BY Jason Lamphier
September 09 2009 8:00 AM ET
According to Cohen and company, Housewives is providing its gay viewers with exactly what they crave and expect from the network: faux-aspirational, self-referential, self-parodied, relatable entertainment.
“Bravo characters are larger than life but also true to themselves,” Zalaznick adds. “We get the camp factor -- and we get it that [gay viewers] get it. And camp, unlike what most people think, is based on such a strong understanding of authenticity that you can step outside of it and present a version of that authentic self for the rest of the world.”
“Gays love these shows for the same reason gays love drag queens. They’re an exaggerated portrayal of women, what gay guys want women to be in their twisted fantasy lives,” Cohen says. “The Housewives live out loud. Do they all yip and yap in each other’s faces? Yes. Are they fighting about inconsequential things? Absolutely. But to me, this is anthropology of the rich. You won’t find a more fascinating look at human behavior than the Real Housewives franchise.”
It is 11:55 p.m. in New York City’s Tribeca neighborhood, a few hours after Cohen’s last of back-to-back appointments that day, 14 hours after he crooned along to Whitney Houston, just minutes before Watch What Happens: Live airs. Resembling a pop-inspired study, the show’s low-budget, stifling set is stocked mostly with furniture, memorabilia, and flashy knickknacks from Cohen’s own West Village apartment. Again, the line between the host’s business and personal lives seems razor-thin.
Cohen is just off set, eagerly taking a yellow highlighter to a sheet of paper with printed questions on it, itching to probe icy Atlanta housewife Sheree Whitfield, tonight’s guest. When asked if he’ll ever take the stage full-time, Cohen tilts his head in consideration. “I wanted to be on air when I was in college, but right now I love being a TV executive,” he says. “All this side stuff is just extracurricular gravy.”
If Cohen’s sensibility is so perfectly attuned to the audience Bravo is serving, if he is the archetype of the “affluencers,” then he is uniquely suited for his position. But what happens if Cohen, in his success, loses touch with reality? He seems unfazed by the question. “I’m all right with myself,” he replies nonchalantly. “Do you know how many 24-year-olds I hang out with? I don’t feel like I’m 100% in touch, but that’s why I talk to the 24-year-olds in my office to see what they love and what they’re talking about.”
His only in-person audience is the mostly 20-something assistants and production crew making Watch What Happens: Live happen. They are all baking in the stuffy heat of the studio. But many of them are also gushing in celebration: They’ve just discovered that Sheree is the number 1–trending topic on Twitter. Her fierce contretemps with her incompetent party planner, Anthony, was the closing scene for The Real Housewives of Atlanta’s season 2 premiere, which just aired twice in a row on Bravo, right before Cohen will welcome her onto the set. His show is bound to be a hit tonight. As he mops his brow and takes his seat before the cameras, Cohen’s grin is even wider than usual.