On TV, Kris Jenner is the Carol Brady (with a better wardrobe) of the Kardashian klan, watching over her daughters while doubling as their best friends. But in real life, she’s also one of Hollywood’s most powerful and savviest managers, who navigates the multi-million Kardashian brand, turning her six kids (yet, another “Brady Bunch” parallel) into business moguls and A-listers.
It’s been a decade since America’s most notorious family — and highest-paid reality stars on television — entered our living rooms with “Keeping Up With the Kardashians.”
When the show debuted in 2007, Jenner was known to the public as the ex-wife of O.J. Simpson attorney Robert Kardashian who was then married to Bruce Jenner, and the family’s claim to fame was Kim Kardashian’s sex tape, which brought on global attention to the little-known socialite who was Paris Hilton’s sidekick.
Now, the Kardashian-Jenners are atop an unprecedented mega empire. In a quick 10 years, the family has shot up into A-list territory, sitting front row at every fashion show, landing the cover of “Vogue,” creating a new wave of lucrative apps, clothing lines, Kimojis, and don’t forget about Kylie Jenner’s cosmetics line, which was recently valued at more than $400 million, soon to be a billion dollar company.
And it all started with an E! reality show.
“Their candid point of view of the world is what I saw personally when I met them for the first time,” says E! president Adam Stotsky, who joined the network in 2014 when “KUWTK” was already a bonafide hit.
With almost 200 episodes, 11 spinoffs, and millions of viewers around the globe in nearly 170 countries, the Kardashians have been good for E! — and vice versa.
“If someone is going to say E! is ‘The Kardashian Network,’ I welcome that. That’s a good thing,” Stotsky says, brushing off the naysayers. “You can say E! in London or E! in Tokyo and they’re going to say Kardashian, and that, to me, is a good guide. It’s unlike anything in the world.”
“I think the show is an amazing foundation for everything else we do,” Jenner admits, when asked why her family continues doing the series when it seems their fame and fortune have surpassed the need to do a reality show. And don’t count on the Kardashian-Jenners ending their run on E! any time soon.
Jenner says she’s never had a formal discussion about when “KUWTK” might end, and while Stotsky declined to comment on business matters, the executive teased, “What I can tell you is it’s a very effective, collaborative working relationship that we have with them that we’re looking forward to continuing for the foreseeable future.”
Here, Kris Jenner speaks with Variety, while taking a break from shooting an upcoming episode of “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” Season 14…
When “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” came about, did you really even have aspirations for your family to have your own reality show?
We owned clothing stores at the time so it was quite a departure from retail, and I was managing Bruce’s career and he was doing motivational speaking and we were booking him on speaking events and so that was kind of what we were engrossed in. When the opportunity came along to do the reality show, it was just a very exciting time. We really never thought about how it would pan out for the entire family, but just knew that it was going to be a great journey. Everybody had always said to me constantly, “Oh my gosh, you guys would have the greatest reality show.”
“Keeping Up With the Kardashians” was one of the first reality shows of its kind. Why do you think it clicked at that point in time?
That was a time when reality shows were just becoming something people were aware of. I remember that year in particular there was a writer’s strike, and it was something where we certainly didn’t need a writer, so it kind of worked out.
At what point did you know the show was truly a hit?
I felt there was some level of success when we were just starting to film — we were probably half way through filming Season 1, and they picked us up for a second season and told us there basically wouldn’t be a break in between. So, they were just going to keep the cameras rolling.
But was there a moment being out in public where things really started to change?
It was pretty immediate, I think. The more that people watched, the more they became emotionally invested in our family. There was something for everybody. We were all different ages — you could get a nine year old or a 59 year old. It was really a remarkable phenomenon because there were so many of us. And so, right away from the get-go, I felt this excitement. We really noticed it, especially with our stores. There came a time when we couldn’t even show up into stores anymore because it became like a tourist attraction. It was kind of instantaneous. It happened overnight where one day we could go to work in our clothing stores and the next day, there were people flying in from Australia to just see what it was all about. And that’s what shocked me the most, was people were coming to Calabasas from countries around the world to find out what all the excitement was about. I would ask people in my store, “Wait a minute, you flew here from London to see if you could catch a glimpse of the girls?” It was wild to me. It was really interesting. There just came a time when you really noticed that there was a huge shift.
Would the Kardashians be the Kardashians without the show?
I think it puts us in a light where people see us and our dynamic as a family. I think you wouldn’t have been able to get the same response without that kind of familiarity where people feel like they know us and they respond in such a way that only the show could have offered them that bird’s eye view in our lives because at the time when we first started the show, there was barely Twitter, there was no Instagram, there was no Snapchat, there were no Instagram stories, so there wasn’t really a way to peek into the lives of a family the way that E! gave access.
In a way, it seems that you’ve surpassed needing to do a reality show. Why keep doing it?
