How Deirdre Connolly, Showrunner of Watch What Happens Live , Is Handling the ‘Scandoval’
For Bravo fans, no job is more interesting and enviable than that of Watch What Happens Live showrunner and executive producer, a position Deirdre Connolly has held since day one. Andy Cohen may host the interactive late-night talk show, but even he is in awe of her. “She hears and sees everything,” he tells me via email. “A true keeper of secrets!”
It's no surprise then that Connolly has been inundated with messages from just about everyone in her life—even friends she hasn't heard from in a long time—ever since it broke that Vanderpump Rules star Tom Sandoval has been cheating on his longtime girlfriend Ariana Madix with costar Raquel Leviss. While gossip feeds the Bravo Extended Universe news cycle every day, Connolly and her team consider this event a particular outlier. A scandal so big even the least Bravo-literate wants to know what's going on.
But ever the professional, Connolly is mostly just focused on how WWHL will cover it in the coming weeks. “It affects our booking,” she says, adding that Vanderpump Rules's Katie Maloney was originally booked as the guest for tonight's show (Wednesday, March 8). But then the reality series went back into production, which meant the cast was no longer available. “So then it went to figuring out who's the right person instead,” she says. “We definitely want to make sure we're live that night, because the conversation is taking over the internet. We want to respond to all the fans and what they're asking. Lisa Vanderpump made the most sense, and thankfully, she's available and coming. We're all very much looking forward to Wednesday, as is any Bravo fan out there.”
That ability to stay steady and unflappable, even in the most chaotic of times, is what makes Connolly so perfectly suited for live TV. As Cohen says, “There isn't a day that I don't think, I’m so glad Deirdre is here, but the last time was when I walked into rehearse our first of five BravoCon shows at the Hammerstein Ballroom. This was our most high-pressure, maximum-exposure week with everything on the line, and she was as cool as a cucumber. It allowed me to breathe and have fun. That’s how an executive producer should make you feel.”
For Glamour's latest Doing the Work, we sat down with Connolly to discuss how she got her job, what Bravo show she loves most, and more.
Glamour: I assume the conversations started almost immediately on Friday about how to cover this Vanderpump Rules news on the show?
Deirdre Connolly: We're already reacting to it in real time, because everyone that works here are also huge fans of the show. We're somewhere between fans and producers. So we are going to put the show together this week and make sure we're addressing the big questions and handling it with care. We want to make sure that everyone feels heard and are satisfied by the conversation that we're having on Watch What Happens Live.
It must be an exciting time, as a producer.
I know. You do have this heartbreak. Real people's lives happening and unfolding and being affected negatively. This cast has a great relationship with our team. They're lovely and always so gracious when they're here, and I think they have pretty friendly relationships with our team. So there's a part of us that's a little more invested and feeling sad that this is happening.
But then also, there's this insatiable fandom where you're shocked and need to know more. In a weird way, yes, it's a little energizing because we are a live television show. We respond to things. When there's something this big that we know the fans are looking to us to address, it's energizing. We have this platform where Andy can address all of the things that are happening on social media. That's what we do best. That's what the origin of the show was—we were coming along at the same time that Twitter was becoming a big thing and responding to things. We are a fan show, so we love our fans and want to be able to have this two-way conversation. So we're going to be addressing the questions that are online. We're going to have our normal video callers and everything. It's a way to continue this big conversation that's happening around Bravo right now.
How much percentage of the show is preplanned and how much is reaction?
It's 50/50, really. We have a road map of what we're going to do and talk about; we have our games and know the big things that are going to happen. But we are live, so we can't always predict what people are going to say or what questions might come up during the half hour. Andy may want to skip something because the conversation he's having with the guest in the studio is better than what we had planned. So we're very nimble. We respond to things. I love live TV because of that. It's very exciting. Andy loves live TV because even if there is chaos; he thrives on that. He's a great reactor. It's an energizing thing to have something that we know we're in a position to address in a unique way.
You have what so many people would consider a dream job. Could you walk us through your morning routine? What time do you get up?
I don't think I have a routine anymore now that I have a two-and-a-half-year-old. My schedule is different each week because our production schedule might change depending on the guests or Andy's schedule. We try to be live as much as possible. My partner also works in television, so his schedule changes a lot too. The only consistent thing is that I am up by 7 a.m. with a toddler. Some days I take her to school, and some days she's home with me. It's nice to have a schedule like this because I do think I have more time with her than I would with some kind of 9-to-5. I come in later in the day—we work sometimes at night—so I'm there to put her to bed and then come into the show. It's atypical, but it suits me and our family needs.
How many days a week do you work?
You're never really off. I think anyone in any industry will probably feel the same way. But the nice thing is that I've been here since day one. This is a second family for me. So I feel like it gives me as much balance as a show and this industry could. We have three production days a week, and we're working from home otherwise. It's demanding and, like I said, a little atypical because we're working at night, but we do make sure the staff and ourselves find balance in our lives to be able to have some downtime when we're not shooting.
