When “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” premiered in 2007, production didn’t have the budget to provide hair and makeup. Fast forward through 20 seasons and nine spinoffs that spanned an additional 18 seasons and 440 episodes total, it’s safe to say the Kardashian-Jenners have no problem asking for glam — and whatever else they’d like — in their contracts.
Now, after 15 years of their hit reality show that reinvented pop culture and changed the definition of celebrity, arguably the most famous family in the world is ending its reality-show journey at E! on June 10, and heading to Hulu. While details are sparse, Kris Jenner and her daughters Kim, Kourtney, Khloé, Kendall and Kylie have inked a multiyear deal with the streamer, with new content expected to launch in late 2021.
“From what I understand, they did go back and forth a lot. They were really torn,” says Farnaz Farjam, the executive producer who has been working with the family since day one. “It’s such a big part of their lives. They’re so appreciative of all the years and all the opportunities the show has given them. I think they just needed a clean break. Season 20 seemed like the right time.”
When the show began in 2007, the family was best defined by the O.J. Simpson trial, a sex tape and a Wheaties box. Kim Kardashian first met Farjam, then a producer on E!’s “The Simple Life,” at Paris Hilton’s house when she was helping the socialite organize her closets. Today, she sits atop her own billion-dollar empire, alongside billionaire sister Kylie Jenner, thanks to cosmetics, perfume, skincare and clothing lines — all of which were made possible because of the platform provided by “Keeping Up.”
According to those closest to the matriarch Jenner, she always had a keen sense for business opportunities, and her eye was on the prize.
“I think Kris Jenner always had a plan,” Farjam says, recalling the first time she ever met the family at a local Calabasas restaurant next door to the clothing shops they owned, Dash and Smooch. Once E! greenlit “Keeping Up With the Kardashians,” Farjam was assigned the series on behalf of Bunim/Murray Productions, launching her nearly 15-year partnership with the family.
“She had done so much homework. She used to do infomercials so she knew how promoting and certain things worked,” Farjam says of Jenner. The producer recalls that Jenner thought the show could be used as a promotional platform for her two small clothing stores, which were heavily featured on the early days of the reality show. But Jenner never could have predicted the eventual empire her family would dominate today.
“At a certain point, she realized the stores weren’t the brands, but the family was the brand,” Farjam says. “She used all of her resources and people she knew in the industry and figured out to navigate. She’s really smart. She’s really business savvy. I think she got into the business knowing she had a bigger intention for it, but I don’t think she knew how big it would get. Every time it got bigger, she said, ‘Oh, I can make it bigger!’ That’s what makes her so brilliant.”
About halfway into the run of “KUWTK,” the Kardashians had officially risen to the A-list, sitting front row at fashion shows, rubbing shoulders with the who’s-who of Hollywood and being featured on the cover of Vogue. They also began their journey as budding businesswomen with Kimojis and personalized apps. The family who was “famous for nothing” were no longer just reality stars.
While the series enabled the Kardashian-Jenners to achieve seemingly impossible dreams, at a certain point, the family became bigger than the show. After all, Kris, Kim, Kourtney, Khloé, Kendall and Kylie make millions just from a single Instagram post.
“They didn’t have to do anything that they didn’t want to do, and they were cognizant of that,” says Rod Aissa, NBCUniversal Television’s executive vice president of entertainment unscripted content. “I think they continued because they love doing the show and doing it together, and they love the fan base they’ve built.”
With “Keeping Up” leaving its airwaves, E! — which has been largely defined by the Kardashians — is entering a new era of programming.
For instance, Laverne Cox was just named the new face of E!’s signature red-carpet franchise. Live events such as award shows will continue to play a key role for the cabler, according to Aissa, who still firmly believes in the family docuseries format, including shows like “The Bradshaw Bunch” on E! Although the Kardashian-Jenners’ departure to streaming is emblematic of a rapidly changing media world, NBCU has confidence in linear cable television.
“The numbers are still significant and the fandom is huge,” Aissa says, pointing to hits like USA’s “Christly Knows Best” and Bravo’s “Real Housewives of Atlanta,” which still, in its thirteenth season, ranks as a top-rated show on cable. “What we’re trying to do on the linear side is really play into some of those fandoms, whether it’s pop culture like E!, or true crime like Oxygen. That’s really unique, opposed to just being a storing house for a bunch of content like some of these streaming services. I think that’s why people are still showing up to cable in a way that is meaningful to advertisers.”
The last deal that E! inked with the family, back in 2017, was for a reported $100 million, according to insiders. The hefty paycheck was worthwhile for the network, which aired “Keeping Up” in 90 countries and 20 languages. In 2020, with only a handful of episodes airing during a global pandemic that tanked the economy, nearly $50 million in advertising dollars was spent on “KUWTK,” according to Kantar. The year prior, in a more normal ad market with more episodes to sell against, the series brought in approximately $187 million.
Even late in its run, “KUWTK” has been a key driver for E! with an impressive audience turnout. Season 20 has attracted more total viewers (Live +DVR) than tuned in for Seasons 18 and 19, according to data from LG Ads, which reports that live viewing for the current-and-final season over-indexed the cable network’s 8:00 p.m. hour by 23%. Moreover, 29% of viewers did not watch any other content on E!, other than the Kardashians, this season.
“The show could have kept going,” Aissa says, sharing that the parting of ways was a “very amicable decision” — and an emotional one for the family, the network and the crew.
“The Kardashians allowed us to take people inside celebrity the way that we want to, where we celebrate their fandom and not tear it down,” the NBCU executive says. “We’re focused on what else we can do in pop fandom and how we can celebrate all things Hollywood, and we’re hyper-focused on reestablishing the brand and making very strategic moves because the whole landscape has changed. We want to look at our brand and say, ‘This is what we stand for,’ even outside of the Kardashians.”