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Andy Cohen created a reality show empire but being a dad is his biggest challenge yet

Andy Cohen, the face of Bravo, says being a dad is his biggest challenge yet. "Everything has changed. My axis has changed. My priorities have changed. The way I live my life every day has changed," he said.
Catie Dull
Andy Cohen, the face of Bravo, says being a dad is his biggest challenge yet. "Everything has changed. My axis has changed. My priorities have changed. The way I live my life every day has changed," he said.

Andy Cohen, known as the face of Bravo TV, was fascinated by soap operas growing up in St. Louis. He was raised on All My Children. He loved the drama, the opulence, the unattainable lifestyles.

So in 2006 when he created The Real Housewives of Orange County as then vice president of original programming at Bravo, in his mind it was the reality version of the soap operas he loved.

"They were wealthy, they had pools in their backyards and they had grottos," he said. "All their kids were good looking, and they all lived near each other and went to the same tennis club."

He never imagined that all these years later The Real Housewives' franchise would still be airing and expanding to locations as far as Dubai. Today Cohen is the executive producer of all of The Real Housewives shows, has his talk show Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen, his imprint, Andy Cohen Books, and two Sirius XM radio channels.

Oh, and he's a father now, to two kids under 5. Ben is 4 and Lucy just turned 1. They've redefined his life.

Running a media empire and raising little kids, is a lot.

"I am tired, but I'm really tired because of the kids, frankly. I've got the jobs that I have covered. It's the kids that are the right turn," he said. "Everything has changed. My axis has changed. My priorities have changed. The way I live my life every day has changed."

And that starts by getting woken up by Ben crawling into his bed or the sound of Lucy singing or more like squawking at 4:30 am.

That new life is at the center of his latest book, The Daddy Diaries: The Year I Grew Up.

In it he name drops, spills tea about Bravolebrities and writes about life as a gay single dad. He stopped by our studios to discuss the book and the first thing I confessed was my Bravo reality addiction.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

When I moved to Iraq in 2006, The Real Housewives became my escape. I would cover bombings and sectarian killings and really terrible, terrible things all day. Then at night, I would stream these shows because they were absolute escape. These messy, rich, unattainable women that I couldn't relate to at all. But I was like, what is happening?

I meet so many people who come up to me and say, "Oh, I'm a lawyer, so don't judge me, but I love The Housewives." I'm like, "I know! A lot of smart people watch these shows." So there's that. But also, I hear from more people who just, it brings them an escape, and who say I have been dealing with cancer for years, or I fight with my daughter about everything we barely have a relationship, but our safe space is The Housewives because we can talk about it and have fun and that's escapism. And I will also say, I think that the reason that it's still on, [sic] I think we love to judge human behavior. I think its sociology of the rich or nouveau riche.

Your name is now tied forever to the rise of reality TV, and people, whether they love it or hate it, even me who loves it, have mixed feelings about what it's done to us as a society. Especially when you talk about the way women are presented. Do you think about that?

I do. I think about it all the time. I talked to Gloria Steinem about it on Watch What Happens Live! once and she called it a minstrel show for women. She hates it. I said to her, "I bet you haven't watched it," because on the converse, Roxane Gay and Camille Paglia and many other feminists, and I am a feminist as well, and I think it is a great feminist show. There are more women over 50 building brands doing exactly what they want to do. The Real Housewives of New York, I think, is the great feminist tableau. And I know you think I'm crazy, but if you look at Luann [de Lesseps] and Sonja [Morgan] and Ramona [Singer] and how they are not dependent on men, they are three single women. They are in charge of their sexuality. They're vibrant, they're beautiful. Yes, they misbehave. Yes, they're wild, whatever. But they're living their best life, truly in their own moment. And I think there's a beauty in that.

So would you ever go on a reality show?

No. I wouldn't. You know, this book and my former diaries are as close to being on a reality show because I am bringing you inside my life in a very intimate way. I am very vulnerable in parts of this book about my own insecurities, about everything. The reason this is my reality show is that I'm in control of the edit of this book. I like to be in control. And if you're on a reality show, you're not in control unless you're Kris Jenner.

Do people come to you who are on these shows and are angry with you for how they're portrayed?

Oh, yeah. All the time.

What do you tell them?

People have to remember that everyone here signed up for it. There's no Real Housewives draft. "Oh, my God. I got a letter. I've been drafted into the Housewives. I'm sorry family, but here I go." And they are compensated for it. So I think everyone in one way or another comes out a winner.

Being a single dad to Lucy and Ben is a huge theme in your new book, the weight of doing this alone.

Well, it's interesting, Ben goes to a progressive nursery school in New York City. I'm the only single parent and I'm the only gay dad. And so, it hit me in different ways this year. Just moments where being a single parent hit me in ways I didn't expect. We were at a birthday party for a friend of his at a playground. It was unseasonably warm and all of a sudden, the sprinklers went on and all the moms suddenly had changes of clothes for the kids so they could run around in the sprinklers and Ben didn't. He was the only child who couldn't play in the sprinklers. And I've got to tell you something, I cried when I got home. I'm getting emotional now. I just felt so like "maybe you don't know what you're doing." And by the way Ben didn't care, but I cared. And the fellowship of other gay dads is so valuable to me and the fellowship of other single parents in ways I never expected. It's life and it's great.

What's it like to be the person whose job it is to create the escape? Is it an escape for you?

It still is. I still get excited. [sic] I'm invested as a fan. If I wasn't still a fan, I wouldn't still be loving everything I do and getting a kick out of it. And that's why, you know, I tell so many stories in the book, but that's why I also talk about the more absurd interactions that I have with The Housewives through my life, in the more absurd elements of casting and firing and all these things that go into producing the show. Because I think it's fun to hear about the behind the scenes, but also because I'm tickled by it, still.

The broadcast and digital stories were edited by HJ Mai. The audio interview was produced by Lilly Quiroz. contributed to this story

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.