Even in this barren economy, Bravo is expanding its stable of luxury-oriented programming to include shows about polo players, wealthy Dubai denizens, and even more clothes-porn, and Bravo executive Lauren Zalaznick is no doubt the mastermind behind it all. 45-year-old Zalaznick is also the subject of a new NY Times Magazine feature, which chronicles her incredibly successful tenure at Bravo. In short, Zalaznick, a former independent film producer and VH1 exec, started at Bravo in 2004. In a few short years, according to profiler Susan Dominus, Zalaznick took Bravo from a "formerly a sleepy, arty network best known for Inside the Actor’s Studio and a show about Cirque du Soleil," and turned it into a glossy, incredibly self-aware, reality-based juggernaut geared towards PTA moms who love Marc Jacobs and iPhone wielding metrosexuals. So how'd she pull it off?By being a bitch, in the grand tradition of other awesome bitches like Tina Fey and Hillary Clinton. Zalaznick gets things done, and she doesn't mince words. “Most people who are in a position like that will relentlessly hype what they do and tell you how amazing everything is,” former Vh1 executive Michael Hirschorn tells the Times. “With Lauren, there’s kind of a refreshing jolt of self-criticism…You sort of get the sense that she’s part of the game but not fully submerged in it.” Even more telling is this anecdote from her Vh1 days:

In 2000, when Zalaznick was still working at VH1, she and [coworkers] Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato had a public contretemps that many thought would sever their collaboration. Barbato accidentally sent Zalaznick an e-mail message that he intended for Bailey. In the e-mail, he complained that Zalaznick was trying to get rid of their writers’ credits and suggested she was controlling and overcritical of him. Most infamous, he referred to her using a crude epithet, probably the crudest one reserved for women…Zalaznick’s response was telling. She neither laughed it off nor fired anyone. Instead, a few weeks later, she wrote an essay about the experience and published it on a literary Web site called Open Letters. The essay is a thoughtful, brutally honest meditation on the expectations of a woman in power. “I’m probably regarded as being tough, fairly hardhearted, outspoken,” she wrote. “I am occasionally criticized for digging in and being less accommodating to other people’s ideas and criticisms than I ‘should be.’ But this is a weird sort of (double) standard to be held to, especially in a ‘creative’ job where passions are usually what get ideas heard.”

She continues to work with Bailey and Barbato to this day. Not only did she not let that incident bring her down, she was able to get past it and move forward to greater success. However, sometimes Zalaznick's honesty and drive causes her to be, well, really bitchy. During a breakfast meeting, one of Zalaznick's underlings, Andy Cohen, referenced a workout mix he made called Fit-n-40. He later claimed, "I was being ironic!" But during that meeting after Cohen made a few other suggestions Zalaznick deemed lame, Lauren told him bluntly, "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." But back to those new Bravo shows. Zalaznick prides herself on being an arbiter of cool, an arbiter of the current and aspirational tastes of a certain group of people, and I fear with these new shows, she might have missed the boat. She claims that her network, which glorifies outrageous extravagance with The Rachel Zoe Project and The Real Housewives franchise, will thrive through this recession even though they continue to produce programs about the uber wealthy. Though the money is the backdrop, Zalaznick reasons, people watch the shows because “They’re about extreme personalities. Our stories are about the meanings of these things, and their stories and their struggles of how you get it." What Zalaznick misses is that sometimes the wealth is so over the top wasteful that it obscures these struggles and becomes a turn off. As a 26-year-old educated woman with some disposable income, I am absolutely, smack dab in the middle of Bravo's target audience, and since the stock market Kamakazied, I've been unable to watch many of Bravo's shows. I was a huge fan of the Real Housewives of Orange County and New York, and after 15 minutes of the new Atlanta-based arm of the series, I had to turn it off because their wastefulness appalled me. What I found amusing a year ago is no longer so laughable. It makes me wonder if Bravo's wealth-based programming has jumped the Louis Vuitton-monogrammed polo pony. The Affluencer [NYT Magazine] Bravo Sews Up Projects [Variety] Earlier: Tina Fey On SNL: Bitch Is The New Black