BY Jason Lamphier
September 09 2009 8:00 AM ET
“I couldn’t be gayer.” As Andy Cohen makes this proclamation, he couldn’t be prouder. It’s 9:30 a.m., and the Bravo executive is in a seersucker suit, seated in a Sirius XM Radio studio in midtown Manhattan. He’s a guest on The Gayle King Show and has been asked to sound off on Whitney Houston’s highly anticipated comeback, a topic he’s thrilled to discuss. From Madonna to Sandra Bernhard to the ubiquitous Real Housewives his network is churning out, Cohen loves his divas. Tieless, the top two buttons of his lavender shirt left open, his hands circling through the air, he is on. His excitement about Whit’s new album is not unlike that of a 15-year-old girl gushing over the Jonas Brothers at her cafeteria lunch table.
Then, as if they were tasked with proving Cohen’s previous statement, he and King start to sing along to Houston’s new single, “I Didn’t Know My Own Strength.” Cohen sways in his chair, snaps his fingers, and swings his head back and forth in front of the mike. Watching the silver-haired, impeccably tan, 41-year-old former CBS News producer surrender to his inner pop tart, you’d have to agree -- this man couldn’t be gayer.
Cohen’s trademark smirk is materializing everywhere on Bravo. Since 2006, shortly into his tenure there, he’s been the face of the brand: He writes his celebrity-focused blog for BravoTV.com; has grilled everyone from Tim Gunn to Diane von Furstenberg on his streaming online show, Watch What Happens; hosts the widely popular television reunion specials for Top Chef, Flipping Out, and The Real Housewives; and serves as a pop pundit on TV and radio talk shows.
Since he was a closeted teenager growing up in St. Louis, Cohen knew he wanted to work in television. Though he’s aspired to become an on-air personality since graduating from Boston University in 1990, he started his career as a producer for CBS News’s 48 Hours and CBS This Morning. In 2000 he became the vice president of original programming for the defunct pop-culture network Trio, where he developed and oversaw a slew of acclaimed documentaries, including 2004’s Gay Republicans. In 2005 he landed at Bravo. As senior vice president of original programming and development, Cohen oversees the production of more than a dozen shows, including Top Chef, The Rachel Zoe Project, and the entire Real Housewives franchise. His work as an executive producer for Project Runway, Top Chef, and Queer Eye for the Straight Guy has earned him seven Emmy nominations.
Half an hour after his radio interview, Cohen is in a cab, heading to his office at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, tapping out a blog post on his phone, and mentally prepping for a day packed with meetings: a brainstorming session for programming and marketing; a status report for a spin-off of Work Out; a casting meeting for a forthcoming artist reality competition executive-produced by Sarah Jessica Parker; and another focusing on the lineup for Cohen’s most recent project, his late-night talk show, Watch What Happens: Live, which premiered in July and airs live Thursdays at midnight.
An offshoot of his online series, the 30-minute program features Q&A sessions with his “Bravolebrities” (i.e., the Housewives, Top Chef contestants) and celebrities like Parker, Kelly Ripa, and Anderson Cooper. As with his reunion specials, Cohen sips cocktails with his guests and peppers them with questions submitted by Bravo watchers. The online and TV programs grew out of Cohen’s dishy e-mail updates from the sets of the shows he was producing to Bravo executive vice president and general manager Frances Berwick and president Lauren Zalaznick, who loved the dispatches so much they asked him to start blogging and doing video interviews with judges and just-eliminated contestants.
In the cab he looks up from his blog post, a plug for the premiere of season 2 of The Real Housewives of Atlanta. Airing after Atlanta, the talk show is part of the network’s reality show–behind-the-scenes–outtakes–audience participation feedback loop. “The goal is to highlight viewer interactivity,” Cohen says. “We have the most passionate, engaged audience on TV, studies say. People into Bravo are really into Bravo.” If he’s giving Bravo watchers exactly what they want, he’s also giving them exactly what he wants: “I’m just as engaged as everyone else. I’m the number 1 fan of Bravo.”
“I don’t think Andy’s ever made it a secret that he’s wanted to be an on-air host,” says Michael Davies, the executive producer of Watch What Happens: Live. “His passion for the subject is what this show is about.” Cohen is a rarity in television. Not only is he the sole TV host representing a network’s executive office, he is currently the only openly gay man in America with a talk show on a major national cable channel. “We were really gay with the first two episodes,” Cohen says. “We’re kicking back with a cocktail and laughing, talking with Isaac Mizrahi about his orange toenail polish and what happens when you stay awake on Ambien.”
Cohen uses Twitter and blogs daily. His blog mainly exalts Bravo series and offers insider tidbits, but sometimes lambastes celebrities such as Jessica Simpson and former Hills stars Heidi and Spencer Pratt. All this may seem like shameless next-gen branding and juvenile oversharing, but when you’re Andy Cohen, a man with an uncommon, insatiable, adolescent-like appetite for pop culture, sometimes you just can’t help yourself. A reality show fanatic, a Diana Ross worshipper, a man who once blogged about a sweltering pitch meeting with Cybill Shepherd where they both ended up shirtless, Cohen is the embodiment of his network. As the bright smile of Bravo, he’s made it clear, much like his Bravolebrities, that he’s not afraid to lift the curtain, giving viewers more than a peek into his life as a big-shot exec and celebrity obsessive.