With all due respect to Shelter Island, it’s interesting that a prolific celebrity would choose to do a book signing in the town’s public library, as opposed to the more high-profile Hamptons neighbors to the South. But Bravo television executive and host Andy Cohen has always done things his own way. “Just be real,” he emphasizes in his newly released book, Most Talkative: Stories from the Front Lines of Pop Culture.
In a similar vein, Cohen has been out on the East End for about 20 years, much before the area was “discovered” and populated with a summer crowd in the way it is now, and he owns a house in Sag Harbor. His perfect country day? Highlighted by “legendary meals.”
“There’s nothing I like better after a long day in the city is coming out here, going to Sam’s (Pizza in East Hampton), and enjoying a glass of red wine,” says Cohen of one of his many preferred East End eateries.
Cohen’s formal title at Bravo is Executive Vice President of Development and Talent, a position he has held since November 2011. Within his role, he is perhaps best known as the executive producer on “Top Chef” and “The Real Housewives” franchises.
“My love of pop culture and TV has fueled everything,” says Cohen of his career in the television industry. Growing up in St. Louis, Mo., Cohen was addicted to the soaps, particularly “All My Children,” “Battle of the Network Stars” and “CHiPs.” Coupled with his gift of gab and magnetic energy, Cohen’s flair for the dramatic never waned. That characteristic has especially helped him to find success in the world of reality television, including “Real Housewives.”
“The show works because it gives viewers someone to love and someone to root for,” says Cohen of the series. “People watch the show and think ‘I can relate to this.’ And, it’s guilt-free gossip.”
And for people who don’t want to indulge, Cohen retorts with a simple “It’s a free country. People can watch whatever they want.” The response is in line with Cohen’s uncanny way to tune out the naysayers. That quality has served him well, as he has risen to the upper echelon of television stardom, particularly as one of the industry’s highest-profile entertainers who is also openly gay.
“I always say you get to work in TV, you don’t have to,” says Cohen. With an Emmy for Outstanding Reality Competition Program in 2010 for “Top Chef” and 11 additional Emmy nominations for his work, suffice it to say that Cohen’s love for his job is apparent onscreen and off.
At 44 years old, Cohen’s tenure in the industry has largely included stints behind the camera as a producer, though he did have his first celebrity encounter as a 19-year-old reporter interviewing Susan Lucci for a school project. (“Not just any celebrity. The Queen of Daytime…” raves Cohen.)
Prior to coming to Bravo, Cohen received a Bachelor of Arts degree in broadcast journalism from Boston University. He began has career at CBS, serving as Senior Producer of “The Early Show” for 10 years and as a producer of “48 Hours” and “CBS This Morning,” building a reputation for capturing both hard and soft news stories.
“I didn’t have any real roots in New York,” says Cohen. “I’ve now been here for 20-something years, and I’ve created a life, career and name for myself.”
After leaving CBS, Cohen landed a job at TRIO, as he became Vice President of Original Programming in July 2000. He was behind the network’s original programming, including the critically acclaimed documentary “Gay Republicans.” He came to Bravo in 2005, originally working as Senior Vice President of Original Programming & Development.
Until recently, Cohen’s career has largely revolved around a life behind the camera. But he has always been a talker—the title of his memoir is a not-too-subtle indicator. His talents most recently earned him hosting responsibilities on Bravo’s late-night show, “Watch What Happens: Live.” The talk show features celebs from Bravo’s television shows (aptly named Bravolebrities) in addition to big names like Jerry Seinfeld, Jimmy Fallon, Molly Shannon and Kelly Ripa.
On the show, Cohen reveals his energetic personality, as he fields call-in questions from viewers and allows those watching at home to truly relate to the celebs on the stage. The on-stage bartender probably helps to fuel the entertaining repertoire between Cohen and his guests.
“Both are really fun,” Cohen says of his dual television responsibilities. He also hosts reunion shows—sometimes referred to as reunion catfights, depending upon your take on the program—between the various housewives.
Though the television-watching public may only recently be getting a taste of Cohen’s personality, he has always lived his life as an entertainer and performer, as told in his memoir. He once decided to give a relentless, play-by-play account of a drive from Missouri to Florida—a stunt that earned him an iced tea shower, courtesy of his aunt, at a rest stop.
That particularly family feud notwithstanding, Cohen affirms that his relatives have always had his back.
“My mom is the best character in my book,” says Cohen. “My family has always encouraged me to do what I want.”
As to the most important aspect of reality television, Cohen affirms that it’s the “people you put on TV.” The characters on the shows are especially important.
And, Hamptonites will be pleased to know that part of the casting for the original “Real Housewives of New York City” was done impromptu at Super Saturday in Water Mill.
Cohen, who regularly traverses the country for work, will be on the East End on July 20 for a meet and greet to promote his book. The reading at the Shelter Island Public Library will be a Q&A. Attendees who regularly tune into “Watch What Happens: Live” know that Cohen has a real talent for fielding questions and curveballs. And his honestly and confidence, which all contribute to his charm, is apparent in small one-liners throughout his book. (Quick preview: “In case you’re wondering, I did have one interest that didn’t scream G-A-Y: The St. Louis Cardinals,” writes Cohen about his childhood interest in television.)
“I’ll let the audience drive the conversation,” says Cohen. “They’ll be a lot of viewer interaction.”
Shelter Island Public Library, 37 North Ferry Road. 631-749-0042, shelterislandpubliclibrary.org.