For several years, Andy Cohen juggled his day job as Bravo's executive vice president of development and talent while also hosting the network's hit late-night talk show Watch What Happens Live, which averaged nearly one million viewers last year. But at the start of 2014, Cohen left the suit behind and launched a new production company, Most Talkative, while continuing to host WWHL, which Bravo picked up for two more years. The host/producer recently spoke with TV Guide Magazine about watching what happens next.
TV Guide Magazine: What's it like to no longer be a Bravo executive?
Andy Cohen: I believe it was January 3 when I woke up and for the first time in my life I didn't have a boss. So it's great. I'm continuing to host specials for Bravo, which I love doing. And I'm still an executive producer of all the Real Housewives shows.
TV Guide Magazine: Because no one else wanted to?
Cohen: No, quite the contrary! I wanted to and I believe that this franchise can go and go and go if we treat it delicately and properly. We're seeing with Real Housewives of Atlanta record numbers of any season ever. I care about it a lot.
TV Guide Magazine: Do you marvel at how WWHL does as well as those big talk shows with bands, big sets and loads of producers?
Cohen: We're kicking butt. Is that bad to say? We're doing well.
TV Guide Magazine: What kind of stuff do you want to do as a producer?
Cohen: I've had a lot of ideas for documentaries, which is something I was familiar with producing at CBS News. I've been talking to a lot of people who have never done unscripted TV whom I've reached out to in the hopes that maybe they would trust me enough that we could do something together and it would be fun. My pitch to them is that drama or reality TV doesn't have to be ugly. You can have drama that's fun or relatable or aspirational.
TV Guide Magazine: As a fellow talk show host, how do you think Jimmy Fallon is going to do on The Tonight Show?
Cohen: Jimmy is so enthusiastic, so positive, so uncynical, he is talented all over the map. He has a respect for the genre. He has a respect for the past. When you see him playing Password on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon with Celine Dion and Betty White you think, "Wow, Carson could have done this." He can dance, he can sing. I can't wait to see what he does.
TV Guide Magazine: Is there a fraternity of talk show hosts, when you see some of these other folks?
Cohen: I don't know if I would be bold enough to consider myself a part of that. Jimmy has become a good buddy of mine so when I see him we talk, and he's nice enough to watch my show so he'll say, "I love this" or "I love that." I've gotten to know Seth [Meyers] over the last couple of years. I've been on Leno, I've been on Letterman, and they're huge icons, and I wouldn't consider myself anywhere close to them.
TV Guide Magazine: You dropped out of hosting Miss Universe, held in Russia, after that country adopted anti-gay legislation.
Cohen: The pageant also becomes a travelogue for wherever you're going. At that moment, this thing had just passed and it just [didn't feel right for me] as a very proud gay guy.
TV Guide Magazine: Any concerns for your NBC Universal colleagues as they head to the Sochi Olympics?
Cohen: What will make this Olympics interesting in every direction is that there's a lot of news that will be covered along with it, so the story is not just the sports but everything else. I co-hosted Today with Natalie Morales the other day and she said for her, it's going to be interesting to see what it's like inside the zone verse outside the zone. I feel like once everyone gets there there's going to be so much security.
TV Guide Magazine: How do you handle the Real Housewives' real-life drama, like Teresa Giudice's fraud case?
Cohen: With Theresa, we're shooting New Jersey now and that's very much the reality of what she's going through. It will very much be a part of the show next season. We cover it in the way that we can.
TV Guide Magazine: What about deaths, like Beverly Hills' Russell Armstrong?
Cohen: The strategy is to take a beat, regroup, talk to everyone involved, take stock. What we saw with Beverly Hills was, this was a show that was light and airy and a beautiful package. But when you opened up the package, there was something not so pretty inside. That was probably the most challenging situation in the history of the show. We got with all the women and asked them, "What do you want to do? What can anyone get out of this? Is there something that we can learn from this?"
TV Guide Magazine: Do things like that give reality critics ammunition to trash the genre?
Cohen: It's so easy to clump reality TV into one genre. In some ways you can't control that. You can only answer to the audience that's watching the show.
TV Guide Magazine: What did you think of the Duck Dynasty controversy and how A&E handled it?
Cohen: I don't want to be the guy saying, "Here's what I would have done." It's so hard. I have my share of Housewives who say things that and I get asked, "Are you going to fire them?" People have beliefs that are not always popular. We live in an intensely politically correct world. I've said many times, and I fear this, but I'm one Tweet away from getting fired. You can't get away with anything. Do I agree with his views? Absolutely not. He was mentioned within the Jackhole segment of my show around that time. Just as I did with The Bachelor, who called gay people "perverted."
TV Guide Magazine: Where do you see reality TV going?
Cohen: The Voice spawned a wave of "everything's got to be even bigger." The great thing about reality TV is it always comes down to just an idea that's really simple, and truth is stranger than fiction. We all love sociology and watching people interact in whatever way. It's why Survivor is still incredible and one of the greatest shows, and Amazing Race is so great, so I think there will be a few more. Hopefully I'll have a great idea.
TV Guide Magazine: Time to Plead the Fifth. Toughest guest?
Cohen: Scott Baio. Halfway through the show, we played this game called "Andy Loves Crotchi" instead of "Joanie Loves Chachi" and I think he's kind of religious and right wing. I don't think I'm his kind of guy. I thought we were connecting but maybe we weren't. And I love Scott Baio.
TV Guide Magazine: How close were you to getting the Regis Philbin job?
Cohen: I don't think I was close at all. It was talked about in the press. But no one ever talked to me from Disney. I was flattered that the press kept repeating it.
TV Guide Magazine: If asked, would you have done it?
Cohen: I love my show. My show is so me, it is the personification of me. So it's hard to think about anything but that.
TV Guide Magazine: What's the drunkest you've been while hosting?
Cohen: That was very early on when we were on once a week at midnight on Thursday nights. I thought it was incredible that I could drink on the show. I would really slam them back and they would bring me a new drink during commercial break. I thought I was Dean Martin. I really should take a look at what I looked like. But the early days I did used to get hammered.
TV Guide Magazine: Which celebrities have been overserved?
Cohen: We have a whole galaxy. Ricki Lake got really hammered one night. The legendary episode from a few years ago, 227 star Jackee and Regina King, they were trending on Twitter for three days.
TV Guide Magazine: One of your show's popular games is "Marry, shag, kill." Let's choose three of your biggest guests from 2013: Oprah Winfrey, Cher and Mariah Carey.
Cohen: Wow. OK. Oprah, Cher and Mariah. Who am I going to shag? See, you're tempted to marry Oprah for many of the benefits that Oprah has. I'm going to marry Cher and shag Oprah, because if you shag Oprah you get a jet that says "I shagged Oprah." And then, Mariah, whom I love, she's on fire, but yes, I would kill her.