bill bodkin goes behind-the-scenes on bravo’s late-night talk show…
Bravo has come a long way in the past 20 years. Yes, before there were any housewives or top chefs, the network was the playground for foreign and independent film. Yes, for nearly two decades it was Fellini not Frankel that fueled the network.
But in the early 2000s it all changed due to the involvement of a silver-foxed TV exec from St. Louis named Andy Cohen. Cohen changed the entire culture of the network by developing shows like: Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, Project Runway, The Housewives franchise and Top Chef.
Bravo went from costume dramas and period pieces to a hub of pop culture, a haven for the hash tag culture and it has Cohen to thank for it.
Then in 2009, Cohen developed a new project which has become the cornerstone of the network — his own late night talk show, Watch What Happens: Live. The show is a 30 minute late night talk show set in the ‘Bravo TV Clubhouse,’ an intimate stage where Cohen and his guests (usually stars of the shows he’s created, actors from the NBC Universal family or just those really relevant actors/celebs/personalities from the world of pop culture) gossip, play games and more often than not, get a little tipsy.
The show has become a cult favorite — the late night talk show for pop culture junkies. The usual talk show format has been thrown out the window. The lame one-liners and stodgy host persona has been replaced with the charming yet cutting wit of the absolutely intoxicating personality of Cohen.
Last month Pop-Break.com was able to attend a taping of the show and soak in all the behind-the-scenes and off-air events of the show.
The Taping: Wednesday, February 15th — The Height of LINsanity
The Guests: The most random coupling of the diminutive hip-hop diva Lil’ Kim and the lanky host of MSNBC’s Cup of Joe, Willie Geist.
The Guest Bartender: Beverly ‘Bev’ Kim, who was just eliminated on the evening’s episode of Top Chef: Dallas.
Special Guest Appearance: The voice of Randall — “The Honey Badger Guy.”
The Pre-Show: My wife and I entered the Embassy Row Studio where Watch What Happens: Live is filmed. We were greeted by the sounds of Andy Cohen rehearsing his lines for the evening in the studio, which was closed to the audience. We turned a corner and literally ran into the extremely tall Willie Geist. An affable fellow, Geist shook both our hands and walked off to get his make-up done. While we waited for the show to start we sat in the lobby of the studio where we were given complimentary drinks. Yes, the guests aren’t the only ones who get a little tipsy at WWHL. Free booze is something one cannot pass up, I mean that’s pretty rude, right? Luckily, our bartenders were a little heavy-handed with their pours, causing me to be nice and loose for the taping.
We’re In the Studio: The Bravo TV Clubhouse is actually quite intimate. We were informed that the 24 people in studio on this evening was one of the largest they had on the show in a while. We were then given the run down on when to cheer, to have a lot of energy and most importantly enjoy the show. Outside of Cohen, the guests and the guest bartender there were a handful of camera people who sat amongst the audience and a few onset production people, one who would motivate us on when to react.
The big shock of the night was when Bev, who was being eliminated on air from Top Chef as she walked into the studio. There was a collective ‘aww’ from the crowd as she was one of the true fan favorites of the the season. While we waited for the main guests to arrive, Bev was filmed asking some questions, which we would later find out, were to be used a few weeks later during the show’s ‘Plead the Fifth’ Segment. Her questions were used when her fellow Top Chef contestant and on-air rival Sarah Grueneberg came on WWHL.
Willie Geist and Lil’ Kim then made their way onto the set. The height disparity between these two is ridiculous. They don’t call her Lil’ Kim for nothing. During every commercial break her make-up and hair were retouched, while Geist, sporting a Jeremy Lin t-shirt, enjoyed his complimentary whiskey.
Andy Cohen ran through a few last minute production notes and ideas with the producers that came through his cleverly unseen ear piece.
The countdown from the production team began and…
And We’re Watching What Happens Live: First off, let me give me major props to the sound team at WWHL — the noise in that studio was near deafening but when I watched the episode on DVR, the sound was perfect, not drowning out Andy Cohen or the guests at all.
The guests for the evening, despite their nearly illogical pairing, had a very nice chemistry. Giest’s wry and dry sense of humor and quick-on-his-feet reactions perfectly complemented the tiny hip-hopstress’ bubbly and sometimes out there persona and comments. In fact when Cohen grilled Geist’s knowledge of Lil’ Kim, he surprised both the audience and Lil’ Kim with how much he knew about her.
Outside of just being a funny guy and cross-promoting Andy Cohen’s appearance on Morning Joe the following morning, Geist’s reason to be on the show was kinda random.
Lil’ Kim’s best moments came during her reactions to Nikki Minaj’s now infamous Grammy performance. The two divas had/have quite a public feud and Kim’s criticisms made for a lot of ‘oh damn!’ moments. She had tried very hard to avoid the subject of the feud and focus on promoting her new single, but the calls, tweets and Facebook posts received on the show and during the post-show were all about her thoughts on Minaj.
There was one real tender moment when she was asked about the Notorious B.I.G.’s influence on her career and Kim started to well up. Real tears could be from seen from my vantage point.
The Fun & Games: The best part of WWHL is the game segments. Both guests must take part in the show’s ‘Plead the Fifth’ segment where they must answer very, very personal questions and they can plead the fifth only once. Neither Geist nor Kim pleaded the fifth, which is not a common occurrence on the show.
Then came the actual ‘game time’ segment. Lil’ Kim was blindfolded and then, in honor of her famous pastie appearance at the VMA’s, had to ‘put a pastie on the willie.’ Kim was able to stick one of the pasties, which was a sticker with Andy’s face on it, on Geist’s chest.
This segment is a definite audience pleaser. Cohen is such a party-provoker as a host that you could barely hear anything with the amount of noise he was bringing out of the audience.
The show came to a close with WWHL’s Wednesday night tradition of Cohen and his guests partaking in the ‘Jimmy Fallon Shot-Ski.’ Yes, this literally a ski with three shot glasses glued to it. The trio, worked out the height logistics of the shot and pounded it with gusto as the ‘credits’ rolled.
The After Show: The After Show happens on BravoTV.com and is basically a long form Q&A segment where they field calls and tweets. The focus of this segment was heavy on Lil’ Kim’s feud with Nikki Minaj.
The fun part was Lil’ Kim was more than a little tipsy due to her whiskey imbibing. No, she wasn’t sloppy, but let’s say she was much looser on set. Geist, also seemed to enjoy the warm whiskey running through his veins.
And We’re a Wrap: The show ended with a thunderous roar of applause. Geist and Kim both walked out of studio first. Andy Cohen then thanked everyone for coming in and then came shook a lot of hands. He was a very gracious host and that’s what makes this show works. You legitimately like Andy Cohen, he seems like a guy you want to hang out with, have some drinks and gab about pop culture with.
Final Thoughts: It’s kinda surreal being on a live TV set. Watching a TV production unfold before, especially one you’ve watched religiously, is almost like an out of body experience. The graphics you’re expecting to see don’t appear. You can see the teleprompter with the show’s script on it and you wonder, how does Andy Cohen spout of these long, elaborate, sometimes tongue twisting monologues and introductions? It’s also crazy to see how Cohen works the crowd — he’s a natural. He has this charisma that really sucks you in, you kinda sit there with your chin on your hands in a ‘tell me more Andy’ kinda way. And when it comes to wrangling the guests — he’s the ultimate orchestrator. He knows when to pry, to badger the guests a little more for a juicy soundbite as well as knowing when to move on from questions not being answered. He was able to make two guests, from two radically different walks of life, work together in comedic harmony. That’s talent.
Watch What Happens Live airs Sunday-Thursday night at 11:30 on Bravo.