UThe Kardashians would not have made it a hair. Ted Harbert, former head of the Comcast Entertainment Group, still remembers a video that producer Ryan Seacrest passed around Hollywood in 2007. The recording showed Kim, Khloé, Kourtney and Robert Kardashian at the Sunday barbecue in Calabasas near Los Angeles – by the pool, for almost seven minutes, with mother Kris Kardashian and stepfather Bruce Jenner. Seacrest’s plan to turn the family into reality stars à la “The Osbournes”, the entertainingly dysfunctional clan around Black Sabbath singer Ozzy Osbourne, had already failed due to various idea scouts. “When Seacrest sent me the video, I took it home and watched it. The next day, I told my people that we were going to make a series out of it,” Harbert recalled at the PA news agency. His staff were surprised. “They said the Kardashians had no talent.” The fact that Harbert prevailed is a piece of American television history. In October 2007, the channel E!, part of the Comcast group, showed the first episode of “Keeping Up With The Kardashians”, KUWTK for short. This Thursday, the reality series says goodbye with the episode “The End, Part 2”.
What makes KUWTK so appealing remains a mystery to many critics even after 20 seasons. Comcast CEO Harbert believed in 2007 that he recognized the formula of a classic family drama: “They argue, they scream, but in the end they love each other.” Especially Kim Kardashian, unofficial lead actress, left nothing out. Her sex video with rapper Ray J, the short marriage with professional basketball player Kris Humphries and the relationship fiasco with musician, Sunday preacher and presidential candidate Kanye West were discussed in front of the camera as well as handbags, cosmetic surgery and the new Lamborghini. Every week, up to ten million mostly female viewers tuned in to be carried away by the sisters into a Southern California illusory world of villas, palm-fringed streets and private jets.
Family dramas such as the infidelity of Kourtney’s partner Scott Disick, Khloé’s weight problems, Robert’s depression and the siblings’ attempts to keep mother Kris at bay as a “momager” created the opportunity to identify with the detached clan. Cultural theorist Meredith Jones sees Kim, Kourtney and Khloé, as well as their half-sisters Kendall and Kylie Jenner, as champions of a new ideal of beauty. “They have curves, are brunette, not light-skinned and not particularly large. They look almost like Latinas, but they are not. You don’t look like the typical white American. That makes them very appealing to the new demographics in the United States.”
It did not remain apolitical
With the self-confidence of Southern California Valley girls, the clan also takes up political issues. Again and again, Kim, Kourtney and Khloé recalled the Armenian roots of their late father Robert Kardashian and called on the White House to condemn the attacks on Armenians during the First World War as genocide. Khloé’s ties to Canadian-Jamaican basketball player Tristan Thompson and Kim’s newly failed marriage to African-American West were hailed as a commitment to mixed-breed connections. Former decathlete and Olympic champion Jenner, who became “Caitlyn” from “Bruce” to “Caitlyn” in front of the camera, is arguably the most famous trans woman in the world. A few weeks ago, the seventy-one-year-old announced that she would run for governor of California in the fall. Kim is also drawn to higher things. After the forty-year-old was able to persuade President Donald Trump to release a grandmother sentenced to life for drug offenses from prison, she wants to advocate for prison reforms in the future.
Over the past 14 years, the Kardashians have surprised not only critics and audiences, but also themselves. As mother Kris admitted, the series was initially intended to help promote the clan’s boutiques (“Dash”). With a mix of marketing, well-dosed appearances and the use of social media, Kim & Co. have now built up a small empire of cosmetic companies, fashion, tequila and dental care products. “Kim was the first entrepreneur to use her products solely through her body and ihas sold her own life,” says Jones. “She was the first to understand that this is the most lucrative way to sell products.” No talent? Not only Hollywood has underestimated the clan.