Since you work more evenings than a typical 9-to-5 job, what is your nighttime routine like?
Well, I am a night owl. I'm not a morning person, never have been. So, for many reasons, this is a dream job. But now, being the mom of a toddler, the second the show ends I'm out the door and trying to get in bed within a half hour. If I can't shut my brain off, I listen to my Calm app sleep story, and hopefully, that does the trick.
If you’ve had a really productive day, do you have any ways you like to unwind or treat yourself?
The thing I love to do the most, which really helps me unwind, is Pilates with Nofar Method. I'm trying to commit to doing that at least a few times a week. That is my zone-out time. I can't check my work stuff, and I feel really energized after. It's my treat.
When you were growing up, what was your dream job?
When I was really little, 9 or 10, I wanted to be a fashion designer. I would draw dresses constantly that all looked basically the same: giant shoulder pads and little waists, very ’80s. My grandmother's from Ireland, so she would stay with us for long periods of time when I was a little kid and she'd always watch Falcon Crest, Dynasty, Dallas, or Federal Hospital. Big women, big hair, big dresses. I was inspired. That was my first dream job, but I didn't have any drawing talent, so it became an obsession with pop culture instead.
When did you first feel like TV production was the path for you?
Honestly, it wasn't something I'd ever considered as a child because it was so far out of reach. I grew up in the suburbs outside Boston and didn't know anybody in the entertainment industry. I didn't know that was really a thing. I went to college as a political science major. And then my mom met a woman who worked at MTV. I was graduating college, so my mom said, “Oh, I have a daughter who would love to work there. I know she's a big MTV fan.” And I bugged that woman until she was nice to me and gave me my first big break. I moved to New York based on having a two-week freelance job doing this new music week at MTV. Everyone thought I was crazy because it was so unstable and so little money. I was living in a studio apartment with another girl. But that was my first big break. I saw all the different things—production, publicity, booking, all the different facets—and it really piqued my interest. I knew that, whether or not I was doing the right job, I was in the right place. That's a really important thing I want to tell younger people: Even if you're not doing the job you're dreaming about, as long as you see other people that you aspire to be around you and you're in a place that feels like the right fit for you, that's an important step in your career.
That’s good advice. What’s the best career advice you've gotten?
Well, my best advice is to be kind, because you never know when and in what capacity you're going to meet the people that you interact with. Beyond that, my mom's work ethic has been a big part of my career. She's a really hard worker. In their 50s, my parents started their own business, an Irish Art Gallery. It showed me that at any point in your career you can pivot and start something new, and it can be a lot more fulfilling than what you had been doing. That's always been inspiring to me—to remember that you're never stuck. There's always some new adventure around the corner, and to like what you do is really important.
Do you have a moment where you thought: Oh, I'm successful?
When we started this show, almost 14 years ago, it was only supposed to be three months long. It was just the summer of 2009, which is very typical for TV, to have a short freelance gig. When the show started to grow and we'd get pickups and increments, I thought, Oh my gosh, I feel really proud of what we've done here. People are talking about it, they're watching. It feels like we're all on this wild ride. Because I helped build it, I felt successful and proud of what we were doing. And we were getting great bookings. We had Oprah on in the early days, Meryl Streep. I felt really…yeah, that was the first time I felt successful.
Oprah and Meryl Streep are huge gets. Is there a guest that left you a little starstruck or was a personal goal for you to book?
Hillary Clinton. I was pregnant when we finally worked out the booking with her, which was March of 2020. She came, and we had this wonderful conversation about raising a daughter. It was a pinch-me moment. She ended up coming back this year, and I brought my daughter to meet her. So it was full circle. That meant a lot. She's somebody I admire so much, and Chelsea was here so we were able to talk about raising a daughter as well. It was cool.
Do you have a favorite part of the job?
I love when the shows are shooting because they're very entertaining. We all have so much fun. But I think my favorite part of this job is the team. Honestly, I really am proud of this team. It's such a good environment. Everyone is funny, creative, and positive. Andy certainly sets that tone. He jokes around so much, and it's a really lovely place to come to. Just coming here is a great part of my day. It's nice to see everybody.
When you hire, what do you look for new in people?
I look for people who are problem solvers, resourceful, collaborators, generally seem like good team members. I don't think it's about exact experience because every single job is different. No matter what level you're at, you have a lot of learning to do when you go into a specific new place. But generally being curious, being resourceful, being somebody who can take things in stride and work well under pressure, especially in this environment, are qualities that we look for.
Do you have questions you ask in an interview to try to suss that out or green flags you look for?
I would point-blank ask, “On your last job, was there a specific problem that arose that you ended up troubleshooting in a way that was unexpected?” Or I just ask about their last experience. You get a sense. Also, I like asking people what they like watching and seeing how excited they are to talk about those things. It's a really good indicator of how curious somebody is, and their passion for pop culture is something that is a prerequisite here, for sure.
What have you learned the most about leadership since you’ve entered this role?
