Bravo at TCA: more than ‘Real Housewives,’ reason to celebrate

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Bravo: going strong.

It’s almost ironic in a way that with the current state of NBC, a number of the networks under the NBC/Universal umbrella are actually prospering. USA was the top channel for scripted cable in 2011, E! dominated with all things Kardashians, and Bravo has developed a brand under the watchful eye of Andy Cohen and other executives that knows its audience — and also knows how to give them everything they want.

Thanks to this, Bravo’s overall presentation at the Television Critics Association this weekend had a much more positive air to it than NBC’s — with the exception of a few reporters who tried (and failed) to make a correlation between “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” and the Russell Armstrong tragedy. (Cohen reiterated that Armstrong was given an offer to walk away after the first season, but he decided to stick around thanks to how the show helped his business.)

While there was plenty of other “Housewives” talk during this panel — including the show’s plans to launch the Kim Zolciak wedding spin-off “Don’t Be Tardy For the Wedding” this spring — the network was actually smart to remind people that there is plenty of other worthwhile programming on the cable network that does not involve flipping tables, drama over birthday parties, and tours of massive mansions.

Kathy Griffin – Following the decision to make Cohen’s successful “Watch What Happens Live!” into a five-day show, the network also made it clear that they were giving Kathy Griffin the reigns to a talk show later this year. “Kathy” (which is yes, as dull a title as any out there) will air weekly, and will capitalize largely on Griffin’s tendency to make fun of the Kardashians and anything else that happens in the tabloids. Think of it as “The Soup” minus Joel McHale — and with more gossip rather than TV.

Griffin already has a lengthy history with Bravo — she won Emmys for “My Life on the D-List” there, and has starred in a series of stand-up specials for the network since. In other words, she already has a devoted following, and the network knows what it is going to get from her.

Returning shows – Away from “Housewives,” there are quite a few shows coming back to the network — including the second season of “Pregnant in Heels” and the sixth installment of the unintentionally funny “The Millionaire Matchmaker.” “Million Dollar Listing LA” will be back, and is also set to get a spin-off series set in New York.

As for “Top Chef,” there was no official announcement on a season 10 — but considering the critical praise for the show and the solid ratings, it would be stunning to see this Texas-themed season be the end.

New shows – Speaking of “Top Chef,” “Top Chef Masters” host Curtis Stone is teaming up with chef Cat Cora on a new series entitled “Around the World in 80 Plates” (premiering in May), a competition series to feature a dozen chefs traveling to ten different countries in 44 days. The show has a distinct “Amazing Race” vibe to it, but we like the idea of getting to see cuisine from all around the world rather than just the occasional travel visit we see on “Top Chef.”

Meanwhile, Bravo is getting back into the design business with “Interior Therapy with Jeff Lewis” (even if it is no replacement for the loss of “Project Runway”), and they also have coming up the “Jersey Shore”-esque “Shahs of Sunset” that features Americans of Middle Eastern descent. (Ryan Seacrest is one of the forces behind this show.)

Even though there are plenty more TCA panels to come, Bravo did a stellar job of handling itself to some controversy-hungry reporters. The network demonstrated perfectly that it has a target audience, and it also has set up a number of ways to market their programs in-house courtesy of “Watch What Happens Live!” and the promotional efforts of the “Bravolebrities” themselves.

In some ways, the network is following a model brilliantly set up by USA when they first introduced the “Characters Welcome” brand — give your shows time to find an audience, and simultaneously do everything you can to show that you genuinely care about what you are putting on screen rather than just being out to make a quick buck.

Photo: Bravo

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