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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

And I'm Madeleine Brand.

If your idea of must-see TV involves competitors, be they arty designers, foodies or screaming housewives, you are in luck. My next guest puts those shows on the cable network Bravo.

(Soundbite of TV show "The Real Housewives of Atlanta")

Unidentified Woman #1: And she said I was on drugs.

Unidentified Woman #2: Oh, she said things about Greg. She said things about you.

Unidentified Woman #3: I heard you were talking about me.

Unidentified Woman #4: Never mind. She called you a crack whore.

Unidentified Woman #5: How dare you…

(Soundbite of TV show "Top Chef")

Ms. PADMA LAKSHMI (Host): Daniel, please pack your knives and go.

(Soundbite of TV show "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy")

Unidentified Man #1: He's 39. He's 5'5".

Unidentified Man #2: Oh, geez.

Unidentified Man #1: Very, very hairy.

Unidentified Man #2: Oh, my goodness. It's scary Garcia.

(Soundbite of TV show "Project Runway")

Ms. HEIDI KLUM (Host): Everyone knows that the fashion business is ruthless. One day you're in, and the next day you're out.

BRAND: "Project Runway," "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy," "Top Chef" and "The Real Housewives," those are just some of Bravo's reality show hits.

Andy Cohen greenlights them as Bravo's senior vice president of original programming and development, and who watches them? Cohen told me that the Bravo audience is one that fits the network's brand, which he described as food, fashion, beauty, design and pop culture.

Mr. ANDY COHEN (Senior Vice President of Original Programming and Development, Bravo): We have the most educated audience in all of cable and the most upscale audience in all of cable, meaning the richest, the people with the most money. And we've also isolated two groups. The one are the group that we call the Will and Gracers. And they are mainly urban women, either single or married, but are cosmopolitan, and their best male friends, who are often gay.

And then the other group are a group that we call the PTA trendsetters. And they are women all over America who are the trendsetters of the PTA. They're the women who pick up their kids from school wearing the latest shoes and carrying the latest bag and they're trend-watchers.

BRAND: So it seems like you have two different types of reality shows on Bravo.

Mr. COHEN: Yes.

BRAND: You've got the people who are talented and competing, right?

Mr. COHEN: Yes, we have competitive reality and then the kind of what we call docu-series.

BRAND: And so, are these the ones - these are the housewives, where you just watch people...

Mr. COHEN: These are the housewives, exactly. They're everything from "Flipping Out," which follows Jeff Lewis, who's a OCD, gay house-flipper who's incredibly entertaining to watch, on and on, or yes, our entire franchise of the "Housewives," which now spans four cities. I call it sociology, anthropology of the rich.

BRAND: But also, I would call it a guilty pleasure because watching them...

Mr. COHEN: Total guilty pleasure, yes.

BRAND: Well, I kind of don't want to admit that I like watching it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. COHEN: You're not alone.

BRAND: Of course, I don't have any problem admitting I watch "Project Runway."

Mr. COHEN: Right. Well, you're not alone.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. COHEN: You're not alone. Although, you know, people are flying those "Housewives" flags higher and higher as it becomes more and more of a phenomenon. I bet there are a ton of NPR listeners, actually, who are obsessed by "The Real Housewives."

BRAND: And won't admit it.

Mr. COHEN: And a ton that probably will admit it because they're dying for someone to talk to about it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. COHEN: The thing that's fun about the "Housewives" is talking to your friends about it.

BRAND: Well, and also feeling superior, quite frankly.

Mr. COHEN: Well, you know, we do something with the editing that's called a Bravo wink. We wink at the audience when someone says, I'm the healthiest person in the world, and then you see them ashing their cigarette. That's a very kind of lame example of the wink. But we're kind of letting the audience in on the fun. But I think that what we're not doing is we're not trying to make fun of these women. We love our housewives.

(Soundbite of TV show "The Real Housewives of Atlanta")

Unidentified Woman #8: Kim was irritating the crap out of me. She's yelling at me. She's putting her hands in my face. She's screaming. She's lying. She's denying her lies. You need to chill out.

