Today at the NBCUniversal SocialTV Symposium, Bravo’s Lisa Hsia sat down with Andy Cohen and Michael Davies for a keynote interview called “The Whole Package: Social TV Personality.” If you have ever sat white-knuckled through a live tweeting situation and wondered why you are even bothering, you should take notes from these two, who are the executive producers (Cohen is also the host) of the late-night interactive talk show, “Watch What Happens: Live.”
While Cohen interviews the actors from the network’s various shows, viewers are encouraged to call in or tweet their reactions in the same way they’d call in to a radio station to request a song. It may seem like the inmates are running the asylum here, but Cohen and Davies have a system in place.
“The center of any television show is talent; the center of our show is Andy,” said Davies. The host monitors his own Twitter feed carefully, basing his decisions on what to cover during the show on the responses he gets from his fans. “He’s as close to a future human being (that has an iPhone implanted into his wrist) as anybody.”
Davies was not exaggerating. Later in the interview, Hsia made a game of pulling celebrity Twitter quotes from the @BravoAndy feed and asking Cohen to identify their authors. “Spent my night with @BravoAndy on WWHL and now I smell like Housewives and vodka,” she read. “Who said it?”
Cohen answered correctly on the first try. “Nicole Richie,” he said, and breezed through the rest of the quotes without missing a single one.
But Cohen is not alone. There are also a team of researchers who read through the “butt-load of tweets” the show receives and select the ones that are either the most frequently asked or the most topical – “things that can impact what’s happening on the show,” Cohen said. “We all share the same weird sensibility and are amused by the same things.”
The talk show host did appear to be entertained by his viewers. At one point during the interview, Hsia asked Cohen, “What is the sexiest tweet you have gotten from a fan?”
“How much time do you have?” he replied with a smile. “I get nake-o pictures from men and women. There are a lot of porn stars on Twitter.”
Cohen will usually go with the flow of the conversation, even when the viewers have a negative response to the guests or call them out for dodging a tough question. “If people are hating on Twitter, I will tell the star,” he said.
The guests on the show are not given the questions in advance. “The only question we ask is, ‘what do you want to drink during the show?'” said Davies, the exception being a quick briefing on the games they play, like “Plead the Fifth.” (The guests are asked a series of personal questions and can only decline to answer one of them.)
Celebrities who are interviewed frequently are often asked the same questions. The social format ensures that at least some of the moments on the show are completely spontaneous, especially when viewers notice things that the host does not.
From the NBC studio this morning an audience member tweeted to Cohen and Davies, “are you aware that you are both wearing the same shoes?” This led to a story about Davies giving Cohen a pair of brown dress shoes as a gift.
Davies also described a time when an audience member alerted them to the fact that the show had lost sound before anyone on the production team was even aware there was a problem.
Along with the viewers and the talent, the producers also have to leave room for the show’s sponsors. Someone in today’s audience asked how they were able to integrate ads without sacrificing quality.
Prizes and sweepstakes seemed to work best in that format, said Cohen. “At minimum, I think there are a zillion prizing opportunities on our show.”