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'Fame is an aphrodisiac': TV host Andy Cohen on why reality TV will continue to thrive

L-R: Host Andy Cohen and Single Sheena Nicole Williams in the series premiere of LOVE CONNECTION airing Thursday, May 25 (9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX.
L-R: Host Andy Cohen and Single Sheena Nicole Williams in the series premiere of LOVE CONNECTION airing Thursday, May 25 (9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX.
Ray Mickshaw/FOX

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It’s safe to say that Andy Cohen lives and breathes reality television.

A former executive for the Bravo network, Cohen was instrumental in making “The Real Housewives” series a massive franchise. Though he's not an exec at the network he’s still an executive producer of the "Housewives."

Though he spent much of his career behind the scenes as a producer both for CBS News and then at Bravo, Cohen always wanted to be in front of the camera. Since 2009 he’s been the host of "Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen",  Bravo’s late night show where he drinks and gabs with guests about reality TV.

When Fox came calling with an offer to host a reboot of "Love Connection," he just couldn’t say no. When I reached him in New York he told me why now’s the perfect time to bring this show back to network TV:

"I'm surprised that Love Connection hasn't been on the whole time, frankly, because the themes of the show are universal. At its core it is about attraction and it's about the he said she said surrounding first dates. It's a pretty simple concept. It seems old fashioned in the age of swiping now and Tinder and everyone judging each other based on a profile picture for 2.5 seconds or less, but we did it we set up two singles per episode on three dates each and we hear about the dates. I think that's as universal a concept as just about anything on TV."

Interview Highlights:

On getting the gig as host of the reboot of "Love Connection":

When I was in charge of programming at Bravo I actually went after the format for someone else to host just because I loved it so much. All these years later when FOX came to me with the offer to host a new version produced by Mike Fleiss who does The Bachelor and Mike Darnell from American Idol I absolutely jumped at the opportunity

When the original "Love Connection" was on we only saw white people dating white people, or black people dating black people. Obviously the world has changed a lot and in the first episode it's clear that there are interracial couples. But will we have same sex couples too?

Yes, we have lesbian daters, we have gay guys, and we've got all permutation of races intermingling. It's 2017! The great thing is we don't make too big a deal out of it. In the premiere episode we have a woman of color who had never been out with a white guy and I said how was the conversation and she said, 'well it was good, surprisingly...because I've never been out with someone who is that color." I said you can say it, he's a white guy! 

We have a woman who comes out on national television to her mom. On the date she had told her companion that her parents didn't know that she's gay and I said they do now. She outed herself on television, it was something else. 

When you're working as a development executive trying to figure out what it is the nation wants, what is that experience like when you think you have a really good idea that the nation doesn't respond to.

The good news for me is that I wasn't looking for the nation to fall in love, I was looking for shows that were on brand for the Bravo audience. We knew what our brand was very well, so that was a relief, because when you program into your brand I think it's a lot easier than programming for a huge mass audience. Look I had many clunkers at Bravo and I think The Real Housewives is a great example of a show that I thought had promise, but that in the first season of the Housewives of Orange County, it was not looking great in the edit room. There was a discussion of maybe even pulling the plug on that show. Thank God we didn't.  

On the responsibility of reality TV producers when it comes to what's fake vs. what's real:

I worked in news for 10 years at CBS news from 1990-2000 and there were rules of journalism and there are not really rules of reality TV. I would say that the responsibility really is to entertain and not to hurt anyone in the process. You don't want to see people getting hurt or their lives being ruined. I think that there's so many forms of reality TV, Love Connection is a form of reality TV, so it's hard for me to generalize. 

On why reality TV shows like The Real Housewives franchise isn't ruining American culture:

I think its escapism and I think that it is a reality soap opera. I grew up watching All My Children and Young and the Restless. I loved them and I knew what they were. There were always articles in Time Magazine, like, have soaps gone too far? Are soaps too scandalous? Are soaps ruining the fabric of our culture? There are certainly those articles about reality TV. In terms of the Housewives, I think they're successful because people love judging human behavior. People love some of these women, I think they hate some of these women I think they love to hate some of them. I think the shows are funny, if they were all just ratchet, or all just one speed of people yelling at each other I do not think we would still be talking about the show 11 years into the show. I've debate Gloria Steinem about the housewives who said they're minstrel shows for women. My argument is if they were the only depiction of women on television I think this would be a real conversation, there's not, there's a million ways that women are shown on television. 

On why it doesn't surprise him that people are willing to expose their personal lives for reality TV:

It did at the beginning and now I just kind of understand that fame is an aphrodisiac. Some of these women are really really wealthy, and the one thing that money cannot buy is fame. This is not a huge show and a lot of women come on for a lot of different reasons...I think everyone has a personal reason, but the commonality for a lot of them is fame. 

"Love Connection" airs FOX Thursdays 9/8c on FOX. It will return on June 22. 

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