In 2007, an L.A. family’s unvarnished docuseries launched on E!, and reality television, female body image, social media and, above all, the economy of celebrity were forever changed. Now the stars and producers of the megafranchise (nine TV spinoffs, hundreds of millions of dollars earned) reveal the secrets of its improbable explosion into the zeitgeist.
Wearing curve-hugging black workout pants and a white tank top, Kim Kardashian perches on a couch in the media room of her newly renovated Bel Air estate and sips Pedialyte through a straw. The makeup-free 36-year-old appears almost normal — certainly not like a mogul who, according to Forbes, banked $45.5 million the past year from a brand she built on self-aggrandizement, shameless product peddling and nude selfies. At the epicenter of this unprecedented trajectory remains E!’s Keeping Up With the Kardashians, a living record of her happily debauched family — Kourtney, 38; Khloe, 33; Rob, 30; Kendall, 21; and Kylie, 20; as well as matriarch Kris, 61, and her ex Caitlyn Jenner, 67 (who in 2015 transitioned from Bruce). On Sept. 24, a 90-minute special will celebrate the series’ 10th unapologetic year. It’s a head-scratching milestone for a show that, at its conception, offered viewers little more than a voyeuristic lens into the lives of a celebrity-adjacent family — but quickly became the mother ship for all their product extensions and the platform through which Kris and her five daughters ushered in the era of the reality celebrity as a brand.
Keeping Up With the Kardashians now airs in 167 countries, boasts nine spinoffs to date and has ranked as E! Entertainment’s top-rated series since 2010. And while it peaked in 2011 with 10.5 million viewers over two nights for Kim’s fairy-tale wedding to Kris Humphries (they divorced after 72 days), it still averages north of 2.1 million every Sunday in its 13th season. In 2015, E! agreed to a reported $80 million deal to keep the family through season 14. But that’s a pittance compared to the fashion and lifestyle empire they’ve built from one boutique in the Valley. With a combined social media reach of 700 million-plus followers and five insanely profitable apps, the family mints millions from a hodgepodge of endorsement deals, paid appearances and can’t-stay-in-stock products. And it all grew from a show that opened its pilot with these prophetic words from Kim (already notorious for the sex tape she made with her ex, Ray J, that was made public in 2007): “I hate you all.”
As much as the family reveals on the show, on red carpets and on Instagram, one mystery remains. How the hell did this happen?
Kris Jenner (star, executive producer) Before the show, I was managing Bruce’s speaking career and personal appearances.
Kim Kardashian (star, executive producer) I was going to [Pierce College], and after school I would go work the cash register at our store, Dash. This all happened when I was 27 …
Kendall Jenner (star) That’s so crazy because I’m not even 27. We’ve lived the same amount of time of the same thing, but I’m not even the age you were when you started.
Ryan Seacrest (executive producer) Everyone was talking about The Osbournes, and I said to my development executive Eliot [Goldberg], “Let’s try to find something in this world and take it to E!”
Kris One night, Deena Katz [casting director for Dancing With the Stars] came over for dinner 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 Kris told me what she envisioned, and I said, “Let’s send a crew to your house and tape some stuff and then we’ll take a look at it.” Then I realized I didn’t have a crew; I didn’t even have a camera. I had Eliot buy a camera, and he went and shot them. He called me after and said, “I think we have something special.”
Kourtney Kardashian (star, executive producer) We had talked to producers about doing a show about the three of us running the store, Dash, where Khloe and I would do the day-to-day, and Kim would come in as a stylist. It didn’t go anywhere.
In Caitlyn Jenner’s memoir, The Secrets of My Life, released earlier this year, she implies that the series may actually have been her brainchild. She writes, “The house is awash in puberty and adolescence and young adulthood and two parents with very different styles. It seems to me something is there for television. … Kris says she is the one who came up with the idea …” Jenner declined to participate in this story.
The Kardashian family – Kris, 61; Kourtney, 38; Kim, 36; Khloe, 33; Rob, 30; Kendall, 21; and Kylie, 20; discussed the Kardashian brand, how it started and where it’s going, as they cover the latest issue of The Hollywood Reporter.
It’ll be 10 years September 24, since “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” started airing.
They discussed how the show came to be, Khloe saying it was all the idea of Kris and Kim. She said:
I don’t think we knew what we were even saying yes to. Everything was just super-fast. Kim and my mom were steering the ship. We were just like, “Tell us where to be and we’ll be there.”
