Kris Jenner on New Talk Show: 'Maybe I Can Be an Inspiration'
Robert Lifton, executive producer on 20th Television's "Kris," says Jenner has "the cult of personality" as the Kardashian mom answers every last tabloid rumor, talks O.J. ("I need to let God judge him"), and addresses what her new show, in tests this summer, will reveal.
With Kris, Jenner is entering a crowded field that has been struggling to find a hot new voice in the aftermath of Oprah Winfrey's departure. Anderson Cooper and Jeff Probst have come and gone, and among current daytime talk-show hosts, even Katie Couric is struggling. Only Steve Harvey has emerged a winner.
Fox is betting that an intensive media campaign will help launch its new show, with Jenner making appearances on Today and Jimmy Kimmel Live! in addition to using her vast social media resources. In addition to the Kardashians' combined 52 million Twitter followers, she and her family have 31 million Facebook friends, 32 million followers on Instagram and nearly 8 million on Keek, a fast-growing new video-sharing service.
If her show is picked up for syndication in fall 2014, the rewards could be enormous. The Ellen DeGeneres Show was projected to bring in more than $100 million in ad revenue in 2012, according to Kantar Media, and Jenner's controversial family, combined with her surprising likability, would seem to promise a positive number -- helped by the host's tireless work ethic.
It's 3 p.m., seven hours after we first sat down and more than 11 since Jenner's day began. With only five weeks till the show debuts, she's locked in a windowless conference room in Culver City, staring at wallpaper.
Hefty binders are scattered over a long table in various shades of gray, patterned and plain. That's in addition to several different samples of glass, an array of fabrics and easels everywhere, covered with photos of desks, tables and chairs. Half a dozen executives and production staff crowd Jenner as she selects some of the elements that will decorate her set, a reproduction of her Hidden Hills foyer with its black-and-white diamond floor and sweeping staircases.
Quickly, she settles on a light pattern against a white background for the paper, then she's on to other choices -- lamps, theme music, an announcer and chairs. "That one!" she says. "Its sides hide my butt!"
With a youthful bob of brown hair and open manner, she radiates energy, laughing and bubbling with ideas as Stephen Brown, Twentieth Television's executive vp programming and development, hits "play" and two test segments unfurl on a big TV screen.
In one, Jenner and a guest host, Michael Catherwood, stand with Kym Douglas, a health and beauty expert who demonstrates a new product made of coconut oil and placenta, which she smears in Catherwood's hair. In the other, Jenner and Catherwood discuss such topics as the new trend of "swatting" (whereby pranksters call police to celebrities' homes) and the right amount for an allowance. "I give Bruce $20," deadpans Jenner. "Whether he needs it or not."
Fox committed to a six-week test knowing that would mean an outlay of $2 million to $4 million (compared with the $25 million to $30 million it takes to launch a nationally syndicated talk show). The same formula was used to test Bethenny Frankel's new talk show, an inventive new model in an age where everyone is trying to minimize risk. With Kris, there will be a different guest host every day (Mario Lopez, Tom Bergeron, Maria Menounos and NeNe Leakes are locked in), though there is no plan to make any of them permanent -- except Jenner.
Now, as she knows, everything will rest on her. "Just be yourself," her friend and colleague Ryan Seacrest told her. "You're gonna be great."
Today, Kris has been up since the ridiculous hour of 3:45. Her hair is coiffed, her makeup in place (not least the false eyelashes that give her an Elvira-Mistress-of-the-Dark look on TV), and she's immaculate in Chanel boots and a Balmain jacket, black like the den where she sits now.
A BlackBerry lies on a table next to her (she also has an iPhone with "Queen of F--ing Everything" on the case), and it keeps buzzing, like Jenner herself, whose energy is unstoppable.
Thanks to her management skills and genius for promotion, on any given day anywhere in America the Kardashians loom large in the national consciousness. From newsstands to red carpets to entertainment shows, she and her extended family are ubiquitous -- as are the punch lines. David Letterman has made so many jokes about them that Kim confronted him on air, and Craig Ferguson was one of many comics who couldn't resist quipping about her ill-fated 72-day marriage to Brooklyn Nets basketball player Kris Humphries: "If two celebrities who hardly know each other get married for a TV show [and] can't make it," he joked, "what hope is there for any of us?"
Anything the family does becomes fuel for a media frenzy -- as on May 6, when a less-than-flattering Givenchy dress Kim wore to the Met Ball in New York became Topic A on the Internet (Robin Williams tweeted about its resemblance to his Mrs. Doubtfire housecoat).
There'll be even more attention if Kim gets married to Kanye, who's moving into Kris' house with her (though, says Kim, "We have a hotel that she doesn't know about yet"). There are no plans for a wedding, says Jenner, and if one takes place, it won't be of the Kim-Humphries sort: "This time it will be private and smaller, if she does get married again -- not 500 people."
That would be the latest in a series of press-worthy events. We've watched Kourtney use breast milk to treat Kim's skin, seen the family stage a DNA test to prove Robert Kardashian was Khloe's father, observed a drunken Scott Disick (Kourtney's partner and father of her two children) stuff a $100 bill into a horrified waiter's mouth and even watched Kris take a lie-detector test in which she admitted Kim was her favorite daughter and denied she'd cheated on Bruce.
Rather than be embarrassed by this, Jenner has used it with impressive acumen to build an empire of five TV shows, several clothing stores, makeup lines, hair removal products, prepaid debit cards and endorsements, including a controversial Skechers deal. She herself gets about 15 percent or more of everything, with annual revenue that The Hollywood Reporter confirmed topped $65 million in 2010 and has increased since.
Despite an army of fans, many view the Kardashians as emblems of a narcissistic society run amok. Everyone from Jon Hamm to Bryan Cranston has taken jabs at the family, and President Obama, at the annual White House Correspondents' Dinner, asked about Kim: "What is she famous for, anyway?"
Even Chelsea Handler has attacked Jenner on her show, which has caused the occasional problem at their home network, E! (The two made up in March.) But Jenner lambastes such critics.
"We've created businesses and a workplace," she insists. "It's so funny that somebody can criticize a show like ours, and yet we employ hundreds of people. And it's been such a great learning experience for all of my kids. It's the best education I could offer them."
The Jenner fans discover might be rather different from the one they have seen so far.
"When I first met Kris, she was a loving Valley mom with a brood of kids from a blended modern family who just had this inkling that their story was somehow relatable and could be a TV show," says Seacrest, who shares executive producer credit with her on Kardashians. "Now, she has experienced the entertainment business and beyond -- both the upside and downside of fame -- and I think her journey over the last eight years or so has given her a wisdom you don't get but through hard-earned experiences."
True, she hangs out with such celebrities as Kathie Lee Gifford, Steve and Candace Garvey, Terry and Jane Semel and Seacrest; she wears a 14-carat diamond ring given to her by her husband; she has an eye-popping 15 television sets in her house; she favors such restaurants as Nobu, Boa and Casa Vega; she drives an expensive Range Rover most Americans can't afford; and she buys clothes from designers including Valentino and Givenchy. But she also has a common touch and adores Costco and Target. "I love, love, love to shop at Costco!" she says.
Her many "layers," as she puts it, have been hidden in the editing of her reality show.
"You see her [on Kardashians] as this 'momager' type," says Kim. "It would be better if people saw just how nurturing she is. She wants to help people and get it all done -- it's not craziness all the time. This is a perfect platform to show a side of her that hasn't been shown before."