Million Dollar Listing NY’s would-be star speaks out

Douglas Elliman broker Jessica Cohen on the legal threats, broker romances and other hazards of her stint on the hit show

Jessica Cohen filming "Million Dollar Listing New York"
Jessica Cohen filming "Million Dollar Listing New York"

What many don’t know about Jessica Cohen, who heads a 10-agent team at Douglas Elliman, is that she was an original cast member on “Million Dollar Listing New York” — before Bravo TV fired her.

The second season of the hit show wrapped up last week; shortly after, Keller Williams NYC fired cast member Luis D. Ortiz, who landed at Elliman, as The Real Deal reported today. Cohen took the opportunity to tell TRD exclusively about her experience on the show, including what’s real and what’s fake, how much money she made, and the legal hazards of putting clients on television. A spokesperson for Bravo declined to comment.

How long did you spend filming Million Dollar Listing?

At least three months. And then I kept going back because they convinced me to finish my scenes with [fellow cast member] Michael [Lorber], which didn’t really air anyway. For the first few months I was a regular. It was exhausting. It was extremely hard to maintain my business [at Douglas Elliman] and at the same time lose two hours to hair and makeup. I used to go to the gym [in the morning]. I went to the salon instead. I was a regular in the salon.

Why were you fired, in your eyes?

I’m going to say because I wasn’t interesting enough. And I wasn’t interesting enough because I was very intimidated by the process and what I was going through.

Were you misrepresented in the show?

In the experience of going through the filming, I found myself on multiple occasions feeling pressured to be something that I wasn’t, which was a diva personality. I felt like they wanted a diva. And yet I didn’t feel like I represented that in the casting.

What was real on the show?

They basically wanted us to have eight episodes with one closing per episode. So if [a property] didn’t actually sell there should be some quirky, funny story with why it didn’t happen. It was really hard to put that many listings together in one quarter that were super high-end and [the sellers were] willing to be filmed.

What’s an example of something that was staged?

My very first day of filming, [the producers] started out with me in the hair salon and we’re getting ready for a client event. So, I’m in the chair and they said, “We want you to call your assistant and tell him you’ll be right down.” So, I said, “What do you mean? My phone isn’t ringing.” So somebody called me and I refused. [The producers said], “‘What do you mean you can’t pretend to pick up the phone and say to no one on the other end, ‘I’ll be right there.’?” I couldn’t do that. The producer joked with me about that when I got fired. She said to me, “I knew that moment this was going to be really bad.” I just couldn’t say something that wasn’t happening.

You filmed dates with Lorber. Were you dating in real life?

They made me think that I was dating him. I like Michael as a person. I was definitely open to the possibility of dating him. I wasn’t sure if he really liked me or [if it was the producers] setting him up for television. In the end, they edited it out anyway and they had him dating somebody else on the show. Break my heart [laughing].

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What was the last straw before you got fired from the show?

The day with my stager. [The producers] said, “Is there anything you’re going to get upset about already?” I said, “Oh, look at all these wires in the corner. What are we going to do? How are we going to get the photographs with all these wires exposed?” I didn’t know what to do. I was almost annoyed. Maybe I was being a little sarcastic that somebody was asking me to get upset about something because I really felt it was ridiculous. That doesn’t happen in business.

How much prep time goes into shooting the show?

A lot. Because we needed to convince clients to be willing to air the sale of their home publicly on television and they had to sign a disclosure [statement]. So convincing a client that they are going to expose themselves in this process was a huge challenge. Then we had to convince the building to let us in with the camera crew, which was painful. In the first season, [this] was all [the brokers’ responsibility]. In fact, I got kicked out of a building I did a lot of business in, the Harrison [at 205 West 76th Street], by the super who didn’t think the camera crew had cleared themselves correctly. And it was mortifying.

How did the filming affect your business?

I had two of my sellers threaten lawsuits against me — over things during the filming that the producers were encouraging us to talk about that were awkward for us to be exposing. [For example], nuances in their co-op board, things that might have compromised their image publicly or their properties and sell-ability. And I became increasingly stiff. It was not going to be entertaining to watch me.

Any regrets?

Sometimes I get pangs in my stomach that they let me go. It feels like a rejection. I’m used to being successful. In sales you get rejected plenty but this was something that felt like I had already won the spot so it was different than losing a sale. It was personal. I felt like could I have manipulated my character to have been what I had hoped it would have been, which was somebody was flawed, not perfect, willing to expose my imperfections and yet successful and somebody that people could root for that is what I wish I could have done.

How much did you get paid to do the show?

I made $3,500 an episode. And I got paid for three episodes. I thought it was very honorable that the producers still paid me. It was supposed to be eight to 10 episodes but I got paid three. But I spent over $100,000 redoing my home, my wardrobe, my hair and makeup.

Is your apartment still redone?

I painted it purple. I used to joke with my friends that I “Bravosized.”

What do you think about Keller Williams firing cast member Luis Ortiz?

I feel bad for him. I feel like the real reason is that he was cavalier in his interview for what he did [altering listing photos, which has led to a New York State Department of State investigation]. The [DOS] investigation is because of the show. … An experienced broker would be very cautious of all the legal nuances such as this.