Thursday, October 3, 2013

Most Talkative: Stories From The Front Lines Of Pop Culture

This next book come from the king of pop culture himself. The one who made the Real Housewives franchise possible.The one who brought us Jeff Lewis and Watch What Happens Live! Here is the TRUE story from the man himself. The one, only & excitingly Andy Cohen.

The first thing Andy talks about is the story of how he met his first love and first interview w/ the ICONIC Susan Lucci in 1987. One of Andy's  self-admitted drawbacks even as a kid in St. Louis, MO, was talking. He describes it as "never shutting the fuck up." Taking family trips as a kid wasn't a problem for Andy. The real problem was while other family members loved & watched 'Days Of Our Lives', that coincided w/ him having missed the ICONIC Erica Kane on 'All My Children'. As a kid, for Andy, Donny & Marie were perfect brunette Mormon smiling Barbie dolls. He dug their happiness, purity & glitz. This fascination came around  the 'Tiger Beat' years. Every year Andy's version of the Super Bowl came w/ 'Battle Of The Network Stars'. He had a fierce devotion to ABC.

Andy describes life as a kid in St. Louis very "Beaver Cleaver-esque". as a kid, Andy really wanted to be a latch-key kid like the ones he seen in after school specials - so urban and self-sufficient. He always knew he was gay. He gravitated toward strong, outsized female personalities. When he got older, more & more of his close friends were women.  At that time period, it was not freeing for him to be gay. It was culturally stereotyped. There were NO homosexual heroes out at the time to look up to.

I HATE to say this but it's TRUE. But,during this time period in the 70s, if you were out, it would've HONESTLY been an end to your career. It wasn't as accepting then as it is TODAY! By the time he was in high school, Andy, for a better, but awkward phrase, had established himself as one of the girls. (Boy-girl-non-romantic best friend.) He was always surrounded by women. Looking at him, you would have thought Andy had it all together; but as we all know, looks can be deceiving. There was a time when Andy loved Eddie Murphy on the CLASSICALLY-then 'Saturday Night Live'. Although Eddie's routine consisted of ridiculing gay people and every other word out of his mouth was a hateful slur, Andy was surrounded by people in hysterics. He/Andy ran into the bathroom during Eddie's concert, locked himself in a stall and wished/prayed he could throw away his own skin. Watching his friends cheer at Eddie more than reinforced his secret fear of homophobia being perfectly acceptable.

Andy chose Boston University for college. One was for the schooling advances it had. And the second was, after slyly finding out on the side, came to find it had a semblance of a gay community. (If he was ever forced out, Andy had a pace to fallback on.) So, along w/ a few friends, Andy went in 1986. His first relationship was a 2-day romance was w/ a guy Jean-Marie in Paris. The whole thing felt like a fantasy. Andy entered a world there was NO turning back on. But then reality had to set in and you have to go back home and back into the dreaded closet. When he wasn't hanging out w/ his BEST GIRLFRIENDS, he was on the DL (down-low) checking out gay spots around town. Andy was quietly empowered by some of his openly gay classmates. At the time, entering the foyer of the gay world, Andy was terrified he would or had already gotten AIDS. Constantly questioning everything on his person was going to be the end of him. It was 1988 and the AIDS crisis generated paranoia & uncertainty.

Andy inevitably lived a double life. When Andy OFFICIALLY came out to one of his girlfriends, her reaction was something he didn't expect: utter joy and complete acceptance. The closet door was opening - just a crack. He wanted to be precise of how he told people. Answer everything in one sitting. Put all of their fears to rest.

When Andy OFFICIALLY told his family back in St. Louis, what started as AWKWARD got worse w/ the usual "safe sex" talk w/ your kid. When he returned to B.U., Andy told more people.  What he had written in his journals were similar to the letters he had written to others coming out. The next few months were spent breaking out his journal and reading his coming out to various friends. The overall support was overwhelming. He was finally feeling free.Thanks to watching Walter Cronkite hand the CBS Evening News over to Dan Rather in 1981, Andy had his head set on working for the CBS Evening News for a summer internship in college. When the acceptance came from CBS after writing to apply, he didn't look back. When Andy got a response from the network, he wasn't being assigned to 'CBS Evening News', but to CBS . . . .'This Morning'. Disgruntled w/ the position Andy took off and set off for Manhattan.


