Is Andy Cohen the smartest man working in television? You may not think so, but it’s hard to argue otherwise. How many other television executives can you name who host their own nightly talk show on the network that employs them -- a show on which they unapologetically promote their work, their product, and, by extension, their own careers?
Cohen, the chatty and cheeky executive vice president of development and talent for Bravo, has hosted the live late-night talk show “Watch What Happens: Live” since 2009, but it had never been considered an official competitor in the late-night talk arena because it had only been telecast once or twice a twice a week, generally on Sundays and Mondays (at 11 p.m. ET). But last week Cohen further formalized the franchise, expanding “WWHL” to five nights a week (Sunday-Thursday). “WWHL” now officially enjoys the distinction of being the only live late-night talk show on television.
There is always something special about live television, regardless of its daypart. (Just think about how the life goes right out of “The View” and “Live with Kelly” when they pre-tape shows.) Certainly, being live is crucial to the success of home-shopping channels, whose perky and polished hosts gamely move merchandise while providing companionship for viewers, especially late at night. The possibility of live interaction, primarily in the form of phone calls to hosts, is an added attraction. Live television doesn’t always work as well as it should -- consider OWN’s “The Rosie Show,” which feels oddly subdued much of the time. But when it’s done right, it rocks, G4’s nightly “Attack of the Show” being the best example.
I can’t remember a time, dating all the way back to the glory days of radio, when people did not enjoy listening to other people talk in a live format, especially if that format invites audience interaction. This is particularly true at night. So it has always surprised me that basic cable has largely stayed away from live programming, except for news channels (which aren’t always as live as they would have people believe) and home-shopping networks. I have always wondered why MTV wasn’t live in late prime time or late night when live programming would seem to be a magnet for its target audience. (Are you listening, Ryan Seacrest and Mark Cuban? I can think of no better way to instantly separate AXS TV from the pack.)
Similarly, I have always said that Syfy should be a live network on Saturday nights, encouraging the kind of audience interaction for its cheese-tastic monster movies that Cohen generates for the desperate housewives and harried chefs on his network. Cohen is proving that it can be done in a modest but effective way within a reasonable budget. (I assume the budget for “WWHL” is reasonable, as I don’t think Bravo would go with it if it weren’t cost-effective.) It would seem that the promotional value for other shows on the network alone would be worth the expense.
Of course, “WWHL” isn’t just a live television show. It’s a one-man multi- and social-media bonanza. Cohen gamely encourages his viewers to email, post to the show’s Facebook wall, tweet and call him during each telecast. (“We have one operator standing by,” he likes to joke.) He welcomes texts and sometimes reads them on air, especially when they come from celebrities. Further, he serves up polls that often relate in some way to one of his guests and asks viewers to participate via text.
Guests on “WWHL” are still primarily Bravolebrities, or they are famous people who love Bravo shows, like Kelly Ripa, Mark Consuelos, Jimmy Fallon and Anderson Cooper (all of whom happen to excel at live television). Expect more celebrities of all stripes to appear with even greater frequency now that “WWHL” is an official daily buzz-building talk program. It’s certainly a friendly outlet for those who have something to promote and want to have fun doing it; cocktails are served to guests as well as the show’s small studio audience during each show.
In another smart touch, Cohen interviews his guests on a very small set that is known as the Clubhouse. More of a nest than a typical talk show set, the Clubhouse looks like a cluttered den or office. (It is supposedly inspired by a room in Cohen’s home.) It’s filled with all sorts of neat things, some of them Cohen’s own personal treasures (like the very visible set of Childcraft Encyclopedias, which Cohen has said were kept in his basement when he was a kid). The atmosphere this creates for the viewer is one of genial, real- time intimacy, the likes of which can be particularly welcoming for anyone who is watching television at 11 p.m., particularly if they are doing so alone.