At most TV tapings, you're met by a production assistant wielding a clipboard who directs you to stand in a very long line. At Watch What Happens Live, you're met by an associate producer behind a fully stocked bar who just can't wait to make you a drink. (For full disclosure, it's not actually a proper bar, but more of a welcome desk piled with liquor handles and soda cans. Still, it gets the job done.) Audience members are encouraged to mingle amongst themselves. "You all came with someone, but you might leave with someone else!" the bartender/associate producer chimed as Chrissy Teigen walked by in search of the (public) restroom down the hall and all of the straight men
died tried not to stare.
The audience is small — really small by television standards — totaling just 20 souls. About half of the gang at Monday night's taping won their seats in a charity auction, which is fairly standard for the show. In other words, these are people who paid, and even traveled, to be here. Combine die-hard fans with a splash of Fresquila (Andy Cohen's signature drink: Fresca and tequila, which I highly recommend), one Sports Illustrated swimsuit model, and a slightly nervous LL Cool J, and you've got a recipe for a pretty good time.
In keeping with the intimate nature of the operation, there isn't a formal green room (hence, Teigen chillin' in the hallway). Rather, various production execs' offices get transformed into "dressing rooms" for the guests. Sometimes the furniture gets cleared out for this purpose; sometimes it doesn't. No one really seems to care either way. Andy does have his own official dressing room, which looks like an extremely well-lit walk-in closet and is attached to the control room — thereby making its location pretty much the least private possible. When I asked if anyone's allowed inside, Andy quipped, "If you can fit, you're welcome." (Sadly, I couldn't.)
Everywhere are signs of Andy Cohen's fandom. Paintings and needlepoint pillows (of both Andy and his dog, Wacha, who happily roams backstage) seem to be popular items, but there are more unusual homages as well. Andy showed off a portrait of himself made entirely of Tic Tacs, which was displayed on a coffee table in his office. (Side note: If anyone ever makes you a portrait entirely made out of Tic Tacs, it's safe to say you've made it. It's also probably safe to say that you've struck a chord with pop culture... which brings us back to the drinking.)
From the beginning, one of the markers that has set Watch What Happens Live apart from its predecessors has been the free-flowing alcohol for both host and guests (and, as was mentioned earlier, the audience).
"In the early days of the show, I would get loaded and 20 minutes into the show I would be reading the teleprompter and it would just be — well, I would feel like I was careening towards the end of the show," Andy laughed as we took our seats in the Clubhouse and I realized I might be sitting in the exact same chair where Oprah once sat. "We were on at midnight and I was so excited that I could actually drink," Cohen explained.
His initial enthusiasm waned a bit, however, as common sense took hold. "I did have a point about 15 episodes in where I thought, 'You know, maybe I should drink a little slower,'" he admitted before adding, "Then there was a period of time where I didn't drink at all and I thought, 'Wow, I'm actually a little bit better when I don't drink.'" That said, for the record, he's now back on the sauce, but in wise moderation.
Even though he had a bit of a learning curve in terms of how much liquor to down during a broadcast, Andy feels no responsibility for making sure his guests make good choices. "It's a live TV show!" he exclaims when I ask if he's ever advised a guest to slow down. "Everyone makes their own moment out of it and we just let it happen." It's also worth noting, though, that the guest celebrity bartenders (Marilu Henner was behind the bar on the night I was in attendance) don't technically make the drinks. That task falls to the show's PAs, whom Andy praises as "incredible bartenders."
Booze is where Andy draws the proverbial substance line, however — even on April 20, known as 420 among marijuana enthusiasts. "I would never smoke dope before a show, even though I'm a legendary dope-smoker," he revealed. "I just wouldn't. I feel like it wouldn't lend itself well to TV."
Of course, Cohen's loose, booze-sprinkled format does lend itself well to TV, and he credits this approach with helping his guests feel comfortable enough to open up about topics they otherwise might not. When asked about the recent jaw-dropping moment when Scott Eastwood revealed it was his girlfriend who joined Ashton Kutcher for his infamous Las Vegas romp, Andy admitted even he was floored. "That was huge," the host mused. "He just handed that to me. I couldn't believe it. There are so many shows where I walk into the control room and say, 'I can't believe that just happened.'" But what does he say to the guests after they've just dropped a bombshell like that?
With Eastwood, "I leaned in to him and I said, 'That was amazing,'" Andy recalled. "And he said, 'I wonder if I'm going to get in trouble.' Then I said, 'Well, you wound up saying very nice things about Ashton Kutcher and you know you have a movie coming out and it'll be in the churn the day your movie comes out." As usual, Cohen wasn't wrong. (Though there's no official word on whether Eastwood did get a private slap on the wrist from any of the parties he called out.)
As for future guests, Cohen hopes to get the first interview with The Real Housewive of New Jersey star Teresa Giudice when she gets out of jail, but is lukewarm on Hillary Clinton. "I don't think she would say a thing," he lamented. "I love the idea, but she's the biggest Stonewall Jackson I've ever seen." Dierdre Connolly, executive producer on the show, admitted that they've been trying to pin down current First Lady Michelle Obama as well as Madonna, but have, as of yet, been unsuccessful.
Still, it's undeniable that the list of heavyweights Andy has been able to corral into the Clubhouse far exceeds the list of those playing hard to get. Despite its success, however, there are no plans to move the operation to a bigger or more formal space. "We love it so much, honestly, that would kill the charm," Connolly explained.
Asked if he has any pre-show rituals — especially when he's joined by megawatt stars — Andy shrugged and said, "I eat the same thing every time. Grilled chicken with onions and a little pita." I imagine Cohen noshing on onions while Lady Gaga peed in a cup in some random person's office-turned-green room to avoid walking to the bathroom down the hall and agreed: Moving to a professional studio where stars didn't have to pass the audience's pre-show cocktail party to get to the loo would definitely kill the show's charm.