E! on Sept. 24 marked the 10th anniversary of its signature reality series Keeping Up With the Kardashians with an on-air special. The venerable series, which follows the lives of the Kardashian clan — matriarch Kris Kardashian and ex-husband Bruce Jenner (who transitioned to Caitlyn Jenner in 2015), along with adult kids Kourtney, Kim, Khloe, Rob, Kendall and Kylie — has put its stamp on the reality genre with a no-holds-barred look into the fascinating and often flawed personalities that have helped to build the family’s multibillion-dollar entertainment empire.
E! senior vice president of programming and development Damla Dogan, who has been involved with Keeping Up With the Kardashians since its October 2007 launch, recently spoke to Multichannel News programming editor R. Thomas Umstead about the show’s 10-year anniversary, its 11 spinoff series, its influence on the cable reality-series genre and what audiences should expect from the series’ 14th season, which premieres Oct. 1. An edited version of the interview follows.
MCN:A decade ago, when you were in negotiations with the Kardashian family to create a new reality series, did you ever think that you’d be talking about it today with such reverence given its success and longevity?
Damla Dogan: You want to think that for every show of course, but it happens so rarely that you really can’t think that’s going to happen. I will say that what we saw that was most intriguing is something that is constant and doesn’t change, and that’s the appeal of family. When you’re with your family you can do anything and you have unconditional love for them, and in some ways that’s what we all want right? That is a constant and not a trend. Because of that, I did suspect there could be longevity, but I had no idea that we would be here 10 years later.
MCN:What was it about the then mostly unknown Kardashian family that made you believe that their lives would draw audiences to E!?
DD: It’s a really great question and I don’t know that I have the answer. I can tell you I think a lot of it does come back to that family dynamic — no matter what is going on in their lives or the things that they’re surrounded by, everybody can relate to that family dynamic. I think it’s the appeal of that real cross-section of an aspirational lifestyle and the heart and reliability of family. You may not know what it’s like to live that lifestyle, but you know what it’s like to fight and make up with your sister. I also think that they really do share everything that happens to them, and you really feel that when you’re watching the show.
MCN:Was there any episode or was there something in a particular episode that made you think that this show could break out into something big?
DD: I think we were toward the end of our run on the first season where we started to really see things climb. I remember the day I first saw a tabloid story about the show that reflected the convergence of the show into pop-culture status. I remember the story, which talked about a meteoric rise in ratings for this show, and at the time I was like, ‘I guess we’ll be doing season two very quickly.’
MCN:Have the numerous spinoffs overshadowed the original series?
DD: I don’t think so. They’ve all really worked in concert with Keeping Up. The first spinoff that we did was Kourtney and Khloe Take Miami, and that really was born out of a very organic situation that was happening in their lives. They were two single sisters who were launching the Miami location for their Dash store. The situation just really lent itself to very focused storytelling — we felt like it could live a little bit apart and separate from Keeping Up because of the situation, so that’s sort of where that started. But Keeping Up is where the family all come back together no matter what is happening, and I don’t think there is ever any overshadowing that.
MCN:Is there a concern that they all may not come back at some point?
DD: Eventually one day that will probably be true, but I don’t know when that day is.
MCN:How much did social media play in the success of the series?
DD: It has been pivotal. I think they were incredibly smart about figuring out social media and staying ahead of social media. They were some of the first celebrities that really understood how to connect with their fans directly through social media, and I think that played a huge component into the success of the show.
MCN:Also, how much did the controversies surrounding the Kardashian family play in the overall success and appeal of the series?
DD: Certainly the things that have happened to them throughout the years are things nobody could have predicted. You can’t write it — it’s the old saying, the truth is stranger than fiction, and some really big events have happened to them. I think what has kept the show so relevant to their fans is that they really did share what it was like for them to go through those things and to give that inside peek as to what that moment in time was like for them.
MCN:From E!’s perspective, did you ever have any uncertainties about running a particular event or storyline because you thought it was too controversial?
DD: I can say with any show that’s been on the air 10 years there are moments of uncertainty where you don’t know what happens next. But one of the things that I like best about working on this show is that in those moments, we really do work with the family to figure out what to do next. I don’t think we would ever make a decision on our own as a network without really talking it through with the family. I hope that that authenticity comes across.
MCN:Ratings forKeeping Up With the Kardashianshave fluctuated over the years. Is E! still satisfied with how the series is performing?
DD: Yes, I can say that we are. We have found our audience, and they have found us.
MCN:Do you see an endpoint forKeeping Up With the Kardashians?
DD: I do think it can continue on. As long as the audience wants to see the stories, and as long as the family wants to share their stories, they will continue.
MCN:What should viewers expect to see in season 14?
DD: From what I’ve seen, there is obviously a real return to the family — Keeping Up is where the family comes together. I think you’re going to see a lot of fun moments, as well with a lot of laughter, but there are also some really emotional, poignant moments as well. Overall, I think it’s going to really give viewers a fun ride ... there’s a lot to celebrate.
MCN:Over the years what was what do you feel was the most poignant moment for you on the show?
DD: There have been many. We’ve seen a lot of the women in the cast struggle with their relationships. I think that certainly the aftermath of Kim’s robbery was a very, very emotional subject and time. There have been a lot of moments like that, where you did not have any way to predict something like this was going to happen, but it did and you’ve seen them work through it.
MCN:How about the most surprising or eye-opening moment for you on the show?
DD: There was a really funny moment early on in the series that people always talk about when Kourtney and Khloe waxed each other. It was one of those moments that really just made you laugh.
MCN:HasKeeping Up With the Kardashianshad a positive or negative affect on the reality genre?
DD: I think that it has had a positive effect on the genre. When reality first started, everybody was saying, ‘It’s not going to last — it’s going to stick around for one season until scripted comes back and burn out really quickly.’ Keeping Up is one of the shows you can point to that proved if you have a good story to tell, viewers will listen. [The genre] is not going anywhere.
R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.
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