Best of 2013 (Behind the Scenes): 'Watch What Happens Live' producer explains how show comes up with silly games

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Image Credit: Charles Sykes/Bravo

When stars are on the promo circuit, interviews can get a little routine. But that’s never a problem for Watch What Happens Live.

If you enjoy your celebrities best boozy and goofy, you likely already have the Bravo late night program, hosted by Andy Cohen, recording on your DVR. Between seeing stars forced to “Plead The Fifth,” and seeing them dish on famous co-stars, the clubhouse was the place to be. Watch What Happens Live isn’t new this year, but A-list appearances in 2013 by Lady Gaga, Oprah, Cher and many others reminded us why it’s one of our favorites. 

Ask a fan why they choose WWHL and it’s often for the silly games they get everyone — whether it’s a Real Housewife or Meryl Streep – to play. For the end of the year, EW wanted to know how exactly those games come together and what goes on behind the scenes of television’s best on-screen party.

As told by: Watch What Happens Live co-EP John Jude

I wish I could say there is like a scientific process that we go through to come up with the games, but to be honest with you it’s really just a very small, creative team of producers and researchers. We have two executive producers and three researchers, about 10 people total. A lot of times people come up with ideas individually and then we get together and talk about them and send them to Andy. Ideas you see on air come from all members of the team. Everyone feels comfortable pitching ideas. That shows on air—we have a great vibe that we like to keep here. No one feels embarrassed or nervous to pitch things.

Once we find out a guest is booked on our show, we have a big calendar where we can see everyone for the next few weeks or months. One way we come up with a game is we try to come up with something that capitalizes on a talent that a guest has, or a twist on the project that they are promoting, or a twist on something they’ve done in the past that we’re all kind of obsessed with. An example of this would be when we had Neil Patrick Harris on. He does everything – he hosts shows, he’s on Broadway, he does web videos, he basically can do it all. So we played ‘What Can’t Neil Patrick Harris Do?’ which was basically just a way for him to jump through hoops for us. We spun a wheel that had weird tasks on it, such as ‘making balloon animals’ or ‘rap for Andy’ to kind of capitalize on all the crazy things he can do.

So there’s that path, capitalizing on a guest, and then the other path that’s a little bit more fun. We love a pun here; we love joke-y things. So we just sit around and riff on titles. This is called ‘title first’ for us. ‘Edge of Gloryhole’ [with Lady Gaga] is a perfect example. We were just going through her most popular songs, and we got to “Edge of Glory” and our minds are kind of warped here so we went straight to Edge of Gloryhole [laughs]. We have a great guy named Paul who creates all of our graphics and props so he got busy making that glory hole bathroom wall that we put between Andy and Lady Gaga and it just fell into place.

One time we had Christina Ricci on and we were just playing around with her name. Ricci:…’Reach around’ came up. What can she, hmm, put her hands around? And then we had the other guests guess if she could put her hands around a giant banana, or a giant teddy bear. [Another example?] Saved by the Bell became Shaved By The Bell. A lot of times the title comes first and we work backwards into it and come up with a funny, irreverent game to play with that title.

The good thing about Andy is if the game isn’t weird, if it isn’t crazy, he doesn’t want to do it. So it gives us carte blanche to come up with ideas that you wouldn’t really see on other shows. And I think that’s why we love working here so much; if we were on another show and we pitched some of the ideas, the boss would fire us! To not only pitch them but then have them executed on air is pretty fun.

I would say 99.99% of the time if we prep a game we play it. The only time I can think of in recent memory that we didn’t was with Nancy Grace. We love Nancy Grace here because she’s so outrageous and says whatever she’s thinking; we love her as a guest. So we wanted to play this game called Falling From (Nancy) Grace, which was a title-first game. The deal was she would have to put various objects on her head and balance them for five seconds and the other guests would predict if she could balance them on her head or not. We pitched that to her but she didn’t want to do it, I think she maybe just got her hair done or something. But most of the time people are up for pretty much anything.

I think the environment that Andy creates helps that. [The studio] is smaller than a broom closet. We fit maybe 15 audience members and then our crew is jam packed in there. Everyone is drinking together and having a good time so I think a lot of times the guests feel so comfortable that they’re willing to do anything. Andy creates a really fun, safe environment for our guests and I don’t think anyone feels like they’re being put on the spot in a bad way; it’s all in good fun. When they look at Andy and see his enthusiasm for the game and towards them it makes things a lot easier.

[When it comes to the most popular game, Plead The Fifth] those are those questions that are like, ‘Should Andy ask them? Shouldn’t he?’ and putting [the awkward questions] in that “Plead the Fifth” format. It’s so weird, it’s really just three questions, you can plead the fifth on one of them. But guests take it so seriously! When Andy says you have to answer the questions, they think it’s like a binding contract! We’re watching these A-list celebrities be like, ‘Whelp. I have to answer it.’ We’ve never had anyone say, ‘I’m not going to do that.’ Everyone has played along. And it’s been amazing. And I think it’s because of Andy’s enthusiasm that people think, ‘I’ve got to do it.’


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