The untold truth of Watch What Happens Live
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Bravo fans are used to living in a hectic world. Do you know how much emotional labor is required to watch the Housewives have yet another wine-throwing screaming match on a luxe five star vacation, because they still haven’t learned that going on a trip with people you can’t stand always ends poorly? And really, Lisa Vanderpump has better things to do then sell gossip to Radar Online. Frankly, it’s exhausting, but sometimes, it’s not about the pasta (looking at you James and Lala from Vanderpump Rules). It’s about coming together, and Watch What Happens Live is the calm from the table-flipping, weave-pulling, sequin-clad hurricane.
Since 2009, Watch What Happens Live (WWHL) has been a chill-out space away from the emotional firestorm of our favorite Bravo reality shows. It’s the reward we get after making it out alive, and it’s almost healing to watch host Andy Cohen sip cocktails and talk shop with everyone from our favorite Bravolebrities to A-listers like Oprah Winfrey and Meryl Streep.
Since WWHL has a very laissez faire approach compared to most talk shows, pretty much anything can happen — and has happened. From guests getting absolutely plastered to on-set tiffs, here’s what actually happened live.
WHHL’s first season was more budget than you’d think
Bravo reportedly rounded off 2017 and 2018 as the No. 1 cable network for female viewers, according to NBCUniversal. While the network might be home to some of the most-watched reality shows on television, Watch What Happens Live wasn’t one of them — at least initially. The series was a whole lot more budget than you’d think, but in the words of Countess Luann de Lesseps, money can’t buy you class.
Andy Cohen started at Bravo in 2004 as the VP of Original Programming & Development. According to Deadline, he launched WWHL as an online after-show for Top Chef in 2007. It expanded the following year to Project Runway, then got a spot on the actual network as a weekly midnight show. According to USA Today, things were pretty low key in 2009 when the series made its way to television. On the day of the series premiere, the air conditioning in the studio wasn’t even working properly, so Cohen was visibly “shiny.” There was no live audience, and he had to have his friends — Sarah Jessica Parker, Liam Neeson and Jerry Seinfeld — step in as guests (mind you, you could have worse friends to be on your talk show).
Despite the series’ humble beginnings, there was a shift to bigger and better things. In an interview with Crain’s New York Business, Cohen admitted the “turning point” was when Meryl Streep appeared on the show in 2012.
Watch What Happens Live keeps its studio audience tiny
In 2018, Forbes called Watch What Happens Live “TV’s most influential bartending gig.” Needless to say, the set probably got a working air conditioning after the show’s sweat-filled premiere, but the series never strayed too far from its humble roots.The studio is purposefully small with only 25 seats on set. According to Crain’s New York Business, Cohen kept the audience minimal because he wanted it to feel like “an extension of his own Manhattan living room.” The Bravo Clubhouse was even designed to look like one of the rooms in his apartment.
Then, there’s the tiny, five-foot bar. It’s markedly small, but does the trick considering the audience-size. This feature wasn’t supposed to be permanent. According to Forbes, it was only built to fill an empty wedge of unused space after the studio got a makeover in 2012 when the series started airing five nights a week. “Back in Jan. 2012, we had a bartender each night, not intending to keep it going forever, but it worked so well that we decided that we would always have a bartender behind the bar,” Deirdre Connoly, WWHL’s executive producer, told Forbes.
Today, the Clubhouse is arguably the most exclusive bar in all of Manhattan.
What’s the story behind the unique WWHL guest pairings?
Watch What Happens Live is notorious for bizarre guest pairings. Originally, this was a symptom of being a lesser known show. The series was begging celebrities to take a seat at the Clubhouse. Today, booking talent has gotten more difficult in a totally different way. Though celebrities are clamoring for a spot on the tiny stage, finding a perfect pairing is a total toss-up.
“We want weird, but sometimes there is good weird and bad weird,” Robyn Baum, WWHL’s senior talent producer, told Crain’s New York Business. “[Journalist] Connie Chung and [Mets pitcher] Matt Harvey was weird, but it worked. We had [singer] Clay Aiken on with [porn star] Jenna Jameson —that was just fun to say. But a lot of times, it’s a guess.”
This guess doesn’t always work out. According to John Jude, a co-executive producer who spoke to The Daily Dish podcast, Atlanta Housewife Kenya Moore majorly clashed with comedian Michael Rapaport. The pair were arguing on Twitter before their appearance. “I think Andy was like, ‘This would be good TV,’ and it was, but they definitely did not like each other,” Jude admitted. Similarly, Moore clashed with Sherri Shepherd.
Cohen does have a method for mitigating the feuds and livening up an episode with poorly performing guests. The host admitted to USA Today that when something isn’t working, one of his go-to moves is to open up the phone lines and let fans call in.
