the Vanity Fair story. He offered this in response:

“I think it was a factually incorrect rehash. I think much of it had been reported already, and it lacked context. You can say, ‘Oh, Andy did a poll comparing two Housewives’ bad nose jobs,’ and without any further explanation, that may cause you to raise your eyebrow. But the continuation of the sentence would be ‘...after an episode of the Jersey ‘Housewives’ where two women compared what they described as their bad nose job.’ So I just thought that there was a lot of context missing.” 

He continued: “And specifically, it was a rehash of things that have been reported on and — most importantly — addressed by Bravo. We’ve addressed each of the things that did happen, and we’ve moved forward. I think BravoCon was further validation of what is really going on between the reality of our relationship with our talent and the place that these shows hold with our audience.”

Case in point of that relationship with talent: During BravoCon’s first annual Bravos in November, an award show celebrating all things — you guessed it — Bravo, “The Real Housewives of Orange County” original cast member Vicki Gunvalson became the first-ever Wifetime Achievement Award recipient. During her acceptance speech, she turned to Cohen and said: “You saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself.” 

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Cohen says that’s a sentiment he heard often from Housewives and Bravo talent throughout the weekend. “I think that is representative of how these shows wind up empowering the women on them to take charge of their voice and who they are.”  

So if not a reality TV reckoning … what has kept Andy Cohen up at night through the years? 

“There have been a few things. One was that we were about to start shooting Season One of ‘Top Chef,’ and we didn’t have a host.”

He adds that the recent reboot of “The Real Housewives of New York City” was another. The series came to a screeching halt after its 13th season, which ended amid the racism accusations involving Singer. The season finale aired on Sept. 7, 2021, and there wasn’t a peep about cameras going up again until a March 2022 Variety headline: “Bravo to Reboot Real Housewives of New York City With New Cast.” It took nearly two years off the air, but finally, in July of this year, the new New York — not rebranded, simply rebooted — made its maiden voyage. It was a big test for both Cohen and the network in attempting to affirm that new blood can revitalize a show’s dwindling heartbeat.

I think the show has a reputation of being the place that you go for uncensored, unpredictable fun.

“The casting, whether we were getting it right, and then when the cuts started coming in: ‘Was the storytelling right? Were people going to like it?’” he explains of the reboot’s most challenging details. “But I’m so gratified. I’m just relieved. All-caps relieved is really how I’m feeling. I know for sure with every bone of my TV-producer body that next season will be so much better, because some of the women knew each other better than others. Some didn’t know each other. None of them knew Jenna (Lyons). And so now … this is a very tight-knit group with a lot going on and a lot of opinions and a real shorthand about them that I think will really benefit another season.”

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Cohen recently wrapped hosting the “Housewives” reunions for New York, Orange County and Salt Lake City. Bravo reunions — which also happen for other franchises like “Vanderpump Rules” and “Summer House” — have become an integral space for cast members to enter the pantheon and duke it out with the collective goal of moving forward. 

“This is a universe in which things are forgiven in ways that they may not necessarily be in life. The offenses are greater than they are in life, and the forgiveness is sometimes more … forgiving, for lack of a better word. I’m an unlicensed therapist, and sometimes, it works.”

Sometimes, however, Cohen loses control of the room, and loses his temper as well. “Shut up!” an exasperated Cohen told the women during “The Real Housewives of New Jersey” reunion in June 2023 as a stunned silence fell over the room.

“I think I’ve gotten more comfortable and more verbal in the last few years, frankly, expressing myself and little bits of opinions,” he says. Still, he acutely understands that part of his role requires him to hold the center. It’s one of the reasons Cohen is wary of vacating his position both on “WWHL” and as the de facto reunions host — and why he’s not yet thinking about who might replace him.

“There are a couple people that I’ve thought would be really good, but some of them are super opinionated,” he says. “And if the Housewives are still going, you have to figure out a way to be somewhat of an island if you’re going to be sitting down with Housewives that you’ve been super vocal that you don’t like.”

