15 August 2012

Andy Cohen & ‘Most Talkative’

Behind the scenes: Andy Cohen, WVM, Don Imus, Fred Imus,
and Dan Rather in Monument Valley.
Surely it’s not only because of the background that we look like the cast of a forgotten John Ford movie.

I’ve noted before that, upon returning to the U.S. after several years in France, I often felt like Rip Van Winkle: so much had changed while I was away! Suddenly every magazine cover was filled with unfamiliar names and faces — celebrities, it appeared, though I knew nothing about them.

Attempting to find my way again, I sent a Facebook friend request to a sometime workout buddy and former colleague from CBS News, Andy Cohen. He accepted immediately. Only when I went to his Facebook page and discovered that the man has thousands of friends did I begin to understand that Andy himself was not only responsible for the creation of dozens of these new superstars — he’d become one himself.

As a producer of reality TV series on the Bravo network (working with a distinguished Brown classmate, Lauren Zalaznick), Andy has made household names of countless “Real Housewives” (one of whom, NeNe Leakes, has had a recurring role on Glee), and lately Andy’s been hosting his own talk show, Watch What Happens Live. I look around and suddenly he’s grinning at me from posters all over the New York subway and nearly every phone booth in the city. Seizing the moment, Andy’s written a memoir, Most Talkative: Stories from the Front Lines of Pop Culture, and naturally I hastened to pick it up and find out more about what my friend had been up to all this time.*

Author! Author!

For most of its chapters, Most Talkative strikes me almost as a time capsule: if you want to know what it was like to be a junior player in a network newsroom during the last fleeting hours of glory, before the whole industry was transformed and a certain way of doing business was gone with the wind — Andy’s the guy to tell you the story. He leaves out none of the anxiety and none of the fun. Moving up the ladder at The Early Show, CBS This Morning, and 48 Hours, Andy brought spectacular enthusiasm even to the most mundane tasks, and along the way he encountered some of the more colorful personalities in America.

One of these was Dan Rather, and Andy provides a terrifically entertaining chapter on one adventure: steering Dan into the great Southwest for a story on the radio host Don Imus and his charitable work. Careening around Monument Valley while balancing the needs of two prickly stars, Andy really earned his paycheck — and never more so than the return trip to New York, when Dan’s plane sank into the overheated runway and had to be abandoned.

What Andy neglects to tell his readers is that a few folks other than Dan, Imus, and he were along for the ride, and while I don’t doubt that he took very seriously his responsibility for Dan’s agenda and good humor, I must point out that Andy had back-up — to a degree Andy was back-up, because Dan’s needs were my primary responsibility, not his. (That’s why I was sent on trips like this one: to relieve the producer of at least some of the pressure.) I’m not terribly hurt by the omission, honest — after all, Andy doesn’t mention Imus’ wife or his late brother, Fred, either — but I don’t mind taking this opportunity to set the record straight on an otherwise minor detail.

Moving into the more recent phase of his career, Andy spins plenty of entertaining yarns about the personalities he’s worked with since CBS News. Most of these folks are still unfamiliar to me, even now, and in terms of lasting significance, I’m not sure they stack up with people like — well, like Dan Rather. But the stories are fun, and they help to chart Andy’s remarkable success story.

As a writer he’s slightly more formal than he is as a conversationalist, and yet Most Talkative does give you an idea of how much fun a conversation with Andy Cohen could be. I always did enjoy his company. So did other people, and that’s surely one reason he’s risen to the top today. But it’s important to note that, for all of Andy’s wit and pizzazz, he’s also a smart, driven professional who figures out every angle and makes the pieces come together. When that plane failed us in the desert — Andy made sure that Dan Rather got back to The CBS Evening News on time.

And so, while I imagine that a number of younger readers especially, their heads filled with fables from TMZ and People Magazine and God knows what else, will look at Andy’s career and think, “Hey, I could translate my passionate interest in pop culture into a major career, too,” I offer this warning:

The only way to do what Andy Cohen does, is to be Andy Cohen himself. And I can guarantee you, there’s nobody else like him on earth.

WVM in Monument Valley, photo by Andy Cohen (to the best of my recollection).

*NOTE: Most Talkative came out in May. I’d have published this essay earlier, but I couldn’t find the darned pictures from Monument Valley.

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