When it comes to disciplining children, most parents don’t have the luxury of throwing their son’s laptop into the swimming pool for looking up undesirable websites, or deciding which “modest” designer frock their daughter will wear to her Sweet 16 birthday party. Yet it’s those kinds of extreme parenting techniques that helped put patriarch Todd Chrisley on the map with “Chrisley Knows Best” four years ago, and continues to endear the family to audiences today, 100 episodes in.
“There were nine offers on the table following the original sizzle reel, and we have been very blessed to have the relationship we have with USA network and with [NBC Universal Cable chairman] Bonnie Hammer, who made a commitment to me from day one,” says Chrisley. “We’ve had various showrunners that have wanted to put their twist on things, and we’ve always stood our ground. What’s going on in our life is what you’re seeing. We’re not trying to clean it up for you and I think that’s why our show has resonated with so many millions of viewers, is because we stay true to who we are and to exactly the situations that are coming at us that life throws your way.”
During peak scripted TV — especially for the character-driven USA network — “Chrisley” has been a staple of the unscripted world. It kicked off its February 2017 fifth season with the most-watched premiere ever at 2.9 million live+3 viewers, growing across all key demos. It was enough to spawn 18 additional season five installments, a sixth season renewal, which kicked off in early May, a now-defunct after-show experiment, and current development on a potential spinoff featuring Todd and wife Julie’s adult children, Chase and Savannah.
“It’s a relatable family show. It’s tough raising kids these days, and Todd is a parent who is not afraid to speak his mind and says what a lot of parents are thinking,” says Heather Olander, senior vice president, alternative development and production, for USA Network and Syfy. “While a lot of reality shows take a cynical approach to families and human behavior in general, this show features a loving family that faces the same challenges as a lot of families, but still manages to stay together and very close.”
The large Chrisley clan’s lavish Southern lifestyle, juxtaposed with typical family disagreements and spats, has certainly been a key to success. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, their accidental ability to generate tabloid fodder has undoubtedly been another contributing factor: over the course of the series, Chrisley’s financial situation, a tumultuous relationship with his two eldest children Kyle and Lindsie, and rumors about his sexuality have continued to surface online, driving curiosity.
Through it all, the family has used social media to communicate its brand and messaging and has remained relevant through such projects as the 2015 deal between USA and video app Dubsmash, when “Chrisley” became the first basic cable offering to be incorporated into a branded channel on the platform.
“We’re not trying to clean it up for you and I think that’s why our show has resonated with so many millions of viewers.”
Concurrently, the family members have dabbled in other experiments to help foster the brand and family name, from a Todd Chrisley hosted late-night pilot and a country single duo with Sara Evans, to a Savannah Chrisley fashion line.
The show has also attracted a global audience, playing on Foxtel in Australia and Corus in Canada, as well as RTL CBS Asia Entertainment in Asia and ITV in the U.K.
“It’s a testament to the production values of Maverick [and] All3media America, and of course the charm of the family, that the overseas interest has sustained across the seasons and that the show, 100 episodes later, is still performing so well outside of its domestic hub,” says John Wagener, COO of All3Media Intl.
As the show comes to its 100th episode, the team admits that although the spinoff is still being explored, the focus for now is back to the original premise that attracted audiences — a cast of strong characters.
“The through-line for all of our programs, be they scripted or unscripted, is that they feature characters who defy the status quo and reflect the values our wide audience craves — they’re defiant, bold, daring, resilient and real. Todd and his family certainly fit the bill,” Olander says.
Adds Simon Knight, CEO of producing partner Maverick TV: “In a world of fakes this consistency from the Chrisleys is what makes them the success they are. As Todd told me when I first met him, ‘You couldn’t make this s— up.’”