Kris said a casting director had suggested to her the idea of pitching the show to producer Ryan Seacrest after a visit. She said:
One night, Deena Katz [casting director for Dancing With the Stars] came over for dinner 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 decided to send in a crew with a camera into the Kardashian house to see what could be – and he loved it.
He pitched to E! and although they refused at first, he called Ted Harbert, then-CEO of E! Network. and told him “This is a special show, and I want you to know we brought it to you [first].” Harbert said:
Ryan asked me to take a look at this tape of them at the dinner table. There was conflict, sniping and resolution. I call it, “Fight, fight, fight. Love, love love.” I came in the next day and said I wanted to do it.
The Kardashian sisters discussed being surprised the show was such a hit, and people recognizing them. Khloe said:
In Armenia, I’ve never seen so many people. I got separated from Kim and everyone, and they all got in the van and left. I was like, “Hello? I’m still in the fucking crowd of people!” Everyone forgot about me and Erin Paxton, our audio mixer, took her boom and literally fished me back into our producer’s van.
The show has had 9 spinoffs so far, from “Kourtney & Kim Take Miami” to “Khloe and Lamar” to “Life of Kylie.” They discussed how this started. Seacrest said:
We had a successful mother ship and we thought, “Let’s try a spinoff.” They were opening a Dash store in Miami, so that gave us a premise [Kourtney & Kim Take Miami]. I got a call from Jeff Shell, who was under Steve Burke at Comcast, which owned E! before the NBC merger. He said, “Should we be investing in spinoffs?” I told him, “I’ll take the risk.”
On the reason Kylie decided to start her own show, she said:
I feel like I’ve been hiding myself and my personal life for a really long time, so I thought it was time to do this show and hopefully be a little more understood.
Khloe confessed she never wanted to do Khloe and Lamar, and it was all Lamar’s idea. She said:
I never wanted to do Khloe & Lamar; my ex-husband did. He sold it to E!, and I let it happen because I wanted him to be happy. I was the one who canceled it. It was way too much. [Odom was hospitalized in 2015 after being found unconscious at a Nevada brothel. The couple divorced in 2016.]
Seacrest I remember Kris saying, “In order for this to work, yes, there’s a glitz and glamour, but there’s got to be honesty and vulnerability. We need to make a pact that the show won’t just be pretty pictures. As time goes by, you see some of the most vulnerable moments. There was a deliberate intent to be vulnerable and capture that from the beginning.
Kris I sat everyone down and said, “If we’re going to do this, we have to be all in. We have to really be who we are.”
Vivid Videos/Splash News
“Sales departments don’t tend to jump up and down about shows that feature people who have been in sex tapes,” says Harbert of launching Kim and her family on E! “They’re usually going to worry about advertiser resistance, but I don’t remember there being much.”
Kendall I was like, “Whatever. What am I having for lunch tomorrow?” She didn’t make it seem like it was going to last this long.
Kim I don’t think any of us thought it would.
Kim also talked about her marriage to NBA player Kris Humphries, saying her mother and even producers of the show thought she shouldn’t be getting married to him. She said:
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. 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, everyone said it was made up for the show. Everyone really wanted to take me down.
Think about this realistically: If it was for the show don’t you think we would have found someone that signed off? Someone OK with getting married and getting divorced two months later? If it’s for a show don’t you think you’d want as little legal trouble as possible?
This was real emotions, real feelings. People fuck up.
On Bruce Jenner‘s transition to Caitlyn, the Kardashian family talked about all the feelings that event brought. Kim said:
The most difficult thing [to film] was probably Caitlyn’s transition and just seeing my mom and Khloe having such a hard time. We never really edited content before, but we did edit a bit of Khloe’s reaction just because she was so upset.
Kylie said while it was happening she wasn’t thinking about pop culture. She was thinking: “This is my father.”
The Pepsi advert that was criticized for trivializing Black Lives Matter was also discussed, as Kendall was in the middle of it all. Kim said:
We’re not perfect, but you see these things in the media, like Kendall and, where I see her at home crying, but in the media she looks another way because she’s not addressing it.
I’m just like, “This is wrong. You need to speak up.” She was like, “I don’t ever want to show that footage of me crying.” She was trying to not make excuses or be dramatic, but that was what she was going through at the time.
Kris rounded it up, saying she joked about the show reaching its 32nd season at the beginning. Guess she is a seer. She said:
When we first started, 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.