Melissa Maerz
January 06, 2012 AT 12:00 PM EST

As the host of Bravo’s Sunday- and Monday-night talk show Watch What Happens: Live, Andy Cohen, 43, pulls in more female viewers than most late-night cable programs. ”It’s girls and their gay best friends,” says the man who coined the phrase ”Mazel of the Week” and whose day job is serving as Bravo’s executive VP of original programming and development. ”And I’m their gay best friend.” His audience has been growing. Since September, WWHL — which airs live from New York City — has averaged 1.2 million viewers. In its appeal to women 18 to 49, it’s second only to The Daily Show, according to Bravo. Now, Cohen says, ”the husbands are like, ‘I love your show! Mazel!”’ Starting Jan. 8, the network will expand WWHL from two to five nights a week at 11 p.m. We talked with Cohen about what to expect.

Now that you’re on five nights a week, you’ll be competing with Letterman and Leno. What makes you different?

Watch What Happens is live, so anything can happen. It’s a mix between Wayne’s World and Larry King Live, with a little Playboy After Dark. I’m basically hosting a cocktail party from my den, so it’s a genuine experience. We don’t pre-interview our guests. All we want to know is ”What cocktail do you drink?” Also — late-breaking news exclusive to EW! — we’re building a bar on set.

Can you handle drinking five nights a week?

Sure! But I sip now.

Will you continue to mix up the guests, pairing the Real Housewives with movie stars and the ladies of 227?

The first night is Kandi Burruss from Real Housewives of Atlanta and Brandi Glanville from Beverly Hills. Kandi, Brandi, and Andy. We’ll drink an Andy-tini! But I want to get, like, Michelle Obama, David Freese, and Madonna. I love unusual combinations. I used to be in charge of the greenroom at CBS’ The Early Show. I’d go in at 3 a.m. and greet, like, Tip O’Neill and Sammy Davis Jr.’s widow and Joan Rivers — people who should never be together! It was like an awkward cocktail party, with coffee instead of cocktails. And that’s the root of Watch What Happens.

Will you grill the Housewives on WWHL, or save the tough questions for the reunion shows?

Oprah said something like ”Don’t come to my house and tell me what I can or can’t say. But it’s up to you to decide how you want to respond to what I say.” And that’s how I feel. When I had Camille [Grammer, from Real Housewives of Beverly Hills] on, I said, ”We’re gonna go through every complaint that the viewers have of you.” The game was: Here’s More Reasons Why People Hate You. And to her credit, she answered everything. She was great.

Do you worry about Real Housewives fatigue?

I worry about any brand having fatigue. But Atlanta and Beverly Hills are having their best seasons. For New York, we’re reenergizing that brand. We listened to the fans that, after the reunion, it was too negative. We did something very controversial in changing up the group.

Do you feel pressure to cover the Housewives that need a ratings boost on WWHL?

Sure, but I’m not going to hit anyone over the head. The worst thing for me is if anyone ever says ”You have to do this” on the show. It’s like, ”What if I don’t want to?”

Will Bravo focus more on scripted shows in the future?

My goal is to get something scripted on the air in the next 18 months. We’ve announced a few projects, including one with Darren Star [the drag-queen drama I Am Not Myself These Days]. But we’re not shifting away from reality. We want to continue doing what we do best.

You’re known for partying. How will being on five nights a week affect your nightlife?

I bring my guests to this great lesbian bar, the Cubbyhole, after the show. Ellen Barkin was very popular there! I’ll still do that, but the show will be the party. On Jan. 20, we’ll have our first-ever Watch What Happens: Live pajama party. It’s going to be me, Ralph Fiennes, and Holly Hunter in pj’s.

You don’t seem like a pj’s guy to me.

I got some at Jack Spade, but those are flannel, and I don’t want to shvitz. Maybe some pj shorts? We’ll have a hot-pant party with Brad [from It’s a Brad, Brad World]! See? There’s nothing we can’t do.

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