When Andy thought to take New York by storm, he was transfixed by the image Madonna portrayed in her videos: the one in charge. She's the ruler, she is sexy & she is the boss. That is who he wanted to be like taking the city by storm. Walking into the building of CBS to intern, Andy walked into the lobby trying to weed out the competition. He was in the same internship w/ one who would eventually become a CBS favorite: Julie Chen. Andy viewed his internship at CBS as something of a graduate course. He was assigned to work w/ Erin Moriarty, futuristically of 48 Hours in consumers. One thing he did that could've become a costly mistake was go by Andrew, instead of Andy.

Andy had no plans to advertise his sexuality on the workplace, but if anyone asked, he promised to tell the truth. (I personally loved this line in the book: Being gay doesn't define me. It is one of the things I happen to be!) He found somewhere he belonged at CBS. After the internship, Andy figured out who he was and what he wanted to be! The monkey was off his back and he was out and free, but he turned a corner to a new REALITY - AIDS. Along w/ every other gay man in 1988, Andy was convinced he would be infected. All of the stress & obsession over his death led Andy to go get an AIDS test at the end of his senior year. After he was found to be negative, he quit stressing and enjoyed life.

He moved to New York after graduation. Andy was quickly hired as a news clerk on CBS Morning News right after arriving in the city. Andy was sent to West Palm Beach to help book a juror for the show in the William Kennedy Smith trial. They got Lea Haller. Years later, she would marry the prosecuting attorney, Roy Black. Years after that, she became a  Real Housewife Of Miami.


When he got back to New York, Andy was promoted to assistant producer. He was exactly where he wanted to be. From there, he continued to be promoted. He always made a point to give his best. Andy knew one day,he would work alongside - and for- them. Andy spent the morning w/ Mary Jo & Joey Buttafuco at the exact time all 3 networks aired movies based on the stories. The segment got picked up all over the place. He even found himself taking a sunrise tour of Vegas, hearing firsthand stories from Bugsy Siegal and the Rat Pack from Buddy Hackett. Andy details what it was like interviewing the late Tammy Faye Messner (Bakker). He was then called to be at the storm w/ Hurricane Andrew, but Andy Cohen stood his ground w/ Tammy Faye Bakker. It became a CLASSIC!

Although bracing himself to hear who his mom, Evelyn, outed her son out to people from his childhood. Evelyn LOVED to out her son. Although he loved his work in the media, Andy was/is most proud of his work in breaking news situations; hurricanes, floods, fires, plane crashes & more. It was while covering a breaking news story that Andy got his first taste of Orange County. Before that, all Andy knew about OC was that it was home to Disneyland and rich right-wingers. He then goes into telling his ALL-TIME FAVORITE Oprah Winfrey moments (whether personal and/or professional). At the time of the Oklahoma City Bombing, Andy had gotten pretty good at showing up on the scene. It was like his job was connecting w/ people in their most vulnerable moments. Oklahoma City was the closest Andy'll ever get to a war zone. Even though Patriot Day (9-11-2001) happened six years later, Andy was a civilian, having left CBS after a decade in TV news. At the time of 9-11, if it was possible to be grateful for one thing about that day, Andy didn't have to make a piece work. He could just be a New Yorker.

In Andy's personal rank of stars, to him, Diana Ross, may even be bigger than Susan Lucci. Throughout his work, he began meeting people who had been his idols, and just as memorable, the people behind them. The experience was terrifying, thrilling & a bit of a let down. Next came Joan Collins. Meeting her was one thing, but he wanted to be met by her 'Dynasty' character. Andy was ecstatic. He got what he wanted. Joan in full character. Andy has always loved a stage. In 1996, Andy learned of their favorite band, the B-52s, were allowing "friends of the band" to be go-go dancers onstage during their tour. It was all arranged and it became the talk of the town for the band to be seen. Dancing w/ the B-52s. Going to see them and to celebrate a friend's birthday. When they arrive at the concert, it was TOTALLY EMPTY. Only to find out it was cancelled. They were all devastated. Looking over the schedule, they picked and went on a differently scheduled date. No matter what happened the night of the concert, it couldn't match the hype they built for it. But he/Andy was still glad he did it.