The Watch What Happens Live audience used to have an open bar
The bar is perhaps one of the most infamous features on Watch What Happens Live – and much like one of the many Real Housewives weddings, there was indeed an open bar. Unfortunately, that was short-lived, which was probably wise considering there’s a high chance a bunch of intoxicated Real Housewives fans might get too turnt during Turtle Time and choose to reenact the Guidices’ infamous baptism brawl. In an interview with Crain’s New York Business, Andy Cohen revealed that guests are now limited to one drink prior to the show and two during the show.
“We realized kind of quickly that we need to have some control over how much people are drinking,” he said. “You can’t have a really drunk audience. We want them to have a good time, but the idea behind the drinking was always that it’s live at 11 p.m. If you came to my house at 11 p.m., the first thing I would do is offer you a drink.”
Considering WWHL is indeed live and it only runs for a half an hour, two drinks seems like plenty. How much were people actually drinking that they limited the audience to what’s essentially one drink every 15 minutes? This is why we can’t have nice things.
Andy Cohen sometimes got ‘hammered’ on WWHL
It’s not just the audience that enjoys WWHL’s on-set bar. The guests absolutely partake. In a Business Insider profile, senior talent producer Robyn Baum revealed that she always tries to find a guest’s favorite cocktail before they arrive on-set — and there are some celebs who have no problem downing a ton of liquid courage, even if they’re being watched by millions of people.
During his panel at the 2017 Winter TCA Press Tour (via E! News), Cohen revealed that Rosie Perez, Ricki Lake, Jussie Smollett, and Gabby Sidibe were among the Clubhouse’s heaviest drinkers. According to TV Guide, Jackée Harry and Regina King even trended for three days on Twitter following their drunken appearance, but the championship title might just go to the late night host himself. The star told TV Guide that the earliest years of the show were his rowdiest.
“I thought it was incredible that I could drink on the show. I would really slam them back and they would bring me a new drink during commercial break,” he said. “I thought I was Dean Martin. I really should take a look at what I looked like. But the early days I did used to get hammered.”
Andy Cohen always keeps it real in the WHHL Clubhouse
Everything about Watch What Happens Live feels like you’re hanging out with a group of your besties. According to The New Yorker, who called the show a “break from the drudgery of late-night TV,” the drinks are served by amateur bartenders, who are typically vaguely related to the Bravo universe (when they’re not DJ Khaled or members of LMFAO). It’s not strange for Sonja Morgan’s assistants or some guy who has actually hooked up with Cohen to be slinging drinks out of a shotski, a thing that feels concocted in the head of a production intern who was nursing a hangover after rush week. The whole series has a house party vibe, one where anything can happen. Even The Daily Beast dubbed the series the “low-rent party down the street,” which is exactly the kind of thing Cohen credits for the show’s success.
“I’m having a party, and I’m inviting everyone to it,” he told E! News, adding. “I think the secret to the success of the show is the authenticity. It’s the only live show in late night. We make mistakes, I make mistakes … It’s always an authentic experience.”
Do the Watch What Happens Live bartenders actually have to make drinks?
Watch What Happens Live really is one of the few talk shows where things are totally unscripted. According to Kevin Fallon, a journalist for The Daily Beast who appeared on the show as a bartender, celebrities aren’t pre-interviewed before going on air, which is notably different compared to late night shows like Jimmy Kimmel or daytime staples like Ellen. The bartenders also wing it, too, which isn’t that difficult considering they’re not actually required to make any drinks.
Fallon admitted he didn’t make a single cocktail while manning his post behind the bar, but he did drink plenty of them. The writer had three of Cohen’s famous “Fresquilas,” a drink made solely of Fresca and Tequila. He thought “it tasted like garbage” until his third one, at which point he was presumably tipsy enough to consider it his “favorite drink.” Leah Palmieri, the director of creative strategy at Decider, also drank Fresquilla during her appearance as a bartender in 2019. Like Fallon, she admitted her job was to “stand there and look as excited as I was to be there.” She claimed she wasn’t “prepped on anything or given directions as a bartender,” either.
Though the guests totally wing-it — which makes for some wild moments once the alcohol starts flowing — the producers actually have the series completely rehearsed. According to Business Insider, they do a run-through of the show before Cohen gets in.
The WHHL production team had a habit of popping bottles
With a show that’s pretty much a televised cocktail party, you’d expect there to be a fair amount of drinking behind-the-scenes. It’s not just Cohen, his guests, the audience, and even the bartenders who get trashed. The production crew reportedly has a habit for drinking post-show. They’re like the designated drivers of late night TV. Hey, someone has to remain sober during the actual taping.
