It's after 9pm at the Bravo Clubhouse, the downtown Manhattan studio where Andy Cohen tapes his talk show, Watch What Happens: Live. The 43-year-old — who pulls double duty as exec vice president of talent and development for the network — has been going nonstop since 7:30am.
He has worked on his soon-to-be-finished first book. He's blogged from a cab. Attended an off-site development meeting. Filmed video replies to viewer mail — such as one complaint that he "hates God." (Cohen: "I don't hate Him! I wouldn't slam God!") Made script changes for that evening's WWHL, given notes on a rough cut of a new reality series about a "soulmate finder" and fielded a call from Phaedra Parks, a cast member of The Real Housewives of Atlanta, one of the many programs he's shepherded into pop-culture infamy.
But arguably, the most important part of Cohen's day — when he turns the wattage way up to host 30 dizzyingly Bravo-centric minutes of late-night TV — has yet to begin. How's he feeling? "I'm fine. I'm good!" he insists, taking a sip of tea. Moments later, a monster yawn escapes.
He won't be resting anytime soon. Starting January 8, Cohen's two-and-a-half-year-old show is going from two to five nights a week. It's the culmination of one of the most improbable trajectories in show business: an exec transitioning to an on-air role. "This is originally what I wanted to do 22 years ago, and this guy I was interning for at CBS was like, 'You have a wandering eye. I don't think you're gonna get on TV,'" recalls Cohen. Instead, he rose up the ranks behind the scenes at CBS, Trio and then Bravo, just as it was morphing from meh to a destination for reality series like Top Chef and Project Runway.
"Andy didn't hide that on-camera work was something he was interested in," says Bravo president Frances Berwick. After stints hosting an online-only show and the Housewives reunion specials, Cohen was tapped for WWHL. "It premiered as a test series for 12 episodes," he says. "If the ratings had been bad, we wouldn't be having this conversation." The first night drew 334,000 viewers; by Season 5, that number was up to 1.36 million. Increasing the frequency now "felt like a natural extension," says Berwick. Expectations for what happens next are modest. "We've never had a five-nights-a-week show before," says Cohen. "They're habit-based, and it takes people a long time to build a habit."
The schedule isn't the only thing changing. Cohen's responsibilities at Bravo are shifting so that he'll focus on new shows rather than the entire roster. And WWHL — which up until now has mainly featured "Bravolebrities" and the stars who love (or love to mock) them — is broadening its scope. "We're gonna have movie stars and music people, and they're going to be talking about anything," says Cohen. Does he hope to attract new viewers, even those who are uninitiated? "I hope so," he says. "I think [in the past] you could've been turned away at the gate if you didn't watch the Housewives.'"
What will remain the same: interaction with viewers in many forms, from polls to Tweets to in-studio calls. "There's an immediacy that encourages people to watch live rather than three, five days later," says Berwick. "People want to spend time with Andy." Sarah Jessica Parker, a friend and frequent guest, credits the appeal to Cohen's knack for capturing the zeitgeist. "He always seems to have his finger on the pulse," says Parker. "Everybody responds to Andy — it's this wonderful chemical reaction."
Besides, while he's technically going head-to-head with the other late-night guys, this surreal landscape — where cocktails are served, odd pairings of guests are considered optimal and homespun tchotchkes abound — might as well be a universe away from Leno and Co. "What's wonderful is he really does something different from the other [talk-show hosts], so it's an alternative rather than straight competition," Berwick says.
Meanwhile, back at the Bravo Clubhouse, 11pm arrives at last. Cohen's gotten his second wind, and he fires questions at Vanessa Williams and Dot-Marie Jones (Glee's Coach Beiste). When it's over, the motley crew — which includes a drag queen and a "slutty elf" who appeared in a bit — files out in a daze. Williams murmurs, "That was a little bizarre." Cohen, for his part, is showing equal parts gratification and fatigue. Only time will tell whether he can sustain this pace, and then some. Observes Parker, "He's been waiting a lifetime for this moment. Who would complain about being tired, you know?"