Speaking of vocal: There are few fandoms as devout and as loud as the Bravoholics, who can be as demanding as the Bravolebrities they mercilessly tweet about. 

Fire her! 

Bring her back! 

She needs to be put on pause! 

Cohen sees it all on social media. 

“I think we can tell when someone is landing or not with viewers,” Cohen says, citing Monica Garcia, the newest “Salt Lake City” cast member, as an example of someone fans are responding strongly to. “But listen, it’s always great to have things reinforced. Sometimes I go out and just talk to housewives themselves in suburbia who are not on Twitter, who swear by the shows, and they’re certainly not as dogmatic.”

“And also, I think gay Twitter might have a different reaction to a Housewife or to things happening on the show than a lot of the suburban women who are watching, and I think it’s also mainly suburban women or mainly women (in general) that are watching. So it’s important to listen to everybody and take all that into account.”

Andy Cohen portraits
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As “Housewives” stars continue to stray beyond the original series, with spinoffs like “Ultimate Girls Trip” becoming their own success stories, as well as other reality series casting former Bravo stars — including Peacock’s “The Traitors,” CBS’s “Celebrity Big Brother” and Amazon Freevee’s “The GOAT” — there’s always a conversation about the tipping point of overexposure. After all, these reality stars can quickly go from fan favorites to most-hated — and back again, if they’re lucky.

“We happen to have 10 ‘Housewives’ series in production right now, so some could argue that we’ve hit that point,” Cohen says of the idea of overexposure. “But they’re still all so popular that we’re feeding the beast at this point — the beast being our ever-loving fans.”

While the executive’s day job largely deals in sharing the lives of people on national television, ironically, overexposure is something Cohen is contending with in his own life, particularly when it comes to his children. Cohen began detailing his journey with surrogacy in 2019 when he welcomed his son, Ben — now 4 — and then his daughter, Lucy, last year. He’s detailed much of his fatherhood journey, including his efforts to help push surrogacy’s legalization in New York, on social media.

It’s a balance, he says, figuring out the line between sharing and oversharing. “The last time I showed Ben’s face (on social media) was when I got my star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. And Lucy, I’m teetering towards not showing anymore. I just feel funny about it. People need to understand that my kids are not me and they didn’t sign up for this.” 

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Cohen admits, however, that he doesn’t quite have a solution just yet. “I’m figuring it out as I go. My mom is really on me about it. She’s really like, ‘You have to stop.’ She was very vocal about, ‘OK, you can’t show Ben anymore. When are you going to stop showing Lucy?’”

Cohen credits becoming a father with helping give him a deeper window into the experiences of the Housewives. For instance, when “The Real Housewives of Atlanta” star Kandi Burruss joked about having a “baby mama” after expressing guilt over welcoming her child via surrogate, Cohen jumped in. 

“Don’t you ever say that, because you are the mother,” he told Burruss during the 2018 "Housewives of Atlanta" reunion. “And to say she’s your baby’s mom is taking away from you,” he stressed. 

I’m an unlicensed therapist, and sometimes, it works.

“You can say a lot about the Housewives, but they’re great moms,” Cohen says now, reflecting on the ways in which his parenting journey has given him a greater understanding of many of the Housewives. “One of the unexpected joys of my time with the Wives is that now, when we’re on breaks from reunions, we’re sitting there waiting, getting touched up and stuff, and we all talk about our kids and about parenting. It’s opened up a portal to the way they parent that I never used to care about very much, frankly.”

It’s clear that fatherhood has helped Cohen find perspective within the cacophony of noise online. 

“If I go on Twitter at any given moment, it’s a battlefield about politics, or people telling me that I messed up a show completely, or that I’m this, that, or the other," he says.

"But Ben today: I was like, ‘Ben, I love you.’ He goes, ‘However many stars there are in the sky is how much I love you.’ And I’m set for the day. I don’t give a f--- what anyone’s saying about me on Twitter. This little boy loves me for as many stars as there are? The rest doesn’t really matter!”


Photographer: Justin J. Wee

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