In ten years the Kardashian family have gone from relative unknowns to the the celebrities behind a billion-dollar branding empire, and now they’re opening up about how they did it in the new Hollywood Reporter cover story.
The oral history of the Kardashian family features interviews with members of the entire family, plus some of the producers who helped them make a name for themselves along the way.
To the public, the journey all started in 2007, when “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” premiered on E! with Kim Kardashian’s famous declaration: “I hate you all.”
But as the THR story points out, things got going earlier. “One night, Deena Katz [casting director for Dancing With the Stars] came over for dinner,” Kris Jenner says, “and life was swirling around, and she said, ‘This is a reality show — I think you should really talk to Ryan Seacrest.’ So I did.” Seacrest would go on to be the show’s executive producer.
Pitching the show wasn’t easy, though. “Just like anybody else, I knew of the family through [O.J. Simpson attorney] Robert Kardashian,” says then-CEO of E! Networks, Ted Harbert. “There was a bit of the stuff with Kim hanging around Paris Hilton.” Of course, Kim was already infamous for a sex tape released earlier that year, recorded with her ex, Ray J.
Apparently a lot of names were also in the running for the series, including “The Kardashians: Krazy With a K”, “Living Kardashian”, and “Krazy Kardashians”.
“We all had been tasked with coming to the meeting with some title ideas,” says Farnaz Farjam, current programming VP at Bunim/Murray, “and when it was my turn I had to confess I didn’t have a list. I made a factual statement that I was ‘too busy keeping up with the Kardashians.'” The rest is history.
Things have really changed since “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” first launched. “In those days, our first and second season especially, no one knew who we were,” says Khloe Kardashian. “We were allowed to leave the gates to film and not have it be a distraction. No one bothered us.”
It wasn’t long, though, before the popularity started to become almost overwhelming.
“Kylie and I did a magazine signing for Seventeen,” says Kendall Jenner, “and it was at some store at The Grove and we had a crazy line around the corner. The store owner came up to us and said, ‘Justin Bieber was here a week ago and didn’t get this response.'”
“It just got really crazy, really fast,” Kris says. “They engaged in conversation with an audience that through proper television had been completely ignored.”
Brian Dow, the Kardashians’ former agent, says that the family was also at the forefront of new social media at the time. “Kim sort of paved the way for the economic structure of native influencer marketing. Before the rise of the common man YouTuber in their bedroom, you had people like her,” he says. “She was the one who kicked down the door and got the brands to spend money in that area because she showed success. Brands noticed that when you would pay a celebrity to send out a branded tweet, they were getting more click-throughs for the dollar, so it made more monetary sense. That’s why that revolution started.”
“Keeping Up With the Kardashians” has since spawned nine spin-offs, and THR reports that it currently airs in 167 countries, with the family signing an $80 million deal with E! in 2015 to keep the show going through season 14.
Members of the family have also launched clothing and makeup lines, mobile apps, and other ventures, which have brought in millions upon millions of dollars.
And all of it is done in public, usually in front of cameras, which can be difficult, especially given some of the criticism they have received over the years. “People write and say the nastiest things and they’ve never met you,” Kris says. “They have miserable lives, they have no direction, and probably no job. I mean for anybody to sit and be on the internet all day long. It always shocks me when I see such stupidity and really toxic energy.”
Kim also opens up about her 2011 marriage to Kris Humphries. “There was all this attention on the wedding, and I thought maybe it was just the pressure of the show giving me this anxiety. My friends told me I just had cold feet, but even the producers said, ‘You don’t seem happy. You don’t have to go through with this.'”
The night before, my mom pulled me aside, off camera, and was like, ‘This isn’t it for you. Why don’t you go away and I’ll handle it?’ I felt like, if I pulled out now, everyone’s going to think I just did it for the show,” Kim admits. “Then afterwards, people were saying, ‘You have to stay married for a year,’ but I physically couldn’t do it. When I made the decision [to divorce], everyone said it was made up for the show. Everyone really wanted to take me down.”
Kim’s marriage to Kanye West has been handled very differently on the show, with the rapper generally opting to be left out of it. “He’ll really surprise you though,” Kim says. “He’ll be like, ‘I’m not filming’ and then randomly show up. But I will get [the footage] and show him.
“He knew I would love to have my engagement on camera,” Kim says, “so he filmed it and he said, ‘The look might be a little different because I need these type of cameras,’ and got music clearance. But I won’t really ever talk about something that’s going on with Kanye. I’ll talk about how I feel. He knows that I’m really protective of him.”
Caitlyn Jenner’s transition has been one of the more important events in the show’s history, but it wasn’t easy.
“The most difficult thing [to film] was probably Caitlyn’s transition and just seeing my mom and Khloe having such a hard time,” Kim says. “We never really edited content before, but we did edit a bit of Khloe’s reaction just because she was so upset.
“At the time, I didn’t think, Oh, this is going to make pop culture history. I had different things on my mind, because this was my reality, and this is my dad,”says Kylie Jenner.
Then there was the 2016 incident in which Kim was robbed at gunpoint in Paris. “Everyone was calling for a sit-down interview,” she says, “and I was like, Why would I do an interview about something I was just traumatized from? But I felt really comfortable to tell my story on my show because it wasn’t going to get twisted.”
Through it all, the Kardashian clan have stuck together, and though ratings for the show are down from their peaks in 2011, their massive empire is only continuing to grow. “When we first started,” Kris says, “I jokingly said, ‘We’ll be on season 32, Kylie gets married.’ I was kidding, and here we are, and it’s season 14, so be careful what you wish for.”