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The docuseries 'For Real: The Story of Reality TV' premieres on E! on Thursday.

By Mary Sollosi
March 25, 2021 at 03:49 PM EDT
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Having built his career in reality TV, Andy Cohen knows the genre. With his latest project, docuseries For Real: The Story of Reality TV (premiering on E! on March 25), the Bravo super-producer and Watch What Happens Live host examines the tangled history of unscripted television in its many forms — and you might be surprised what he uncovers.

"I absolutely loved the idea of looking back. I lived it on several levels — as a fan, as a producer," Cohen tells EW. "It just seemed like a bullseye topic to dive into."

And a fruitful one as the docuseries lasts seven episodes, though Cohen says, "We could have done 17."

Each hour of the limited event series examines a different corner of the reality TV universe: There's an episode about celebrity series like The Osbournes, one about real-people reality like The Real World, another about shows depicting the search for love like The Bachelorette, etc. — all revisiting your old favorites as well as long-forgotten one-season wonders (Kid Nation, anyone?). In addition to the usual clips, narration, and talking-head commentary chronicling its particular history, each episode is anchored by a larger interview with an icon (or a few) of that subgenre, conducted by Cohen.

On the first episode, he sits down with the Kris Jenner and her three oldest daughters, who dish on their experience making Keeping Up with the Kardashians.

"It was surreal. Even though I produce reality television, it was wild stepping into that series," he says of joining Kris, Kim, Khloé, and Kourtney in Khloé's backyard for the sequence. "It was like 200 degrees, they were lit, they were all beautifully made up. None of them were sweating; I was dripping in sweat the moment I stepped in there. They were all wearing leather and boots and they were just like it was, you know, 54 degrees. It was wild."

Kris says in the interview that she would love to be a guest on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, which many fans have called for her to join now that KUWTK is ending with its 20th season. Due to COVID and both shows' shooting schedules, she didn't film for season 11, but "I think down the line, that would be great," Cohen says. (Jenner's daughter Kim of course also previously appeared on The Simple Life, starring Paris Hilton, whose mother Kathy will feature in the forthcoming season of RHOBH, which counts Kathy's sisters Kim and Kyle Richards as original cast members.)

for real
Credit: E!

One of Cohen's most memorable interviews was with The Bachelor's Jason and Molly Mesnick.

"I was really surprised," he says. "I hadn't seen anyone who had come out of that show speak so frankly about producers misleading them and just how a lot of the machinations really work." ("On set, they own you," Jason tells him during the sit-down, during which he and his wife reveal some shocking manipulations.)

And he devotes some time too, of course, to Bravo stars (and a few of the network's producers, in talking-head spots: "I always love hearing from them," Cohen says. "They're the ones who really know where the bodies are buried").

With the entire pantheon of Real Housewives on his speed dial, he chose to sit down (in separate interviews) with original New Jersey castmates Teresa Giudice and Caroline Manzo to discuss their epic feud.

"They are iconic to not only the franchise, but to New Jersey and to an era of that show that commanded massive ratings," Cohen explains.

And after careful consideration, he also names Giudice as his personal pick for the greatest reality star of all time: "I think if you look at the trajectory of what [she's] been through in front of our cameras, that's pretty amazing."

Another unique trajectory saw one notorious reality star make it to the White House, and the show examines The Apprentice, with insight from Vivica A. Fox and Omarosa.

"Ivanka doesn't come off very well," Cohen observes of that section of For Real, which illuminates throughout how reality TV hasn't only reflected the last three decades of American life, but also helped shape it.  

On one episode, Cohen is moved to tears while reuniting cast members from the first season of The Real World, which had been a formative series for him personally; "that was real feeling," he says of his emotional response.

That unique power of reality, for viewers to identify and connect with the stars as not only characters but real people, comes through in piercing moments throughout the docuseries.

"A lot of people do relate to Tiffany [Pollard] or Mama June or people that you would think, there's no way," Cohen says. "We feel like we know them. We get inside these people's lives and we love them."

For Real: The Story of Reality TV premieres Thursday, March 25, at 9 p.m. on E!

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