Reality series So Cosmo shows magazine staff cavorting with half-naked models

Never a dull moment behind the scenes with the staff of women's magazine Cosmopolitan and their former editor-in-chief, Ms Joanna Coles (fourth from left).
Never a dull moment behind the scenes with the staff of women's magazine Cosmopolitan and their former editor-in-chief, Ms Joanna Coles (fourth from left).PHOTO: NBC UNIVERSAL

New reality TV series takes viewers into the world of glamour and deadlines at the US fashion magazine

Do staff at the women's magazine Cosmopolitan do any actual work?

This was a question impishly put to its former editor-in-chief, Ms Joanna Coles, after scenes from the reality series So Cosmo appear to show her staff constantly drinking and cavorting with half-naked fashion models.

"It seems like you spend a lot of time having drinks and taking pieces of clothing off and objectifying people. Do any of you actually write or worry about deadlines or work?" a reporter asks at a recent Los Angeles press day for the show, which airs in Singapore on E! (Singtel TV Channel 328, StarHub TV Channel 441) on Sundays at 9pm.

Ms Coles responds with a perfectly straight face: "We need the alcohol to get through. The drinks are literally a coping mechanism because it's so busy and the industry is so disruptive.

"The socialising that you see a lot is how we decompress," she tells The Straits Times and other press, adding that the only reason "there's a lot of semi-nudity" is because the show necessarily features "a lot of models".

This glamorous-yet-cut-throat world of fashion magazines has, of course, been seen on screen before, notably in The Devil Wears Prada - the 2006 hit comedy film starring Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway - and the America Ferrera sitcom Ugly Betty (2006-2010).

But So Cosmo seeks to do one better by going behind the scenes for a glimpse at the professional and personal lives of those who really work on the influential publication's American edition.

For all the partying, Ms Coles, who co-produces and stars in the series, wants to make sure viewers see there is more to working at the magazine, which has 64 international editions distributed in more than 100 countries.

"What I wanted was for people to be shown fairly. I didn't want it to fall into the cliched tropes of our business because that's not how it works," she says.

The main stars are a handful of attractive young women and men who are junior editors, directors and writers. The camera follows them around as they juggle their deadlines and their personal lives.

Cracking the whip at the office is the British-born Coles, 54, who from 2012 to last year was editor- in-chief at the publication, known for its risque sex advice columns and lifestyle features as well as fashion, beauty and celebrity coverage.

She says the show is a workplace drama in the vein of American sitcoms such as The Office (2005- 2013) and Parks And Recreation (2009-2015), and suggests it will appeal to the same audience as those programmes.

"When we put this show together, I was very mindful of the fact that The Office had gone off the air, Parks And Rec had gone off the air, and most of us spend our time at work. This is really sort of an office family drama and it has all the tensions, all of the conflicts."

Thus there will be the usual office politics.

"We are a super-supportive staff, but that doesn't mean we don't go at each other when we've got personal conflicts of interests or when we're under pressure."

Ms Coles promises that it will be mostly light-hearted, though, even venturing that the humour will make it "much funnier than The Devil Wears Prada".

"Our role model more would be Ab Fab," she says, speaking of the British comedy starring Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley.

However, there was a moment of high drama for the Cosmopolitan staff on the first day of their eight- week shoot for the series: Ms Coles, then editor-in-chief, makes the shock announcement that she is being promoted to a new post as content editor for parent company Hearst Magazines.

"I didn't know that I was going to be promoted within the ranks of Hearst," says the veteran journalist, who has worked for British newspapers such as The Guardian and The Times and was previously editor-in-chief for Marie Claire magazine in the United States.

"I'm still trying to figure out what the hell it means," says the editor, who is married to Zimbabwean writer Peter Godwin, 59, and has two sons, aged 17 and 15.

Mr Rob Bagshaw, one of So Cosmo's executive producers, says her promotion move "really sent everybody into quite a tailspin".

"We follow that story through," he reveals, referring to the fact that her junior staff then began jockeying for power. But, whatever happens, he says their formidable former boss will remain "omnipresent" on the show.

•So Cosmo airs in Singapore on E! (Singtel TV Channel 328, StarHub TV Channel 441) on Sundays at 9pm. The entire season will be available anytime on demand on E! Zone (StarHub Go) from April 25.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 22, 2017, with the headline 'More to Cosmopolitan than wine and parties'. Print Edition | Subscribe