In an Instagram post, Cohen wrote: “After a few days of self-quarantine, and not feeling great, I have tested positive for Coronavirus. As much as I felt like I could push through whatever I was feeling to do #WWHL from home, we’re putting a pin in that for now so I can focus on getting better. I want to thank all the medical professionals who are working tirelessly for all of us, and urge everybody to stay home and take care of themselves.”
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As of this Sunday night, the Bravo talk show will be called “Watch What Happens Live With Andy Cohen: @ Home,” and will be shot by Cohen himself from his West Village apartment in New York City. Guests will be a mixture of Bravo-lebrities, as the coinage goes, as well as friends of Cohen’s. Because of the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting production shutdowns, the last taping of “Watch What Happens Live” in its studio, known as “the clubhouse,” took place on March 12.
Cohen talked about the decision with Variety on Friday morning. “Our show is arguably the most lo-tech show in late night in its current form. So the idea of taking it down even further a few notches is just ironic and hilarious,” he said. “I mean, we’re the show that I still can’t believe gets a live signal out of a very small clubhouse in Soho. So we will now be from my own clubhouse in the West Village. My show has always been something of a little coffee klatch, party-line type show. And this seemed like a very natural extension of not only the show, but obviously the times that we’re in right now.”
Just after the interview, New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo ordered New Yorkers to stay in place and self-quarantine as much as possible. On Thursday, California’s Governor Gavin Newsom had issued the same edict.
Cohen’s aim is to entertain audiences during this unprecedentedly stressful time, and the first show for Sunday night will feature Jerry O’Connell, Nene Leakes and Ramona Singer. “Guess what?” Cohen said. “That’s a party.” He envisions the video interviews being in boxes, “Brady Bunch”-style, he said, a format that lends itself to drinking games. “Take a sip of your drink if you’ve done X, Y, or Z while you’re in quarantine.”
Someone was about to drop off a camera for Cohen with his doorman, and then he would be talked through setting it up on Facetime. “From what I’m told, it’s basically maybe a few levels up from Skype,” Cohen said.
At least at first, the show will be recorded ahead of time in case there are glitches, like guests’ video streams freezing. “I want to make sure we get a good half-hour,” Cohen said. “But after we get a couple under our belt, we could wind up going live — my goal would be to go live.”
The show’s staff, who are all working remotely, have been pitching ideas unique to filming in the guests’ homes. “We’re going to be doing some at home show-and-tells,” he said. With his “Real Housewives” guests, Cohen has asked that they “each to bring an iconic outward outfit that they’ve worn during their time on the show to show us.” The “Watch What Happens Live” set is based on Cohen’s apartment, so “I will be broadcasting from my office which looks like my clubhouse,” he said.
As for whether viewers might see Cohen’s son, Benjamin — who turned 1 on Feb. 4 — he said he’s been under orders by his family in St. Louis to protect Benjamin’s privacy. On Instagram, Cohen has been showing Benjamin from the back only. “So the answer is probably not,” Cohen said. “Talk to me in week three of this when I’m looking for new ideas, and I’ll be like Kathie Lee Gifford and Cody, you know?”
Bravo’s schedule is well-stocked for the moment, with editors figuring out how to work remotely on shows that are not yet completed. Two “Real Housewives” had to shut filming down — “Orange County” and “New Jersey” — because of the coronavirus. But others, such as “New York City,” “Beverly Hills,” “Potomac” and the new “Salt Lake City,” had finished filming, though they need to establish how to edit them and finish filming confessional interviews with the cast.
The taping of the reunion for “The Real Housewives of Atlanta” couldn’t happen, however. But Cohen aims to do it as soon as possible. “It’s my hope that once this fog is lifted, I literally go do ‘Vanderpump,’ ‘Shahs’ and ‘Atlanta’ just one after the other,” he said.
Monday night’s guest on “Watch What Happens Live” will be John Mayer, who has his own show on Instagram, and whom Cohen called a “real calming influence on people over the last 10 days since this since people have been self-quarantining, so I’m really anxious to hear what he has to say on Monday night.” Tuesday will be Stassi Schroeder, Jax Taylor, and Brittany Cartwright from “Vanderpump Rules.” He thinks Wednesday will be Kyle Richards from “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” and Joe and Melissa Gorga from “New Jersey.”
Does Cohen have guests lined up for weeks beyond that? “The answer is no!” he said with a laugh. “The answer is we are kind of figuring it out.”
Cohen wants to end every episode with a message of hope, and Sunday’s will feature his rabbi.
“I’m leaning on people that I know to help get us through this. Which is, by the way, exactly how ‘Watch What Happens Live’ started. I was relying on my friends to come on and prove to the world that I could do this show. And here we are, actually 11 years later, doing something similar.”
Cohen had been watching “The Handmaid’s Tale” before speaking with Variety, “which is bringing me great calm and comfort in these times!” he said. But he doesn’t plan to suddenly turn “Watch What Happens Live” into a topical program. “I’m just not going to get political on my show,” he said. “I don’t think it’s entertaining. I think that there are kind of fun ways to talk about what we’re all going through, and add a little humor and levity. I think that’s what people are coming to me for.”
His nanny takes Benjamin out every morning, and Cohen tries to take him for a walk in the late afternoons. “The streets are eerie. It’s so quiet,” he said. Several people in his building have the coronavirus, he said, but most of his neighbors have left the city.
“I’m grateful that a refrigerator full of food and I have enough milk for my son. And my nanny and I are OK,” he said. “You know, New York has a great spirit in times like these. It’s easy to kind of whittle everything down and get focused on what we’re grateful for.”