Andy Cohen created a reality show empire but being a dad is his biggest challenge yet
LEILA FADEL, HOST:
Even if you don't watch "The Real Housewives Of Pick A Franchise," you've probably heard some of the housewife taglines.
(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)
KAREN HUGER: Potomac put me on a pedestal, and the view is spectacular.
PHAEDRA PARKS: I'm the ultimate Southern belle. I get what I want.
LISA RINNA: I don't have to buy it, 'cause I already own it.
FADEL: Today, love them or hate them, they're pop culture icons. And the man who started it all is Andy Cohen. He created the first show in 2006, "The Real Housewives Of Orange County." And today, there are 10 more, including one in Dubai. Cohen is out with his fifth book, "The Daddy Diaries: The Year I Grew Up." In it, he name drops and writes about being a dad. But we start our conversation with a confession from me.
So, listen, I'm...
ANDY COHEN: Yes.
FADEL: ...Going to out myself here. You know, people maybe think of me as a serious journalist. I've covered a lot of the world.
FADEL: But I might be the biggest "Real Housewives" fan you've ever met because when I moved to Iraq in 2006, that was also the year you had your first season of "The Real Housewives Of Orange County."
FADEL: And that became my escape. So we would cover...
FADEL: ...Bombings and sectarian killings and really terrible, terrible things all day. And at night - I don't know if it was legal, but it was a war, I'm going to excuse myself here - I would stream these shows 'cause they were absolute escape. These messy, rich, unattainable women...
FADEL: ...That I couldn't relate to at all, but I was like, what is happening?
COHEN: But interestingly enough, I bet - first of all, I love that. And I meet so many people who come up to me and say, I'm a lawyer, so don't judge me, but I love the - I'm like, I know, a lot of smart people watch these shows.
FADEL: You're, like, all the people who...
COHEN: Right. You know, so there's that. But also, I hear from more people who just - it brings them an escape...
COHEN: ...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" 'cause 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 - not that you asked - I think we love to judge human behavior. I think it's sociology of the rich or nouveau riche.
FADEL: Did you think, though, like, you'd still be doing this since...
FADEL: ...You'd have...
COHEN: No way. No, it's wild.
FADEL: Your name is now tied, forever...
COHEN: I know.
FADEL: ...To the rise of reality TV.
FADEL: And whether they love it or hate it...
FADEL: ...Even me, who loves it...
FADEL: ...Have mixed feelings about what it's done to us as a society...
FADEL: ...Especially when you talk about the way women are presented. Is it good to have...
FADEL: ...Women pitted against each other? Really messy. Do you think about that?
COHEN: I do. I think about it all the time. I talked to Gloria Steinem about it, and she called it a minstrel show for women. She hates it. And 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 the way - if you look at Luann and Sonja and Ramona and how they are not dependent on men. 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.
FADEL: So would you ever...
FADEL: No. You would never...
COHEN: I wouldn't.
FADEL: ...Go on a reality show?
COHEN: 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...
COHEN: ...And 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.
FADEL: Do people come to you who are on these shows and are angry with you for how they're...
FADEL: ...Portrayed or...
COHEN: Oh, yeah. All the time.
FADEL: What do you tell them? I mean, has anybody ever been like...
COHEN: I just say I'm sorry, you know?
FADEL: ...You ruined my life or, you know?
COHEN: No, no one's said you've ruined my life. I mean, people have to remember, everyone here signed up for it.
COHEN: There's no "Real Housewives" draft. Oh, my God. I got a letter. I've been drafted into the "Housewives."
FADEL: Got to serve my time.
COHEN: I'm sorry, family, but here I go. And they are compensated for it.
COHEN: So I think everyone, in one way or another, comes out a winner.
FADEL: Do your kids - I mean, Ben, maybe, is old enough now. Do your kids know what you do?
COHEN: I think he knows that I have a show. But interestingly enough, I think he thinks everyone has a show.
FADEL: Maybe he thinks becoming an adult is like, you become an adult and then you're on TV and...
FADEL: ...You have shows.
COHEN: Yeah, I don't know. It's weird.
FADEL: So what is it about this part of your life - being a dad - that has changed you?
COHEN: Everything has changed. My axis has changed. My priorities have changed. The way I live my life every day, starting with my wake-up call, which, this morning, was at, like, 4:30 for my daughter. And they call it singing, but is it singing?
FADEL: What do you mean? Like, when they...
COHEN: (Imitating baby babbling).
FADEL: I don't think that's singing.
COHEN: Yeah, that's not singing.
FADEL: I'm not a mom, but...
COHEN: But it's making noises. But they call it singing. And I'm like, she's not singing. She's making very irritating noises right now in her crib that are keeping me awake. And I had it under control with one kid, but when Lucy was born...
COHEN: ...That's really when it all got serious. It's interesting. I go to a progressive - Ben goes to a progressive nursery school in New York City. I'm the only single parent, and I'm the only gay dad.
COHEN: Yeah. And so it hit me in different ways this year. We were at a birthday party for a friend of his at a playground, and all of the 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. And he was the only child who couldn't play in the sprinklers. And I got to tell you something, I cried when I got home. I'm getting emotional now. Like, I just felt so - just, like, maybe you don't know what you're doing. And by the way, Ben didn't care. It was fine, you know what I mean? But I cared.
FADEL: But also, maybe you're a normal human being...
FADEL: ...Who's not going to channel...
COHEN: ...And I am, but it just really hit me in various moments. And the fellowship of other gay dads is so valuable to me - and the fellowship of other single parents - in ways I never expected. You know, it's just - it's life, and it's great.
FADEL: So what's next for your media empire?
COHEN: I mean, isn't...
FADEL: You've got this book out.
COHEN: ...This enough? Isn't this enough?
FADEL: I know, the what's next question...
COHEN: I mean, yeah...
FADEL: ...Is actually annoying.
COHEN: ...I mean, honestly, is there more that I need to be doing?
FADEL: I think maybe...
COHEN: I'm good.
COHEN: You know, I know. You know, I always - people say, what do you want to do next? And it sounds bad, but I always say, I'm good. I'm really good.
FADEL: Andy Cohen, thank you so much. Such a pleasure.
COHEN: Thank you so much. I cried.
FADEL: Oh, this was so fun for me.
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