After 22 seasons, 12 years, 14 judges, more than a dozen international installments, six syndication networks, two broadcasting networks and one powerhouse host, Tyra Banks’ reality competition series “America’s Next Top Model” is coming to a close — for now.
“I always like to leave before you’re kicked out,” says Banks. “That’s something that my mother told me — leave at the end of the beginning. Now there’s an outcry of people saying that it’s too soon. I’ve had people send me videos in tears. I find it really interesting. When I retired from modeling, I got mail from some people, but no one was crying or cursing me out.”
But the show may not be over yet. Banks says there is hope for “Top Model” to find a new home. “I’m not exactly sure what’s happening on the business side, but based on that the public seems so crazed about it, we’re looking at possibly doing something somewhere else,” she says. “I don’t exactly know, but I know they’re looking into it, based on that response.”
Though she says there are no official plans in place at this time, despite other reports, she confirms she would want to be involved, should “Top Model” get picked up elsewhere.
“I would definitely produce,” Banks says, adding that she would consider continuing to serve as host, too. “I just have to talk to the new partners about being on camera. One thing that I have learned is that alignment is key and you have to be aligned with your partners. When you’re not, things can go very awry. So if not, then maybe I would have somebody else do it.”
While the future of “Top Model” remains up in the air, Friday night marks the end of the show’s 12-year run. Here, Banks talks to Variety about the show’s legacy, her departure from “FabLife” and what’s next for her.
Are you surprised by the huge success “ANTM” had?
I was surprised early on. I thought we would do about two cycles. I was very new to television. I had a natural gut for producing television, but I didn’t know the business at all. I remember in cycle four, yelling across the table to Ken Mok and saying, “How long do you think we’ll go?” I said eight and he said 10. I had no idea.
Is it the right time for “ANTM” to end?
It’s super bittersweet. “Top Model” is my baby. The last episode of “Top Model” is on my birthday! It’s so insane. I can only imagine social media — people crying, and saying happy birthday to me in tears. My baby is kinda leaving the nest.
What has “Top Model” done to change the television landscape?
It was the first competition reality show in the fashion space. We were the first show to have the format that we had with each challenge and elimination, and my partner Ken Mok came up with that format that almost all competition reality shows follow. Too bad you can’t patent a format because everybody copied it — “America’s Next This,” “Top This,” “Project This” — they have all copied that format, so kudos to Ken for coming up with that.
The show has had huge success internationally and in syndication. Why does it travel so well?
It brought fashion to TV, but it is the only competition reality show that continues to repeat and people continue to watch the repeats even if they have already seen the original. Usually with competition reality, there’s no afterlife because people already know what happens. But “America’s Next Top Model” did amazing on MTV and Oxygen and the other channels of re-broadcasting our original episodes. At times, our re-runs on those networks got higher numbers than the original broadcast on the original network.
“Top Model” also had a cultural impact as well. What was the message you wanted to send with this show?
I really think it’s definitely bigger than TV. When I pitched this show to the different networks, I told them that it’s really important not to look at this show not as a modeling competition, but as expanding the definition of beauty. I told them that I needed to have about 70% debatable beauty and about 30% beauty that people understand, which is non-debatable. I was shocked that they allowed that — but they were very adamant very early on to have that we really have to have that non-debatable beauty represented. They were very involved in who that would be because they knew I was so anti-that. They would say, “Okay, we have this, this and this so we’re fine now, and you can go cast your awkward and weird girls.”
“Top Model” cast many unconventional beauties. Do you feel like the show changed the perception of beauty and diversity?
Over time, awkward, weird and interesting just became beautiful or unique and edgy when the audience understood that beauty is not cookie cutter. I created “Top Model” not to have a show about modeling, but really to expand the definition of beauty. It changed the perception of beauty worldwide because “America’s Next Top Model” airs in 170 countries, not to mention the formats. I remember that I would go do some consulting and appear on a lot of our international versions and I would check to see that they were pushing diversity when it comes to beauty. There was one country that said, “This is what people think is beautiful, and we have to stick to that,” and I fought and finally, they said, “Tyra, we will let you make the decision for this girl.” It was “Vietnam’s Top Model” and I said this girl will work internationally, and they chose her and she continues to do very well internationally.
Is your proudest accomplishment with the show changing the perception of beauty?
That is 100% at the top, top, top of the list because it’s the reason why I did it, but that didn’t necessarily mean that would stick. Next in line after that would be longevity and how we were zagging when everybody else in the world was zigging. We had these copycats that were coming after us and trying to do their version of “Top Model,” and we would constantly change and shape-shift. I’m proud of us for continuing to change and shift where we did not alienate the audience, but we continued to keep them engaged.
You recently announced that you are scaling back on your new talk show “FabLife.” Why did you make that decision?
I’m scaling back on “FabLife.” I won’t be on the show much at all starting next year. It will just be a couple of appearances because I really do want to focus on Tyra Beauty… Like 90% of my time is here, making sure that our company is doing well. The great thing is we’re past projections and we’re breaking all kinds of records when it comes to start-ups and I want to continue that trajectory so I’m here and it’s so important. I have to be here for my Tyra Beauty team. One thing that I cannot do is run a business and be a talk show host. A talk show is so encompassing.
You’ve hosted a talk show before, though. Were you not concerned about balancing the time commitment before signing on?
Believe me, I’m not a newbie and I’ve done it before, but I thought that by having a team of people so that I wasn’t the only one hosting it would allow me to have more time, and it gave me some time, but it did not give me the time that I thought it would. So in the end, I realized that I have to put the oxygen mask on my company because it just wasn’t making sense.
Do you think you would ever go back to daytime TV?
I doubt it.