As someone who has covered -and loved - both entertainment and news, Andy felt caught in the middle. He was approaching 30 and felt like he had grown-up at 'CBS This Morning'. The ponytail smart-ass intern was a long time ago. The show itself was beginning to be painful & unnecessary. To keep things FUN in the offices, everyone would go around and come up w/ whatever, based on the rules, their personal porn name would be. Andy remembers it being quite boring. There was never any energy-hyping news. He came down w/ "Lucy Ricardo Syndrome", a sudden desperation to part of the show. He didn't care to be on-camera. He just wanted something to do.

One afternoon Andy got a call from a CBS exec offering him a job producing at '48 Hours'. He took the job and said good-bye to everyone/everything at 'Morning News'. He learned so much from that time he would eventually use now working on 'Bravo!' Andy thinks one of the reasons the 'Housewives' resonates w/ viewers is that they show everything that happens - good, bad or ugly - it's real.

Andy talks about his experience and excitement working w/ and interviewing LEGENDARY newsman, Dan Rather. He/Andy returned to the morning show in 1999 as senior producer running their entertainment unit. He was then in competition w/ ALOT of other hosts; ET, Access, Rosie & more. It was brutal. When it was time for their interviews at 'Morning Show', celebrities were sick of giving them and would make their/the interviewer's work suck w/ one-word answers. Morale itself on the show was at an all-time low. Execs changed the name from 'CBS This Morning' to 'The Early Show'.

Throughout all of the setbacks he's encountered in his career, Andy never considered the possibility it could all just end.  Luck intervened at the EXACT right time. He received an offer to run the programming dept. for a start-up cable channel, TRIO. After almost 10 years w/ a front row seat to nail-biting news, Andy's career at 'CBS News' was over.


He didn't know it then, but TRIO was something, for Andy, of a Bravo boot camp. When their parent company - Universal - merged w/ NBC TRIO went to the dumpster. When Andy was wanted and called to run current programming at Bravo, he was never really watching it, but he was having a major moment w/ a show he wanted to buy for TRIO, 'Queer Eye For The Straight Guy'. 'Bravo' was already seriously gay-friendly, but not enough for Andy. He had his heart set on running programming for a new gay start-up channel, Logo. He got an interview, but no callback. Looking back, it was something of a blessing. Otherwise he wouldn't get to do what he does now.

Andy has spent an upsetting amount of time in rooms w/ producers explaining show ideas. There hasn't been one pitch or moment that felt like finding nirvana. Hearing the pitch for 'Queer Eye For The Straight Guy' was as close as he came. Andy has run not only all shows in production, but everything in developments as well at TRIO and later on at 'Bravo'.

For example a show that was originally pitched called 'The Wannabees' about Jenni Pulos and her then husband, Chris, 2 part-time house flipper, Jeff Lewis. When their development team seen Jeff on their demo reel, the team wondered who he was? It was then that 'Flipping Out' was born. There are times on television that provide a little window into who celebrities are as people. Otherwise known as "they're just like us" moments. One meeting that fevered w/ Andy's excitement was gone w/ Candy Spelling. Another was w/ Cybil Shepard.

One of Andy's dream come true toppers came when he had the opportunity to throw the first pitch at a St. Louis Cardinals game. Andy then did his research prepping to do it. Not only was public pressure mounting, Andy was also receiving it from his ONLY nephew, Jeremy.  His excitement increased when he found out Bob Gibson would throw one right after him. His finest moment: being caught on the Jumbo Tron in the jersey on the field feeling he belonged. The pitch didn't go as expected, but it was an experience NO ONE can take away from him. The lesson that goes w/ this experience: There are no perfect pitches,  just try not to hit the dirt.

In regards to blogging, Andy's became the silver lining. He envisioned it as a dialogue w/ 'Bravo' viewers about everything they see. Being a blogging network exec somehow made Andy "credible" enough to get invitations to be a pop culture commentator on various shows. The show was named after their 'Bravo' tagline: Watch What Happens Live! They didn't have much of a set, studio, staff or audience and Andy loved every second of it.

2007 was a big year for 'Bravo' w/ the premiere of 'Flipping Out'. Everywhere Andy went, people wanted to talk about all the program shows. When the second season of 'The Real Housewives Of Orange County' took off, it was decided to add a reunion show. One reunion show led to another w/ various shows. In 2008, Watch What Happens Live! moved to Rock Center. They added cocktails and booked non-Bravo celebrity guests to the mix. In 2009, the show was moved to the network in late night and to a small studio in SoHo. More was added from there ("Here's What?, a poll & Jackhole Of The__") The furniture to decorate the set (A.K.A. "The Clubhouse") was used from Andy's own furniture, which was modeled after the denim in his apartment.

