People love Anderson Cooper. Sitting in the audience at Anderson Live, his daytime talk show on Fox—as I did today—I witnessed grown women scream as if they had just seen the second, silver-haired coming of Elvis. Anyone who remembers his heartbreaking coverage of Hurricane Katrina knows he's got great reporting chops; watching him bound around a brightly lit set to wild applause, stopping occasionally to talk to a member of the crowd, was a reminder that he is a damn good showman as well.
Many of the audience members had shown up at 5 a.m. Mostly because there was also a screening of the remake of Steel Magnolias—starring the day's other guests: Queen Latifah, Alfre Woodard, Phylicia Rashad, and Jill Scott. Personally, that was a little early for me. But as special guest co-host Andy Cohen noted, the tiredness leaves your body once you're hit by the wave of enthusiasm coming from people who've waited since daybreak to see Anderson Cooper in the flesh. So what did I learn from my stint as Anderson Live's guest blogger?
1) Anderson Cooper and Andy Cohen Are Actually Friends
For co-hosting to work, you need two people with great chemistry. It helps if the duo has been friends for 20 or so years like Anderson and Andy. It's too bad Cohen has his own show, Watch What Happens Live on Bravo, or he could spend every day making daytime-TV magic with Anderson. They joke around in the way that only friends—who have known each other for a long time and aren't afraid of hurting each other's feelings—can pull off. I was right behind them as they stood in front of the camera, closing the show with robotic Necomimi cat ears wriggling on their heads, giving slight "Can you believe it?" laughs when it was all over. Despite that closeness, Cooper still had to repeatedly apologize for pronouncing Cohen's name like "Cone."
2) Anderson Cooper Isn't Afraid of the Audience
He has reported from some of the most dangerous spots on the planet, yet there he was, walking around with a cardboard box full of donuts like someone's jovial uncle, handing them out to whoever wanted one. This is a lot of what makes the show work—Anderson Cooper interacting with the crowd in a way that seems genuine, not like he's pandering. He even invited the woman sitting next to me, a torrent of friendly energy named Candace Brooks, back to the show from yesterday's audience to cook a meat-stuffed baked potato from her restaurant, Harlon's BBQ, on stage with him and Andy.
3) #AndersonLive Isn't Joking About Social Media
Apparently it's not rude to fiddle with your phone on Anderson Live—it's encouraged. That was my view from the cleverly named "Tweet Seats" where a row of enthusiastic iPhone owners tweeted their way throughout the entire show. Anderson took questions from Twitter, joked about a Big Bird parody account someone started last night after Romney's anti-PBS remark, and even publicly friended the Facebook page of Ms. Brooks' struggling restaurant. You can tell that he actually finds social media useful, as opposed to TV hosts who treat it as some kind of necessary evil, which is a good sign for the longevity of the show.
4) Anderson Cooper's Coming Out Was Not a Marketing Ploy
Well, duh. Most reasonable people respected what was a very personal decision for Mr. Cooper and, in a promising sign for our country's growing maturity, didn't make a big deal about it. Except Star Jones, who said on Today that Cooper might have come out in a ploy to boost ratings. Instead of dancing around the issue, he called out Jones for her absurd comment, memorably quipping "I wasn't even aware she was still on TV." He then put out the idea that if he was going to exploit his coming out for profit, he would have at least made a TV special out of it, like Lebron James announcing that he was going to the Miami Heat on ESPN. On second thought, I would totally watch that. There's still time Anderson!
—Keith Wagstaff is a writer and editor based in Brooklyn. Follow him @kwagstaff.
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