'Without social media our show wouldn’t exist': how Watch What Happens Live has changed the game for late night

Deirdre Connolly (left) from Bravo 'Watch What Happens Live' / Courtesy of Deirdre Connolly, 'Watch What Happens Live'

The new late night TV wars are taking place on the social web. YouTube views are becoming as valuable as linear views. Snapchat is the new frontier for behind the scenes and the idea of live is being redefined with YouNow, Facebook Live and more.

For the last seven years, Bravo’s "Watch What Happens Live," has taken viewers into the late night world of Bravo with host Andy Cohen. Creating some of the most anticipated live TV, especially in the reality TV space, including "Real Housewives of New Jersey" Teresa Giudice's pre- and post-prison interviews, the show brings guests from "Bravolebrities" to some of pop culture's biggest stars including Oprah Winfrey, Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez and many more.

Found Remote interviewed Deirdre Connolly, Executive Producer at "Watch What Happens Live," to talk about the show's seven years on-air, as well as social media's role and her hopes for the future.

Found Remote: How did you get involved with the show originally?

Deirdre Connolly: I worked at MTV for a long time, always in live and I really loved live TV, just because it’s very exciting, things are different every day and you don’t have to sit in post-production which is not my favorite thing. A friend of mine who works at MTV knew an executive at Bravo who was starting up “Watch What Happens Live” and he connected us and I thought, oh my gosh, that would be a dream job. I was already watching Bravo and to get paid to watch “Housewives” would be a dream come true. I knew who Andy was from the Reunion shows so we met just over seven years ago and clicked. At that time, it was only a three-month order. It was supposed to be my summer. I was hired in June and expected to finish in September/October and then they picked us up for another three months and then six months and then we got a year order and then went five nights a week and here we are seven plus years later and still going strong. We have so many exciting guests on and everyday it grows bigger and bigger.

FR: What would you say are some of the biggest changes in the show from seven years ago to today, besides the level of guests?

DC: Definitely [the] level of guests is No. 1. I think in our first season we knew we made it because Tina Fey came on and originally anybody that was outside of the Bravo scope was sort of a friend of [Andy's], but Tina was somebody ... who was actually just a fan of Bravo and watched anyway. That was a turning point in terms of like, oh wow, this is something that people are watching, people are taking notice. I think level of guests is one thing and just the pickup. ... We’re really getting pickup based on what people are saying and that they’re relaxing and letting loose on the show, maybe revealing stuff that they haven’t before. … I think that’s a testament to the power of “Watch What Happens Live.”

FR: The show finds an amazing way to use hashtags and GIFs, how have you incorporated digital and technology into the show? How has that helped it?

DC: I think the thing that makes “Watch What Happens Live” really unique in this landscape is that it was built around Andy from the get-go. I think other shows have an amazing history and are bringing hosts in and finding their voice a little bit. But from the ground up, we built the show around Andy and his perspective and his point of view. He’s somebody who’s very connected. He loves social media anyway in his free time and any new thing, he’s latching on to. I think that relationship with viewers is something that we have had from the beginning, it grows, it’s what fuels our entire show.

FR: How much do you pay attention to what people are saying on Twitter and social media? Is it just during the show? How does that affect [it]?

DC.: We’re so invested in what people are saying. Not only do we want to make sure that we are addressing the things that people want to know. We are soliciting questions and everything from viewers prior to the show starting so we know, ok, this is the most burning question. ... During the show, we love watching, to see, oh my gosh, I can’t believe what she’s wearing or there are other celebrities tweeting in to say, tell Chrissy Teigen she looks beautiful tonight. It really is a full circle thing. I think that without social media, our show wouldn’t exist. It’s the foundation of our show.

FR: Have you explored recently with any new social media platforms? Whether it be Facebook Live or Snapchat?

DC.: We have done a lot with Facebook Live. Especially Andy does a lot with Facebook Live, personally... We Snapchat all of our commercial breaks and what is going on and everything, so it’s a real 360-degree experience for people. … People come here and it’s a party so we want to make sure viewers know that that’s real. It’s fun for people who are on-air, it’s fun for our audience, it’s fun for our staff, it’s just a whole experience that I think is very unique in this TV landscape.

FR: Any big hopes for the next seven years? Anything you want to do, evolve or change?

Connolly.: I would just be so happy if we continue with the momentum that we have. There’s just never a dull moment. ... I think naturally we are growing and going in a very exciting direction. Of course there are guests that we would love to have. We would love to have Madonna, Michelle Obama, so there are always goals. There’s never a time when there aren't things we are looking forward to.

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Haley Velasco

Haley Velasco is a writer based in Chicago, IL, who has a background in PR for a sports media company and has reported on a variety of topics, including sports, opinion, politics and celebrity news. Based in the Windy City, she covers industry happenings in the Midwest and throughout North America. She has been reporting for The Drum since May 2016.

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