How Joanna Coles Sent E!’s Cosmo Reality Series Into a ‘Tailspin’ on the First Day of Filming

The show is 'an office family drama'

Joanna Coles hoped that her E! reality series about Cosmopolitan magazine, So Cosmo, would have enough on-screen drama to carry through an eight-episode debut season. But she didn't know that she would be the one providing the show—which looks at the lives of the editors behind the fashion magazine—with its most jaw-dropping twist.

Last September, on the first day of filming, Coles announced that she was stepping down as Cosmopolitan editor in chief to become chief content office of Hearst Magazines. ("I'm still trying to figure out what the hell it means," she said of her new title.)

When they were setting up So Comso, which premieres Feb. 8, "I didn't know that I was going to be promoted within the ranks of Hearst," Coles said at the Television Critics Association's winter press tour in Pasadena, Calif. 

Coles' news, which came on the first day of an eight-week shoot, "really sent everybody into quite a tailspin," said Rob Bagshaw, the show's executive producer. "We follow that story through." And Coles will still be "omnipresent" on the series.

Coles, a twotime Adweek Editor of the Year, called the show "an office family drama," with a bit of a twist: "Because we constantly feature models, male models and female models, there's a lot of semi-nudity."

Asked about the early So Cosmo footage, which features plenty of editors who are partying and socializing, Coles explained, "We need the alcohol to get through!" She said that the editors have similar lifestyles to Cosmo readers themselves. Beyond that, "the drinks are literally a coping mechanism, because it's so busy and the industry is so disruptive."

As the season progresses, however, viewers see the magazine editors actually doing their jobs. "You will start to see how every cast member touches every page of the magazine," said Leah Wyar, executive beauty director, Cosmopolitan.

On the series, "my real concern was [that] what I wanted was for people to be shown fairly. I didn't want it to fall into the clichéd tropes of our business, because that's not how it works," said Coles.

And because the show was shot last fall, all of the magazine issues being prepared during filming will have been published by the time the So Cosmo episodes air. "In theory, if we do it right, you should be able to see everything we've been working on in print," said Coles.

The eight episodes were edited together from eight weeks of filming. "We film almost 24/7," said Bagshaw. "Even Joanna's life is not amazing 24 hours a day." Quipped Coles, "Actually, it is!"

Was there anything that Coles, who is also an executive producer, decreed was off-limits to include in the show? "My sex life," she said. Bagshaw added that there were only "very few times" he was not allowed to film.

With So Cosmo, "I'm thrilled to have another window through which to see the Cosmo woman's issues," said Coles, who is happy that the show will be broadcast to E!'s global audience. "We didn't know that when we signed up." Coles hopes the show will provide a boost to Cosmopolitan's 65 international editions: "We're planning on full world domination, if Vladimir Putin will help us."

Coles reflected on her four years as Cosmopolitan's editor in chief, and how she broadened the magazine's subject matter, "so it went beyond the bedroom and into the boardroom." Now, "Cosmo has become a much more contemporary magazine … it's a very modern voice."

While many So Cosmo viewers' public perception of a fashion magazine editor in chief is likely to be The Devil Wears Prada's ice queen Miranda Priestly, Coles said the show had a different inspiration: "Our role model more would be Ab Fab," she said, referring to the BBC comedy starring Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley. "Our real lives are channeling that much more than Miranda Priestly."