The show happened gradually in full creation. The show is actually as much fun as it looks. It all goes back to the days when ANYTHING can happen in late night TV and anything does. The show that became a surprising success turned out to be 'Top Chef'. Andy then goes into the creation of the show. From production, to judges and hosting. They hired Katie Lee Joel to due to Padma Lakshmi's unavailability.  By season 2, viewers didn't connect w/ Katie and amicably parted ways. By then, Padma was available
and hired. The biggest flop at Bravo was one Andy inherited from the network in 2004: Battle Of The Network Stars. He learned a great lesson from it which was: not only to embrace your mistakes, but to analyze the hell out of them to figure out why they were made.  It is better to fail spectacularly and learn from it then never fail and learn nothing.



Zoila
The true premise & introduction to Phaedra Parks in reality TV was being an attorney to R&B singer, Bobby Brown and his now-late wife, Whitney Houston for the series, Being Bobby Brown. Although the title of the show suggested it was Bobby, Whitney was a HUGE part of it's success. Jenni Pulos became the reason for the show Flipping Out' existence. One of the reasons for the shows success is that the camera doesn't miss a thing. Andy suggests that the reason some people think Bravo is a gay? network is due to never shying away from subject matter the way other networks did.  Out of ALL of the supporting cast of all of the Bravo shows, the one who owns Andy's heart is the one who loves her telenovelas is Jeff Lewis' maid, Zoila Chavez.

Vicki Gunvalson
Andy then goes into the love & "drama" of those bitches on the 'Housewives' franchises. And I'm talking about the furry animals that accompany the LADIES onscreen. (Ex. - Giggy from Beverly Hills, Grandma Wrinkles from New Jersey and Ginger from New York City). One afternoon in 2005, the then head of development at 'Bravo' hovered into Andy's office doorway w/ a VHS tape in her hand. She instructed him to watch it.  It was called 'Behind The Gates'. An advertising exec from a gated community in Orange County called Coto De Caza  had picked up a camera and shot some footage of a few neighbors, who all happened to have a big chest & big hair. The tape reel featured these women of Coto De Caza talking about their personal lives and ritzy lifestyles. One woman talked a mile a minute about her insurance business which she stated was EXTREMELY important to her. It looked odd that a woman w/ her appearance talk about insurance? Her neighbor and good friend was a former Playboy Bunny whose husband was a former pro baseball player who had 3 kids. The true lives of these women were more dramatic than anything Andy had seen on daytime TV in years. If this was done right, this could be a 'Knots Landing' for a new generation. ABC's 'Desperate Housewives' was the biggest show on TV at the time. A show about fictional friends & frienemies in the same neighborhood. After discovering the real thing, they changed the name from 'Behind The Gates' to 'The Real Housewives' and thus a dynasty was born.

Marketing execs came up w/ the idea of playing off the opening of 'Desperate Housewives' where Teri Hatcher and the gang holding apples. The Housewives would hold oranges. Just before the premiere, execs tacked "of Orange County" onto the title in case they wanted to do another version of the show somewhere else. The reviews that came in were mixed. Andy didn't expect much acclaim from the show, he was more-or-less wondering if they were onto something or if they were crazy. Evely, Andy's mom, wasn't having it. She only watched the reunion show because of her baby boy hosting it. Producers find out what the women have coming up in a given week and pick & choose what to document.

Next came the creation of 'The Real Housewives Of New York City'. Every series has its own flavor: Every city has its own ingredient to the reality TV stew. Thanks to Jill Zarin, they had someone on tape, LuAnn DeLesseps, who seemed, to Andy, a bit dry, but couldn't resist the fact that she was a Countess. Andy lobbied for LuAnn and she was in! He soon began comparing notes w/ his mom just as they did years ago w/ 'All My Children'.




The next Housewives edition to premiere was 'Atlanta'. Linnethia "Nene" Leakes was an OBVIOUS instant standout. Andy was confused at first w/ the presence of Kim Zolciak. Next came New Jersey. They were originally drawn into the women from Franklin Lakes. The advice Andy gives most is "Just be real!," "Be who who you are and own it!" After that came the FAILED season Housewives of D.C., thanks in part to the D.C. scandal involving the Salarhi's. After D.C., they premiered 'Real Housewives Of Beverly Hills'.

