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Posted at 09:49 AM ET, 01/09/2012

Winter TV Press Tour 2012: TV critics get answers (eventually) about how Bravo handled ‘Real Housewives’ after Russell Armstrong suicide


Taylor Armstrong and Russell Armstrong (Michael Kovac)
It’s always hard to know how much time to let lapse, after accepting someone’s champagne, before asking him why he decided to plow ahead with a failing-marriage storyline on one of his reality series when the husband committed suicide.

Having gotten no pointers on this as children from their mothers, TV critics attending Winter TV Press Tour 2012 went with their best guess: about five questions worth of time.

So instead they asked Bravo network programming development chief — and the network’s “Watch What Happens Live ” host — Andy Cohen how he would turn things up a notch, now that “Watch” has joined the late-night talk show fracas, airing five nights a week, Sunday through Thursday, at 11 p.m.

But even then they only got to that question after an initial, longish, silence.

“Does anybody have any questions?” a Bravo person finally asked, as Cohen and “Watch What Happens” exec producer Michael Davies sat on stage — waiting.

“We’re drinking,” one reporter explained.

Finally, the question was asked. The answer was: ratchet up the guest list, starting with Michele Bachman’s least favorite musician, The Roots’ Questlove, and also including Anderson Cooper, Jimmy Fallon, Tori Spelling, Rosie Perez, “Top Chef’s” Hugh Acheson, Rosie O’Donnell, and “Glee” star Nene Leakes. And, on Thursday, Jan 19, the show’s first ever Pajama Party, with Ralph Fiennes and Holly Hunter.

Then the critics smiled winningly as Cohen announced he’d hired comic Sandra Bernhard to be a weekly “correspondent” on the show, delivering “Sandrology,” – an uncensored rant about recent pop culture happenings.

A couple questions about drinking on the show later, they asked Cohen who is on his Guest Wish List.

Answer: “I think Michelle Obama would be incredible. It’s an election year,” Cohen said.

“Don’t laugh!” he barked.

Because they were.

He also thought Madonna would “be amazing.” And Diana Ross. “I love funny people. I especially love funny ladies. So fill the Clubhouse with funny ladies and I’m good.

They wondered who’s been his worst guest to date. Answer: Tyrese, but only because he “shut down” on account of the show being live, and refused to show Cohen and viewers his abs. But, Cohen added graciously, “I’d love to have him back...and I’d love to see the abs.”

They asked about the show’s social media plans.

And then, finally, they asked about Taylor and Russell Armstrong.

Taylor was Cohen’s guest in December on “Watch,” discussing the suicide of her husband, Russell — well, actually, discussing how hard her life has been since her husband’s suicide. And her new book.

One critic wondered how Cohen was feeling, leading up to the interview. “Were you, when you were leading up to it, were you getting a little nervous, like trying to figure out what the right tone to strike with it?”

“Yeah, I thought a lot about it,” Cohen explained. “And what I wanted to do was maintain the integrity of what we do at ‘Watch What Happens Live,’ which is: ‘fun.’ We’re a fun show. That’s our biggest kind of word that we associate with.”

Few people can successfully mix “fun” and “suicide.” And yet, the show must go on.

“So this was an interview obviously that was very serious. And [Taylor] also wanted to have fun on the show, but the audience hadn’t seen her really that much, and it wasn’t necessarily time to be fun,” Cohen reminisced. “So, we spent the first 10 minutes of the show talking seriously, took a break — and then went into the fun.”

Cohen insisted the decision to show the season with the storyline came after serious discussions at the network — Russell Armstrong’s family members have nailed Bravo for the decision.

Russell “was really played as kind of a clown early on,” one critic commented, asking, “Did it make you re-evaluate how some of the side characters are treated?”

“He chose to come back” to the show, said Cohen. “He had spoken to producers a lot vocally about how much the show had helped his business.”

But, Cohen added, “I can’t speak for him.”

By  |  09:49 AM ET, 01/09/2012

 
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