And when Cohen wants something to happen, he wills it into existence. That's the power of Cohen, who, in the past decade, became one of the most powerful men in popular culture. He hosts a nightly talk show called Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen and has his own radio channel called Radio Andy. On top of that, he's the executive producer of the Real Housewives franchise, where he frequently appears as host of the reunions. He has his own imprint, Andy Cohen books, as well as two Peabody awards to his name. Andy Cohen isn't just a celebrity — he's an empire.
He started out as a broadcast journalist.
Cohen emerged from the world of broadcast journalism, a field that's increasingly amorphous. What is broadcast journalism when the news is entertainment and entertainment is news? Cohen is a pseudo-David Letterman for the era of reality television. While David Letterman got his start as a radio host, Cohen began as a behind the scenes producer of the news. According to Cohen's memoir Most Talkative: Stories from the Front Lines of Pop Culture, Cohen worked for more than 10 years at CBS, where he started as an intern. (This is, for someone who now sips martinis on TV each night, a fairly banal start to his career. Who stays somewhere for 10 years anymore?) By the end of his tenure there, Cohen was a senior producer.
Through pure happenstance, Cohen moved to Bravo.
Bravo purchased the network Trio in 2004, adding Cohen as an executive as a result. (Cohen moved to Trio in 2000, as per a 2009 New York Times profile.) In 2004, he became Vice President, Original Programming at Bravo (which was and still is a subsidiary of NBCUniversal). As VP, he oversaw some of Bravo's tentpole television shows, like Top Chef, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, and Project Runway.
But, in his 10 years as a Bravo exec, something strange started happening. Andy Cohen, the businessman, became Andy Cohen, the personality. Bravo ordered a series called The Real Housewives in 2005, which started airing on the network in 2006. (A fun fact: The original title for RHONY was Manhattan Moms.)
Then, Andy Cohen started appearing on TV.
He first hosted a reunion show in 2007. Cohen mediated a conversation between the Real Housewives of Orange County, the first of the Real Housewives franchises. Speaking to People in 2017, Cohen joked that, at the time, he was faking it.
"It was a real big deal,” Cohen said of his first on TV hosting gig. “I was really nervous, and you can see it on how my lips are. If you ever see the show, I am trying to be comfortable, and my face is a little tense. I’m trying to be relaxed — I’m, like, pretending to be a TV host." He'd hosted a web show before, a Top Chef companion piece that looked like an early version of Watch What Happens Live.
By the time Real Housewives of New York City rolled around, Cohen was the go-to host for the reunion episodes, which happened once per season.
Following his Real Housewives hosting gig, Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen happened.
Cohen's first hosting gig, for the record, was called "Real Housewives Confess: A Watch What Happens Special." Watch What Happens Live debuted in 2009, only two years after Cohen first started hosting Housewives reunions. The Times profiled him at this time because he was an anomaly: Cohen was a high-level exec working overtime to host a late-night talk show. When it premiered, WWHL was on only two nights a week. Cohen also wasn't the mind behind WWHL. If he were, he might've made it an easier gig.
"If I had green-lit my own show, do you think I would have made it once a week at midnight on Thursday? For only 12 weeks? Give me 10 o’clock. An hour. Monday nights," he told the Times. Still, the show had an appeal, and it was pulling in viewers — at least 700,000 per episode, according to the Times.
But he still had a day job. In 2014, Cohen stepped down from his executive role to focus on WWHL. Additionally, the show moved to five nights a week. Cohen was officially a late night television host.
Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen becomes an entertainment juggernaut.
Allow me to editorialize here: WWHL introduced a new type of late night talk show. Guests, coaxed by the seemingly cozy environment, weren't afraid of speaking out of turn. It's a publicist's nightmare. It's the show where Martha Stewart said pumpkin spice was "basic." It's where Mariah Carey played "Does! She! Know! Her!," a game that pokes fun at Carey's infamous "I don't know her" comment. It's also the show where Ryan Reynolds admitted that The Green Lantern was a flop. Cohen is playful, and guests are much looser than they would be in other contexts. Cocktails help, of course.
WWHL gave way to Radio Andy, which gave way to Cohen's brief Riverdale cameo. That's how deep Andy Cohen's relationship to pop culture goes — he can appear on the teen's fave show as himself. (He also appeared in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt as himself.) Cohen succeeds because he celebrates the increasingly permeable barrier between pop culture fandom and pop culture himself. Cohen loves Real Housewives; he's also the boss of Real Housewives. He loves celebrity culture; he's also a celebrity. He loves Riverdale. Well, damn. Get him on Riverdale! Andy Cohen's empire might just be big enough for all of us to live in it.