What Happens When We Watch What Happens Live?, or The Aftershow as Critical Mediation

Curator's Note

On the April 5, 2016 episode of Watch What Happens Live (Bravo 2009- ), host Andy Cohen interviewed guests Kyle Richards and Sonja Morgan, Real Housewives of Beverly Hills and New York, respectively. The majority of the episode follows a typical aftershow playbook: it strengthens viewer loyalty to and interaction with the network’s primary shows, provides talent a promotional venue, and asks guests to reinforce show storylines through updates and expanded analysis of relationships and conflicts. As much as this WWHL episode conforms to an expected formula, it also includes moments that disrupt the aftershow’s collective reinforcement of reality TV storylines. In doing so, it reveals and contradicts tenets of the core text that the aftershow purports to reinforce and support.

After effusing about the “crossover” experience of hosting Housewives from different shows, Cohen asks the women whether they know each other. The women reveal that their relationship is work-related, which diffuses the illusion of friendship Cohen initially constructs. Cohen and Richards then rehash the recently-aired episode of Real Housewives of Beverly Hills that featured a “girls’ trip”—a staple of the franchise—to Dubai. Cohen pronounces the Dubai mall where the women shopped “horrible” and asks Richards if there truly were any exclusive products available there. Richards answers no and does nothing to challenge his negative appraisal of the mall. This exchange directly contradicts the narrative of the extensive shopping trip sequence in RHOBH, in which the women express amazement at the mall and emphasize the uniqueness of the goods they purchased there. Morgan then reveals a somewhat-fractious production backstory. She had pitched a Dubai trip episode to Cohen for Real Housewives of New York, which he ignored, only to give the storyline and opportunity to RHOBH.

These various disconnections and contradictions between show and aftershow challenge the idea that the aftershow, regardless of its ever-increasing complexity, merely serves to position viewers in an “endless loop of content consumption.”[1] The aftershow reveals the construction of reality TV discourses and foregrounds workplace dynamics behind seemingly affective and interpersonal relationships. It also offers opportunities for the producer, talent, and viewer to challenge the capitalist fantasies constructed for them by the primary televisual text.  

 

[1] Randee Dawn, “Reality Aftershows Keep the Party Going,” Variety, August 5, 2014. http://variety.com/2014/tv/awards/reality-television-after-shows-transmedia-1201275606/

 

 

 

Comments

Jacquelyn Arcy's picture

Fantastic post!

Fantastic post, Jennifer. I especially like you’re your thinking about the potentialities of rupture and contestation in the after show. I wonder if you think these moments, that fracture the glossy sheen of Bravo’s reality TV series, are part of the pleasure of watching Watch What Happens Live. I’m thinking particularly about host Andy Cohen’s “brand” of snarky fandom and his active role in pointing out these tensions. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Jennifer S. Clark's picture

The Cohen Effect?

Thanks, Jacquelyn. You’re absolutely right to point out how central Cohen’s persona is in generating pleasures in the show(s). Along with the fracturing effect of his cynicism, Cohen also seems equally adept and willing to support genuine fandom (something your April 29 post certainly gestures to).

In somewhat related fashion, I’m also interested in Cohen’s building of his own “petite celebrity” (a term from Robin Johnson’s work and one that Diane Negra and Maria Pramaggiore apply to the Kardashians). I wonder how we might define his celebrity, particularly since he is a relatively minor celebrity, a seeming fan and critic, and a producer? (This last element suggests he is slightly different from the genuine petite celebrity—he actually does produce things.) What work does his particular perform in the realm of the aftershow, do you think?

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