‘Real Housewives’ hits viewers where they live

As senior vice president of production and programming for Bravo, Andy Cohen oversees cutthroat chefs and fashion designers, a la “Top Chef” and “The Fashion Show,” as well as larger-than-life personalities such as Kathy Griffin and Rachel Zoe. But Cohen has a soft spot for a handful of housewives.

“I’ve seen every frame of every episode multiple times -- I love all these women,” Cohen said about the ladies of Bravo’s “Real Housewives” franchise. “I think that the great thing about all of them is that they always wind up surprising me and touching me and making me laugh.”

Judging by ratings and fan reaction, it appears Cohen isn’t alone in his affection. After “The Real Housewives of Orange County” launched in March 2006, the show has expanded to New York, Atlanta and now to New Jersey.

So why New Jersey?

“Oh, my God, why not?” Cohen exclaimed. “There’s just such a specific type of woman in New York, and then you go over that bridge and there’s a totally different model running around . . . it’s just perfect, it’s hilarious.”

Tonight marks “The Real Housewives of New Jersey’s” debut, after a reunion show of “New York’s” sophomore cast.


“This last one with ‘New York’ was a seven-hour taping and we ended up doing two episodes, it was so dramatic,” Cohen said.

The economic environment could have caused a souring on the affluenza-infused shows such as “Housewives,” but Cohen believes it’s the story lines, not the spending, that has brought in viewers.

“One of the reasons the shows are so compelling is they’re about interpersonal relationships at their core. . . . That’s what keeps people coming back,” he said. “It’s fun to watch people spend money, but it’s not the Spending Money show, it’s ‘The Real Housewives.’ ”

The New Jersey edition marks the third new cast unveiling in a little over a year’s time for the young franchise. But as both a devoted fan of the show and a part of Bravo’s programming team, Cohen wants to protect it as it expands.

“We’re always developing in other cities,” Cohen said. “We have a respect for the brand, and we don’t want to jump the shark. So it’s always a really slow process if we bring in another city.”