Mr. COHEN: And the thing about it is they can't stop themselves. I think that's sometimes where the fun comes in.

BRAND: There was a recent article in The New York Times that said reality show contestants, a lot of them, not just on your network, but on other ones as well, are being - they undergo a grueling schedule.

Mr. COHEN: Yes.

BRAND: They are kept exhausted. They work 18-hour days.

Mr. COHEN: Right.

BRAND: They're given alcohol in some cases...

Mr. COHEN: Right.

BRAND: ...or at least they have access to alcohol. They're deprived of any outside contact. They can't make phone calls.

Mr. COHEN: Yeah.

BRAND: And all of that with the unstated goal of getting them to melt down and to cause some fireworks that we viewers want to see.

Mr. COHEN: I think that the shows that we produce that fall into the category of people who are put into what some would consider to be extreme situations, these are competition reality shows. And these are shows where it's extremely important that everyone is treated the same and that everyone has the same opportunity to win each challenge and, ultimately, the show. And for that reason, we do keep them in something of a bubble.

And by the way, does being in that heightened bubble of reality exacerbate emotions and make you more focused on the game and sometimes heighten your reaction to what you're doing? Absolutely.

BRAND: I mean, but do you ever feel that with these contestants that you are crossing the line sometimes in terms of how you treat them. Not in terms of them having unequal treatment, but just in terms of them not being treated humanely maybe, in some circumstances?

Mr. COHEN: No, I think they are treated humanely. I mean, we have doctors on the set. We listen to their concerns. And they're all very cognizant of what they're getting into. I think even someone from "Project Runway" who was quoted for that Times article you were referring to, I know her well, and I know that she would go back and do it again in a second.

It is an exhausting schedule. I'm not taking away from that. But I think everyone is treated humanely and it's not how we work. We're interested in finding the next great chef. We're not interested in having the next nervous breakdown.

BRAND: What about "Project Runway" because now...

Mr. COHEN: What about it?

BRAND: Let's talk about it because...

Mr. COHEN: What show? I've never heard of that show.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BRAND: That's the show that, I mean, aside from "Queer Eye," that's what really put Bravo on the map. And now, it's...

Mr. COHEN: It did after "Queer Eye," yeah.

BRAND: ...now it's on Lifetime. And I'm just wondering if you'll be able to recapture that. I mean...

Mr. COHEN: Recapture the magic of that show or...

BRAND: Yeah. I mean, it was a cultural phenomenon.

Mr. COHEN: You know, "Project Runway" was a really special show, and we had a great five seasons with it. We loved that show, and we loved the stories that it brought to Bravo and the creativity. And it was a magic five seasons.

BRAND: But are you worried at all that with "Project Runway" going to Lifetime, and you're focusing now on the "Housewives," that the image of Bravo will change a bit, maybe change from talent to trash?

Mr. COHEN: I'm not. I - you know, we've got so much on Bravo and coming up on Bravo, and I think we have so much more going on than "The Real Housewives." And I think "The Real Housewives" is a great, you know, great addition to the portfolio. I think it brings a lot of viewers under our umbrella. And I think they stay and sample other shows. So I feel great about what we have coming up. And there's much more kind of in the design and art and fashion landscapes to come.

BRAND: Andy Cohen is Bravo's senior vice president of original programming and development. Thank you very much.

Mr. COHEN: Thank you.

(Soundbite of song "All Things (Just Keep Getting Better)")

Ms. SIMONE DENNY (Singer): (Singing) All things just keep getting better.

BRAND: Andy Cohen also has his own program on Bravo. It's a talk show called "Watch What Happens," sort of like a gay "Dick Cavett Show."

(Soundbite of song "All Things (Just Keep Getting Better)")

WILDLIFE (Singers): (Singing) All things just keep getting better.

Ms. DENNY: (Singing) All things just keep getting better. All things. All things. All things just keep getting better.

WILDLIFE: (Singing) All things just keep getting better.

Ms. DENNY: (Singing) All things. All things. All things just keep getting better.

WILDLIFE: (Singing) All things just keep getting better.

BLOCK: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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