We love what we’re doing. Listen, I get to spend every single day with my family. I wake up every morning and I get to work with my kids and it’s a great jumping-off place for everything we do. And we love who we work with. We’re still filming with some of the same people we were with on Day 1, Season 1, Episode 1, so it’s like we’re with our family every day. And we get to travel with each other and we get to vacation together. It’s become a lifestyle for us and something that we are truly passionate about, or we wouldn’t be doing it.
Do you have a timeline in mind for when you’d want to end the show?
I used to just joke and say it’ll be when Kylie gets married in 20 years, and here we are 10 years later. Who thought a decade later we would still be going as strong as we are. It’s really interesting because there are so many people emotionally invested in the family, and they want to see the ups and the downs and the good and the bad and the ugly and all of it. Every time someone gets married or gets divorced or has a baby or a celebration or graduates from school. There are so many wonderful milestones that we’ve been able to share with the viewers and our fans. It’s kind of fascinating. It’s something that we’re very comfortable with and we’re used to.
All of your kids are so busy. Have any of them ever voiced the desire to stop the show?
I think everybody has their breaks that they need from time to time. If somebody’s really had enough and they’re overwhelmed or they’re really crazy or they’re filming, everybody still is able to take a break for a minute and it still works out. If Kendall needs to go to Paris to do Fashion Week and the show’s not following her, she still has to go. I took a small break this summer and just had downtime for myself. If I take a couple weeks off, everyone is right there to hold up the machine. I think that if somebody wanted to take a break or have some time off or leave for a minute, I think everything else would be in place.
Do you have any regrets or moments that you wish you didn’t shoot?
There have obviously been things that are hard to shoot, but I don’t regret anything that we’ve ever shot. I think that it’s been something that when something happens that’s uncomfortable, it’s also something that we’ve shared so much with our audience and with our viewers and with our fans, it’s hard to leave really important stuff out because they’ve been on this whole journey with us and are so loyal and so faithful and that, we’re so grateful for. I think sometimes when we’ve made the decision on whether or leave something in or not, like if something really crazy happens, we make the conscious decision not to change anything about it and leave it alone. I think that’s one of the reasons the show is so successful. We do show everything. I think you just have to make that decision. One of the first things I said to my kids and we all agreed upon when we first started shooting the show was if we’re going to do this, we’re all in. We’re not going to worry about editing ourselves. So that’s what you see. It’s raw and it’s real and it’s footage that hopefully people learn from some of our experiences.
Do you have any other spinoffs in mind?
We’re just really enjoying the success of “Life of Kylie,” so that’s kind of where we are at right now and just enjoying that for a second. But that’s kind of how it works. We don’t do a spinoff every single season, so we’ll see. There’s always a spinoff.
Has Kendall ever expressed wanting to do a spinoff?
No. Kendall is really satisfied on her role in “Keeping Up With the Kardashians.” With her modeling career she’s so busy. If she’s not walking a runway, she’s shooting a campaign or traveling around the world with her fashion obligations. She’s a pretty busy little girl.
What about Kim and Kanye – would they ever do a spinoff?
I don’t think so. I think Kanye’s got so much on his plate. He’s got fashion lines and his tour and his music, and Kim is super busy with her fashion line and her kids line and her makeup line that she just launched, so she’s a full-time business woman.
Would Kourtney do another spinoff?
Kourtney’s had a spinoff before — “Kourtney and Khloe Take Miami” and “Kourtney and Kim Take New York” and the Hamptons one. They took the Hamptons, they took several cities around the United States, but I could see her doing another spinoff.
How about Rob? He has his own spinoff with “Rob & Chyna,” but that’s on hold right now.
He might. He loves the process of just being with the family. Maybe we should come up with something for Rob and Kourtney together?
Okay and how about the grandkids? Since the show premiered, there are six new Kardashians, so how soon is too soon?
I think that’s kind of pushing the envelope. I think it’s a little too early to start thinking about them. They’re amazing and when they’re around they are in the show but I think it’s a little too early for them to have any kind of spinoff.
Caitlyn Jenner had her own show, “I Am Cait,” which you were not an executive producer on. Will we see her on “KUWTK,” now that her show is over?
I don’t think so. I don’t think so, but you might see in maybe Episode 1. I’m just not sure. We’re in the middle of shooting Episode 14. So not when I’ve been around, but I think there might be something in one. I can’t remember. I can’t remember what happened yesterday! [Laughing]
Do you ever have days where you wish you could go back to life before “KUWTK” and live a normal life?
Of course! I’m human. Some days there’s just a lot going on and I take care of a lot of people, my kids, and so I’m always going in a million different directions. At the end of the day, I love it. I say this all the time but when I go to bed at the end of the day and I put my head down on the pillow, I really feel such a sense of satisfaction and I’m so proud of my kids that they have this amazing work ethic and we get to work with each other every day so it doesn’t get any better than that.