The Bravo network executive who green-lighted the Real Housewives franchise shares backstage insights into reality TV.
In this uneven memoir/gossip fest, Cohen attempts to strike a balance between the story of his upbringing in a close-knit Jewish family and dishing on the antics of “Bravolebrities.” In the former, he often succeeds, portraying his parents as warmly and humorously as you would expect from someone who implored his mom to send him updates on All My Children while he was away at camp. Cohen’s youthful obsession with soap maven Susan Lucci further highlights his eventual lionizing of the Real Housewives, and he sprinkles his awkward encounters with his diva idol throughout the text. He also effectively captures the fear of coming out in the 1980s, a time when homophobic jokes and AIDS misinformation were rampant. Cohen is candid, but he will try many readers’ patience with his devotion of several pages to the most mundane details of the Housewives’ fame-mongering: e.g., tweets from their dogs, transcripts of interviews gone awry and defenses of their shallowness that ring—surprise!—hollow. In one tortured instance, he reveals how the Bravo team recut all episodes of the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills after a participant’s husband committed suicide, then claims that what they presented on TV was “real life.” The disclosure that the film crew shoots 85 hours of footage for every hour aired gives the lie to the claim that reality TV is any such thing. By the time that Cohen’s father tells him, “I just can’t get over that people speak to each other this way, in public places,” most readers will agree and likely stop reading.
Anyone except the most devoted Housewives fans will wish that Cohen were less talkative.