Bravo and Oxygen’s Lauren Zalaznick: “I’ve got no budget, no stars, but I’ve got to win”

In its Sunday edition, The New York Times Magazine profiles Lauren Zalaznick, the NBC Universal executive who runs Bravo, Oxygen, and other things, and declares that “what she’s producing isn’t rampant consumerism on display to be emulated or mocked, or both — it’s a form of social anthropology, a cultural text as worthy of analysis as any other, an art form suitable for her intellect.”

The profile is fascinating, even if it does drift occasionally into a blue-skies, ass-kissing point of view (on Project Runway‘s Bluefly product placement: “There’s nothing coy about the sponsorship, which announces itself so obviously it’s almost retro chic.” No, it’s annoying.), although it does point out that “Zalaznick’s untroubled embrace of product placement seems a little hard to reconcile with her overall aversion to all things phony.”

Ultimately, the magazine argues that Oxygen’s new tagline “Live Out Loud” “does just what Zalaznick says she hopes her programming achieves: it takes behavior that some might dismiss as base and gives it value, even virtue,” according to the magazine.

Zalaznick says, “I’ve got no budget, no stars — but I’ve got to win,” and she’s done that consistently and quite effectively, helping to change reality TV’s look and feel. She also says, “My job is to entertain people and deliver a bottom line at a company. Now I’ve done both, and I can punch the clock, punch out and go home. I’m done. That was my shift.”

As to the bottom line, the profile gives us the names of Bravo’s target audiences: primarily, they want “Affluencers,” who are “educated and upscale” 20-somethings, plus “Will and Grace” (“urban gay men and single female professionals”), “P.T.A. trendsetters” (young mothers who don’t live in urban areas but want that lifestyle), and “Metrocompetitors” (“a tech-friendly affluent young male”).

Reality show producer Fenton Bailey, who’s a friend of Zalaznick’s, summed up her influence on the network like this: “What do all the shows have in common? Lauren.” When she was at VH1, he says, “People were terrified of her. She doesn’t mince words, and she says exactly what she knows, and she knows everything. And I think people find that intimidating.”

Her boss, NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker, says, “Lauren’s quirky and creative, but she wants to play within the corporate environment of NBC Universal, of G.E. She’ll roll her eyes and complain about the bureaucracy and wonder why she has to make another command performance — and by the way, she’s first in line to make the command performance. And she’s always great about it. She loves to be on that stage — she loves center stage.”

Gawker noted what may be the best part of the article: an anecdote involving Zalaznick slamming Andy Cohen. To his credit, Cohen is the source of the quotation, as he repeated the key moment of a conversation. “She says: ‘Just so you know, you have become that person who thinks he knows what is going on in the universe, but you really don’t. You’re really out of it. You don’t have the same reference points as anyone,’” Cohen says Zalaznick said.

Anyone who’s read his blog or watched him host a reunion knows that she’s exactly right. That’s all the evidence we need that Zalaznick gets it.

The Affluencer [New York Times Magazine]

about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.