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Bravo’s Andy Cohen, multiplied

All day long at Cipriani Wall Street, Andy Cohen was flying high, wrangling genus Real Housewivicus, species New Yorkicus. He is, at least in part, their maker, as honcho of original programming and development for Bravo. Now he was actually making the program, before a swooping crane camera and amid much ferocious reality show posturing and cruelty, as the host of a post-season reunion special of “The Real Housewives of New York.”

How did it feel to negotiate this group hostage-taking? “They wear everything on their sleeves -- well, it’s Vietnam,” Cohen said later of the ladies and their uncharming behavior.

The ladies left; he stayed behind another hour, shooting teasers and reaction shots and questions to thin air. “Was I too smiley and weird?” Cohen asked the producers after one take. No, there is no such thing on TV. Coming up: “More reality show nonsense!” Cohen tried. “Can I say that?” No, he should not.

Then he got in a waiting black car for a trip up to NYU, where he would lecture students on the joys of television executivehood -- and maybe he’d talk a bit about being the improbable face of a celebrity-possessed network, which is doing quite well, thank you -- the executive turned on-air talent. Cohen is an odd new thing: a public conduit for a network that hangs shows on making people into personalities. Now he is finding out that proximity to fame makes you famous.

“I’m just going to talk about my career path, and I’m going to give them advice that they either want or don’t want,” Cohen said. “And I’ll tell them about Bravo and why and how we do what we do, and I’ll have a face full of makeup so they’ll probably all be making fun of me and what a tool I am.”

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After that, he went home to the West Village. To come down, he had a bottle of wine and watched “Schindler’s List.”

Two months later, on a weekday afternoon in June: Andy Cohen was atop his West Village doghouse, fighting with the red baron of television viewers.

He had just turned 41, and there was a big white orchid in the unused kitchen. Also: two bedrooms plus office, two baths, no terrace, but great views everywhere, plus a picture that he took himself of Madonna licking either an Oscar or a very small gold man.

Bravo is the only network with an on-air representation of the executive office. Since 2006, and because he used to send Lauren Zalaznick, the channel’s boss, dishy e-mails from the sets and she was like, uh, why are these not public?, he has been its on-Web talent, conducting a vivid blog and live-streaming online program with a very gay flavor, like much of the network’s programming.

At the same time, Cohen would make the rounds of TV chat shows, committing random culture punditry. They were doing it all wrong! Why should they alternately hide and give away all this content?

He began hosting the televised reunions/brawls that air in the aftermath of the most popular Bravo shows. And he was and is good at it, asking the often wounded reality folk hard questions while not appearing smug. (“The Real Housewives of New Jersey” reunion shows -- a two-parter, as befits a show that drew 3.5 million viewers to the first airing of its finale -- will air this Tuesday and Thursday.)

Now the logical evolution: Cohen’s once-a-week live show, “Watch What Happens,” will begin airing July 16. He has given himself the midnight slot. “It’ll be me and a couple Bravo-lebrities and maybe a real ‘lebrity taking phone calls and e-mails and tweets from Bravo fanatics live at midnight. And we’re going to be sipping cocktails,” he said.

The show will be produced by . . . Michael Davies of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.”

“It’s going to feel like it cost five dollars, and it cost a little over five dollars but only a little over five dollars,” Cohen said.

Recently, Bravo TV star Kathy Griffin started making jokes onstage about Cohen and his (mildly!) wandering eye. “Ultimately, she sees pop culture and puts it through her filter and if I somehow became part of that filter, I’ll take it, you know?” he said.

And last Christmas, stealthily taken pictures of Cohen with actor Daniel Craig in St. Bart’s, seaside and attractively be-swimsuited, showed up on the gossip blogs.

“Well, look,” Cohen said, “I think the definition of celebrity -- in the age of Facebook and 18 million other tweets? Celebrity is relative.”

But where you wouldn’t have seen those pics is Cohen’s blog. “I didn’t talk about those pictures or what I did on that trip, nor would I,” he said. “As much as I do over-share about ridiculous things, there are a lot of things I don’t talk about.”

But where does all this growing ‘lebrity take him? “I don’t know. It’s really too soon to tell. At this moment, people really want to talk to me about the ‘Housewives.’ ”

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Reality stars

Oh, “Housewives.” Has anything so seemingly upmarket ever been so down-market? The network has recently been mildly buffeted -- or buoyed? -- by the scandalous alleged secret history of one of its Housewives. New Jersey cast member Danielle Staub has an ex-husband who went to Star and said she had been a prostitute, the former lady of a Colombian cocaine dealer and had done five years of probation.

“We didn’t know,” Cohen said, shrugging off the show’s liability.

Shortly after this “news” came out, Staub guest-hosted an hour of the “Today” show with Hoda Kotb. (That’s what attention gets you these days.) Cohen worked the show too, sometimes ID’d as an employee of the network and sometimes just as a “pop culture expert.”

Cohen came from the news divisions of CBS and moved into producing entertainment for CBS News’ “The Early Show.” (From there he went to Trio, and then over to Bravo.)

At Bravo, they don’t go for mass -- though mass is nice when it comes along -- they go for rich. And have found it. Their programming ranges from the fairly highbrow (the forthcoming Sarah Jessica Parker-produced reality series about visual artists) to the unashamedly lowbrow (where Cohen does his lady-wrangling).

“If anything is Bravo, it is a place of unironic, unjudgmental but opinionated fun,” said Zalaznick, Bravo’s overseer as the head of NBC Universal’s women and lifestyle entertainment networks.

She contrasted Cohen with all those nasty bloggers on the Internet. “He’s a knowing enthusiast, and it’s not that he won’t give you an opinion on taste or propriety or ‘I like’ or ‘I don’t like’ -- it’s just that he doesn’t seem to need to put that opinion out in the world for any betterment of himself,” she said.

The network, though, undermines this message regularly. For one small instance: Bravo’s on-screen bug that has been trumpeting the “snarky” point of view of Television Without Pity, a smart website Bravo bought in 2007. The programming is also rife with schadenfreude. In addition to the oodles of “Housewives,” there is a new show called “NYC Prep” about rich young snoots; another, “Miami Social,” is about wealthy dramatic people getting comeuppance. (“It’s a summer show and there’s some surprising drama that happens on that show that is uncharted reality territory, yes, yes, yes,” Cohen said.)

Cohen, enthusiast, greenlighter of all these things, does not see these shows this way: He does have a TV moral compass in there. In mid-June, he took to his blog to trash Heidi and Spencer Pratt, the “Hills” veterans and reality mannequins who are deep in play with the media, calling them “hateful” and “loser idiots.”

“I love the idea of class and custom and social etiquette and all these things -- and I view it more sociologically,” Cohen said of “Real Housewives.” “I think it’s a reflection of a certain slice of affluence in various parts of the country, and I think that it’s funny and addictive and I think it’s fun and I don’t think it’s harmful.

“To me it’s sociology. To you it may be trash.”

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calendar@latimes.com


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