That no one teaches you how to be a leader. People take on management roles without really being taught management skills. So, for me, leadership is trying to understand the people you're motivating and to know that not one style fits all. You really do have to try to figure out what makes people tick, lead by example, and be a person who's present and engaged. Leadership isn't standing on the sidelines. You have to get in there and set the example.
Thinking back to the best boss you ever had, what’s something that made them that way?
I'm not just saying this for the article: Andy is the best boss I've ever had. Because he was a producer, he's extremely decisive. You always know where you stand with him. For me, you have to be an honest leader and a direct leader. If people start to feel that they can't trust what you're saying about them when they leave a room, or there's toxicity, it just doesn't work. Andy is direct and constructively critical. It's a really good example to me of how to be with other people, to make sure that I'm giving constructive criticism where it's needed, helping to guide people through their careers, and taking their careers just as seriously as my own. He does that for me, for sure.
Sometimes taking feedback is really hard for people. How have you dealt with criticism through your career, and what would your advice be to somebody who's more junior on a team?
It's not hurtful if people are giving you constructive criticism to make you better and to solve a problem. They see something that's not going well, and they want to correct course. It's a gift to be able to take that in and internalize it and figure out what you're going to do differently. The worst thing you can do with constructive criticism is take it personally or be defensive or feel like it's motivated by something else. I just make sure I'm learning from it.
How have you dealt with rejection in your career, like when there’s a job you wanted and didn’t get?
Any rejection is just a decision that gets made for you. I've spent so much time worrying about what I would do if I get an offer, and then it doesn't come and I think, Wow, I wasted a lot of time worrying about that, and it didn't work out. That's just the way it is. It's somebody making a decision for you about something that wasn't meant for you. So it doesn't trip me up.
Do you have a go-to thank you gift?
One of my shortcomings is gift giving. I wish I was a better gift giver. I'm a flowers or wine person, which is nice, but I wish I was somebody that could think, Oh my gosh, this is the perfect thing for that person. That's not me.
So how do you show appreciation for your team or people that you work with?
It's more about making sure that they're rewarded with things in my capacity, which are days off here and there. At BravoCon we had this insane time, so just making sure that there was space to have downtime on the end of that. Just helping people to find as much balance as possible is probably my contribution as a, quote-unquote, gift.
You’ve been with *__Watch What Happens Live __*since the beginning. Is there a period that was the most challenging, and how did you work through that?
For me, it was those early days. We knew we had something special, but the uncertainty of freelance world means you don't know what's going to happen next. I was having some self-doubt and wondering how long it would go on. I've been at other jobs where you think you have something on your hands that's going to work, and for whatever reason it doesn't. There's always that possibility. But it was a good challenge because it was a very fun time. We were experimenting and figuring ourselves out and who we were going to be. And it was all about Andy's personality—we leaned into that and created a cocktail party.
For a show that’s been on so long, how do you keep it fresh and new ideas generating?
We really listen to the audience—what they want to see, what they're interested in. Hiring people who have different interests and points of view is really important as well because we're very collaborative here. It really is about your staff; they're who keep ideas fresh. It's important to find people who have varied interests and backgrounds and everything so we can make sure we are reacting to all different kinds of things.
How involved are you in BravoCon?
A lot. We creatively produce all of the panels as well as all five Watch What Happens Live tapings that happened there. We are very much in it, and it's an extremely taxing time. There's a lot of moving parts, but it's so exciting. I started my career working on Total Request Live at MTV, and that level of fandom for preteens is the same level of fandom women in their 30s and 40s have for Bravo. It's very special to walk around and see that what you work on is this real cultural touchpoint and something that matters so much to people. It brings so much joy to people and unites them. I've met people who are good friends by just having an offhand conversation about Bravo.
Any goals for future BravoCons?
You always learn things to do better. If there is a next BravoCon, which I really hope there is, I just want to make sure again that it feels like a very rewarding fan experience. Seeing the crossover of different Bravo shows is what people really liked about BravoCon on Watch What Happens Live. People they wouldn't see interact on reunion shows and everything else. So that's a huge priority for us.
If you weren’t doing this job, what would you be doing?
I'd want to be a career counselor. I really enjoy helping people figure out what their strengths are. As women, we often feel negative about some of our shortcomings. Personally, I'm a procrastinator by nature and used to always beat myself up about that. And then I come to live TV, and it's all about deadlines and rising to the occasion. Being a procrastinator is a good thing. So I'd like to help people to not be so hard on themselves, particularly women. I like helping people see themselves for the strengths that they have, rather than focusing on what they perceive as negatives.
Last question: Do you have a favorite Bravo show? Or is that too controversial to ask?
It really fluctuates. Right now I clearly couldn't be more invested in a show than Vanderpump Rules. I can't get enough of what's happening. Because I live in New York and have watched Real Housewives of New York from day one, that also holds a very special place in my heart. I'm very, very excited to see the new iteration. That's probably my first love.
Anna Moeslein is the deputy editor at Glamour.
Originally Appeared on Glamour