It’s a depressing exercise to watch the late-night talk show circuit these days, in which celebrities promoting movies expertly execute rehearsed stories that hosts had been coached to prompt them to tell. And with each successive show the celebrity appears on, it’s rinse and repeat with these same carefully orchestrated, publicist-approved tales.
That’s why Bravo’s Watch What Happens Live, which celebrates its fifth anniversary on Wednesday, has proven to be such a refreshing—and unexpected—respite, for both audiences and the celebrities who weather the tiring, repetitive talk show rounds.
“When you go on these shows as guests, usually there’s so much pressure to land the stories they want you to tell and get it right,” Andy Cohen, who has seen his show grow from a web series with a shoestring budget to a nightly destination for A-listers ranging from Meryl Streep and J. Lo to Oprah, tells me. “On our show, literally the only question we ask guests beforehand, ‘What do you want to drink?’”
The anything-goes forum mixed with the free-flowing cocktails has allowed WWHL to develop into a nightly party on Bravo, where the network’s plethora of reality stars sit alongside Hollywood’s biggest celebs (Lindsay Lohan, Cher, and Julie Andrews have all appeared) and talk about everything from their sex lives to their feuds. And, because it’s good TV and good fun, the stars that appear on Cohen’s show are game to gab about it all.
“The only person I’ve been nervous to have on the show so far is Oprah, but she really came to play,” Cohen says, when asked whether any guests rebuke against the spontaneous and confessional nature of his show. “I would say that all the of the big people that we’ve had, from Oprah to Meryl to Cher to J. Lo to Lady Gaga and on and on, once they commit to coming on the show they really commit to the entire experience.”
That’s an impressive roster of talent for a show that began, essentially, as a vehicle for promoting Bravo’s popular Real Housewive franchises in 2009. But five years later, who’s Cohen still hoping to book? Ahead of the show’s anniversary episode Wednesday, we picked his brain for his top five dream guests. Here’s what he had to say:
I asked her. I saw her at an event and we talked about it. She said it’s something she’d consider doing late in Obama’s second term, which tells me that if she does it she’ll come to play. And she’ll drink something other than water. I want to know about her pop culture influences. I just want to get her uncensored. I want to talk to her about other world leaders that she’s met.
I’ve just been a fan of hers forever. I’m just waiting for this freaking album to come out so she can come on the show. We were working on this for a long time, and I think it will be great. I’m fascinated by her career. I love her music, and I’ve been there since the beginning. I just want to go back with her and talk with her about everything. Everything.
I think that Howard Stern’s show is the most similar show to Watch What Happens Live. I love him. I think the Housewives are my Wack Pack. He has his Wack Pack and I have mine. And he can go from talking to his Wack Pack to talking to Julia Roberts. We’re the same way on Watch What Happens Live. I think he’s the best interviewer around right now. He also just says exactly what he thinks. Nothing’s off limits. I’m such a fan of his show. I would love it if he would come on. He says he’s too big to come on. Maybe we can talk him into it sometime.
I’m a huge fan of his. I think he totally changed late night TV with his first show on NBC all those years ago. I would love to have him before he leaves. I’ve been on his show a couple of times. I asked him to come on when we went to five nights a week and he sent me back a note saying it means he’d have to go downtown, which he doesn’t do. Which is funny. Again, he is someone who every time he has sat down for an interview he’s very uncensored and unguarded. He just doesn’t do it so often. So I would love it.
She is someone who, again, I feel like she’s guarded and is very controlling of her image. I think we would have a great time. My point of view with everyone who comes on the show is coming from a place of being a superfan and of celebrating that person. As dangerous and alive and uncensored as it is and it seems, it’s ultimately a celebration of whoever we have on. And I’m ready to celebrate her! I’m ready to celebrate her and have fun. Again, there’s a lot to talk to her about. Mariah Carey was on in December, we really got to talking about Glitter, which was something she hadn’t really talked about. It was such a resounding failure, but I was coming at that conversation as a fan of the movie as a pop culture artifact. So I think there’s an openness about what we do that allows people to just be honest. It’s a safe place.
I’m working on my next book, and it’s inspired by The Andy Warhol Diaries. It’s a lot about behind the scenes of my show, and there’s a lot of instances where someone will come on and the publicist will say, “Don’t ask about X or Y,” but the person sitting in the chair will say during the commercial break, “Go ahead, ask me anything. Name names.” Then you as a host and a producer have to decide, am I going to risk pissing off the publicist or should I really do this? And there have been times when I’ve really gone for it and there are times when I haven’t. The results are always interesting. You can get a great interview out of somebody without pissing them off.