How the Kardashians Made $65 Million Last Year
Twitter, endorsements, paid appearances, fragrances: the new issue of the Hollywood Reporter magazine goes in depth with mom and manager Kris Jenner about the inventive – and controversial – ways she’s monetized reality fame for her family.
The genesis of Keeping Up With the Kardashians was a casual meal at the Jenner home in 2006. Kris recalls the evening: “My girlfriend Deena Katz, casting director for Dancing With the Stars, was having dinner and watching the craziness swirl around and said, ‘You guys have to have your own show.’ My friend Kathie Lee was saying that for 35 years!’ ”
It wasn’t just idle talk on Katz’s part. She had been at Ryan Seacrest Productions earlier that day and heard the multihyphenate was looking for the next family reality series and suggested Kris book a meeting. While the dishes were practically still on the table, she had already scheduled a sit-down with Seacrest. “I went and pitched the idea to Ryan, and he loved it,” Kris recalls. “Right out of the gate, he said: ‘We’re in! We’re doing this!’ He took it to E!, and they signed on.”
Seacrest and Berger, however, recall the chain of events slightly differently. Seacrest, an exec producer on the show, maintains he was the one who called Kris in for a meeting. “The first time I met Kris was on a home video tape we shot of a barbecue when we were looking to cast a family for a reality series,” he says. “We saw the magic.”
But Berger was hesitant. “The family had been around town with the sister idea [for a series],” Berger says. “When we got a call from Ryan Seacrest Productions asking if we had met with the Kardashian sisters, I said, ‘Honest to God, I’m not sure if there’s a show there.’ ”
Eventually, Seacrest persuaded Berger to sit down not just with the sisters but also their mother and stepfather. After she witnessed the family’s “ball of energy” dynamic in person, Berger decided to greenlight a pilot. “The addition of Kris and Bruce made the show what it is,” Berger says. “What was most noticeable was Kris’ sense of business. She wasn’t a typical overbearing showbiz mom, but she knows how far she can push her kids and how far she can push the show.”
Before cameras could roll, Kris called a family meeting to make sure her troupe was up for the challenge and the long hours a show would entail. “They could have all said, ‘Are you crazy?’ ” Kris says. “But every single one of them was like: ‘We’re down. Whatever you think, mom.’ ”
Having lived a fairly public life in the 1970s, Bruce was the only one hesitant about cameras 24/7. (His four children from his previous marriages rarely appear on the show, including son Brody Jenner, who appeared on five seasons of MTV’s The Hills.)
“If you know anything about Bruce Jenner, he really doesn’t have a say in very much around here,” Kris jokes. “We said: ‘Honey, we’re doing a show. Are you in or out? If you’re out, then you need to move to the garage because we’re filming a reality show.’ "
As a newly appointed executive producer, Kris admits she didn’t know the first thing about working in reality television. She quickly made an important decision: The family was going to let it all hang out. It’s a credo she has stuck to. Kris and Berger credit the family’s unabashed openness — take Kourtney’s attempt to give Khloe an at-home Brazilian wax — with the success of the series.
“Not only do we not have filters running through our brains, we don’t edit ourselves,” Kris notes, saying that even as a show EP she is hands-off during editing and postproduction. “The scene where [Kourtney’s boyfriend] Scott [Disick] is shoving money down the waiter’s throat, that was hard to watch. But I said: ‘Leave it alone. Just show it. It’ll be fine.’ I’ve said that every single time. And it’s served me well from a business point of view.”
On Oct. 14, 2007, Keeping Up With the Kardashians premiered on E! to immediate success. Averaging more than 1 million viewers per episode in its freshman season, the show, together with repeats, drew an audience of more than 13 million during its first four weeks.
“We had no idea they would connect in the way they did with American pop culture,” Berger recalls. Less than a month after the premiere, the family began shooting a second season.
The Kardashians, however, could never have catapulted beyond the bounds of reality TV without the rise of social networking.
After seeing the success Kim was having with social media, Kris encouraged all the Kardashian/Jenner kids to tirelessly tweet, blog and update Facebook, “building fans one by one, and talking directly to the consumers,” says Leonardo Armato, CMO and president of Skechers, which recently signed an endorsement deal with the Kardashians (Kim’s ad aired during the Super Bowl).
There are testimonials and photo shoots and diet and makeup tips for everything they’re shilling — appropriate to who they are and what they’re up to. (To wit, after Kourtney and Scott had son Mason Dash Disick, now 1, she became the spokeswoman for Belly Bandit, a postpartum stomach cincher.)
Kim has led the way in incorporating her massive fan base (she has more than 6 million Twitter followers) into the decision-making process surrounding their endorsements, empowering them with a sense of ownership. Says Kim: “I have a blog that has 40 million hits a month. People leave comments: What shoes do you wear, and what lip gloss do you use? My mom told us, ‘So why not be a brand for our fans and give them what they want?’ Many of our ideas [about what to endorse] come from our fans and then our mother makes it happen.”
Apparently, what fans wanted most was to smell like a Kardashian. In August 2009, Kris and Kim signed with Lighthouse Beauty to develop the Kim Kardashian fragrance. “She utilized her fans by asking them questions,” says Kecia Coby, brand president of the perfume line. “Her fans picked the package color, the bottle and the gifting program.” It worked. The fragrance launched in February 2010 and instantly became one of Sephora’s top-selling products. (Kris has since broadened its reach to Macy’s, Target and other mass retailers.)
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