In a profile on Business Insider, senior talent producer Robyn Baum admitted that the WWHL team always “finishes up the night with some drinks of our own.” After that, they watch the episode in their office, and it reportedly “turns into a bit of an after party.” This used to involve popping a bottle of champagne, which was saved and put on a shelf like a trophy. That tradition died when WWHL got renewed for a second season because that would be a lot of empty bottles. Just think of how annoying it would be to baby-proof the studio from The Real Housewives of New Jersey star Jennifer Aydin, should she choose to smash a champagne bottle and threaten Melissa Gorga with a broken shard — yet again.
The infamous Watch What Happens Live wheel is multipurpose
The wheel is one of the most unpredictable props in Bravo’s Clubhouse, which says a lot considering the entire show hinges on unpredictability. Though it’s become a mainstay on Watch What Happens Live, it never has the same use twice. At one point, it was adopted as the “Wheel of Weaves” in a segment where Porsha Stewart and Vivica A. Fox had to answer weave-related questions. At another point, it became a “Wheel of Poor-tune” in a segment where Lisa Vanderpump and her husband Ken Todd, who has an estimated $75 million net worth, had to answer questions that were easily answered by poor people.
It’s not just Cohen and the guests who get to enjoy the famed wheel. Sometimes producers get in on the fun, too. In a profile on Business Insider, talent producer Robyn Baum admitted that the wheel, which was built by an associate producer named Chase, is one of their favorite props. They once used it to order lunch, and it came up with pizza.
Your awesome WWHL tweet is probably saved on a Google Doc
Watch What Happens Live has cultivated a mass amount of success by making viewers at home feel like they’re part of Andy Cohen’s party. This wouldn’t be possible without the show’s extreme dedication to social media. The late night show is uniquely fueled by user comments and questions, which speaks to the way Bravo fans actually watch the network.
In a statement to Mashable, Cohen claimed the network’s audience is “the most engaged group on cable right now … they use their iPads and mobile devices to participate in real time. In a way, it’s like the audience is playing along.” In this regard, WWHL was perfectly crafted for Bravo’s already-existing audience.
According to Mashable, WWHL has two or three staffers combing the show’s Facebook and Twitter pages for comments and questions. So, yes, if you’re tweeting at Cohen while you’re watching him on TV, someone is actually reading your comments. You might even make it onto their coveted, best-of list if you’re funny or interesting enough. Research producers reportedly use a Google Doc to curate a long-running list of the most interesting conversations, comments, and threads they can find on social media. Some of these are later used on air.
Watch What Happens Live guests get the Bravolebrity makeup treatment
Fans of Bravo know the Bravolebrity look. We see it during every reunion show when rich Real Housewives and less rich Vanderpump Rules waiters slap on designer duds, cake on the foundation, and go really, really heavy with the eye shadow and falsies. In many ways, the Bravo look borders on drag, and that’s actually intentional.
In an interview with The New York Post, Watch What Happens Live’s lead makeup artist Caroline Blanchard, who’s been working with Andy Cohen for more than a decade, admitted that the glammed-out makeup look (which the network pretty much patented) helps hide blemishes in the unforgiving eye of today’s high-def cameras. “It’s a definite specific look,” she told the outlet, adding, “I always do what I’d call a ‘superglam’ look … If you watch an early season of the original Real Housewives of Orange County, there is such a huge difference.”
In addition to Watch What Happens Live, Blanchard also does the makeup for cast reunion episodes and confessionals. In this instance, she typically reaches for waterproof mascara because you never know when a Bravoleb is going to be bullied by her castmates enough to burst into tears or get accidentally pulled off of a ship deck. Let’s not even talk about what would happen if someone flippantly smudged their eye makeup while trying to overturn a dinner table.
WWHL tickets are the hardest to get in New York
The Bravo Clubhouse is one of the most exclusive bars in New York City. It’s harder to get tickets than Hamilton. It’s even more exclusive than the notorious speakeasy Please Don’t Tell, which has patrons dial up to the bar in a phone booth attached to a hot dog restaurant. Even Saturday Night Live’s Stefan probably couldn’t get a ticket, and Fresquilas make the national White Claw shortage look like there’s an entire ocean of the stuff. So, how does a normal person actually get into Watch What Happens Live? You’re better off wasting your time waiting in line for a Cronut at Dominique Ansel Bakery. At least you’d have something to show for it.
In an episode of The Daily Dish podcast, WWHL Talent Associate Producer Anthony Lella admitted there’s “no real way out there to get tickets. It’s the hardest ticket to get in New York City.” The only way is to try your luck in a charity auction or, according to Lella, “if you’re cute” and “a single gay guy in New York City.” Story Associate Producer Danny Visconti concurred that a simple flirt goes a long way. “You flirt with Anthony and me at the bar on Friday night … we’re very easy to trick and gullible. If you pretend you’re interested in us, we will give you tickets,” he said. Just don’t order them a Fresquila. The pair prefer vodka.