Andy was repugnant to do it at first. They already had the OC ladies. At first no one was interested, but finally one woman was interested and others soon followed. The first was Lisa Vanderpump. Next to cast was Adrienne Maloof. Through Adrienne they found Taylor Armstrong. Andy details certain casting stories w/ behind-the-scene ones as well. His experience in reality TV is that the TRUTH always comes out. It's always REAL and sometimes REAL isn't so pretty.

The ORIGINAL concept behind reunion shows was to tie up loose ends and avoid the following season, granted there was one, becoming a rehash. Get it all out on the table now. The reunions began w/ 'Project Runway' and 'Top Chef' . The first one to happen w/ 'the OC ladies' occurred without Andy and for that he's grateful. The Housewives see the reunions as a last chance to rewrite their own stories. Andy says he can't blame the ladies dreading the reunion shows. They typically take 8 hrs to shoot. They let them TALK & TALK until EVERYTHING is said. Often times a Housewife uses the reunion show to "reposition" her "character".  The reunions can also serve  as a determining factor - for Bravo - in deciding who stays, who goes & when to pull the plug on the series itself.

After the fourth Real Housewives Of New York reunion, the chatter on social media about the women's nasty negativity was so loud & strong it freed Bravo to make their boldest move and not renew Jill, Alex, Kelly or Cindy's contracts. Andy is normally a laid-back type of guy, but when it comes to reunions, he is a man on a mission to get the job done. It can drive you NUTS when you're in Andy's position: You ask a STRAIGHTFORWARD question and in response receive a runaround answer. (For ex. - trying to get Kim to admit she TRULY lost her hair to cancer or she lied?) Nene was the one to make the FIRST reunion happen. It wasn't built into their schedule and didn't assume a demand for one every season w/ every series. Normally, Andy's job during these tapings is to keep them up and ready.



Andy commonly gets the sensation during reunions like the "giggles at a funeral". You're dying to laugh, but CANNOT help it. Andy reveals what exactly Danielle Staub had done to the Manzo family. What put Caroline in such an emotional state that first reunion. He/Andy has had his moments when he was too exhausted to listen to one more word or he would lose it. But he NEVER crossed that line. He recalls what TRULY happened during the New York reunion when he HAD to tell these catty, SCREAMING feuding adult women to SHUT THE **** UP!!! They all apologized to each other and moved on. At the end of the day, true emotion is the main ingredient behind a great reunion.

Nothing has changed much for Andy in his life. He usually forgets that anyone knows who he is. That is until 2010 . . . . It begins in his senior year in college. It was the year of the 1978 Academy Awards.  Starting w/ a black-and-white clip from 'The Wizard Of Oz' w/ Dorothy singing 'Over The Rainbow' that transforms into the LEGENDARY Diana Ross appearing onstage and taking over. Diana leads a live, global sing along of 'Over The Rainbow'.



Andy does bring up a REALLY GOOD point: What happened to the Oscars being Hollywood's most glamorous night? What happened to something that had such glamour and history that now anyone can join? Instead of performance, award, performance, award for 4 hours?

Andy tells the story of when he learned he was actually famous and had to account for his words & actions. It seemed as though nothing worked to be forgiven for his misjudgment. When Patti Stanger made a mistake on Watch What Happens Live!, Andy watched her as she made it right! He talks about how he ran into and was reunited w/ his first love, Susan Lucci again in 1992.

It was 'Daytime Emmy' night. Andy was now an assistant producer at 'CBS News' covering the show. He fought his way through the crowd until they were face-to-face in the frenzy. Susan ACTUALLY REMEMBERED him and who he was from YEARS AGO. That day was as imprinted in her memory just as it was Andy's!! He was floating on air. A few years later, her ran into her again at a premiere at 'The Museum Of Modern Art' of a James Bond film. He was NERVOUS, but she remembered exactly who he was. He tried to play it cool, thinking she TRULY had NO IDEA who he was. But he finally found a reason to get her on 'CBS This Morning'. But the segment was cancelled. He did get his reunion on the show after her ACTUAL Emmy win! at Watch What Happens Live!

The end just as it begins . . . . .Andy's love of Susan Lucci.

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