The Kardashians have become one of the most famous families in America, yet many people couldn't tell you how they became famous or why they star in so many reality TV shows. With the seventh season of its flagship program "Keeping Up with the Kardashians" premiering next month, we wanted to learn more about their mysterious rise to fame.
The story begins with social climbing matriarch, Kris Jenner, an ambitious brunette who laid the foundation for the family's first TV contract by weaving threads of glittery connections into a crazy quilt of fame. The mother of six was once married to Robert Kardashian, a member of O.J. Simpson's legal team; and ironically, Kris, herself, was a very close friend of the Juice's murdered wife Nicole Brown Simpson.
After divorcing the father of her first four children, Kris married Bruce Jenner, an Olympic decathlete gold medalist, whose fame she milked in the 90s with myriad product endorsements. One of Bruce's sons from his first marriage, Brody Jenner, starred in MTV's reality show "The Hills."
And, if that weren't enough, Kris's daughter Kim palled around with Paris Hilton and parroted her paparazzi attracting behaviors by hanging out at hip clubs, dating B-list celebs and, possibly, even deliberately leaking her own sex tape.
But without the guaranteed hook of a crazy rock star like Ozzy Osbourne of "The Osbournes" or clueless bride like Jessica Simpson of "Newlyweds: Nick and Jessica," it was not obvious back in 2007 that the no-talent Kardashians would create such a tidal wave on reality TV -- that is, unless you count squabbling and shopping as talents.
Stories vary as to how, exactly, the family scored its own reality TV show. Whether the kooky clan was discovered by Ryan Seacrest or mama Kris sold the show to the savvy businessman is a matter of dispute. The "American Idol" host (whose production company was hunting for the next reality TV family) said he spotted the family's "magic" from a video shot by his staff of the Kardashians at a family barbecue. But as Jenner recalls it, a casting director friend of hers who had observed the family-without-a-filter close up told her, "You guys have to have your own show" and urged the ambitious momager to create her own demo tape and shop it around.
Fast forward to today, almost five years since the first episode of "Keeping Up with the Kardashians" premiered, and the surreal ridiculousness of the clan's Romanesque TV empire has been spoofed countless times. "Saturday Night Live" had fun with its faux episode of "Kim's Fairytale Divorce" in which a surgically youth-enized Kris smugly asks viewers, "Can you believe I'm old enough to have a daughter who's getting divorced?" while across the pond, facetious family members on "Absolutely Fabulous" sit around the dinner table dishing on the famous reality TV stars. One compares them to a "new disease . . . . (that) just sort of spread, like herpes. Each one with their own reality show." Another points to one of the sister's tabloid photos and predicts in a dry British monotone, "She will split like an amoeba and become two Kardashians."
Despite all the mockery, the Kardashians have become part of a successful media empire for executive producer Ryan Seacrest, who saw fat profit potential in the big butts and even bigger personalities of Bruce and Kris Jenner's blended family. The 21st Century version of "The Brady Bunch" may lack the wholesome goodness of Alice the maid, but it has attracted a loyal following thanks to the family's living large Hollywood lifestyle and the sisters' skimpy skirts. As MSNBC put it, "(The) Kardashians' . . . shopping habits and waxing appointments have become a national fascination."
When "Keeping Up with the Kardashians" was released in October 2007, it quickly became the most popular Sunday night show for women 18 to 34 -- despite airing on cable TV to which many people did not even subscribe. At the time, E!'s VP of original programming said, "The buzz surrounding the series is huge and viewers have clearly fallen for the Kardashians."
Since then, many fans have grown weary of the overexposed family, whose spin off shows -- from "Kourtney and Kim Take New York" to "Khloé & Lamar" -- could almost fill a prime time schedule (take note, Oprah). After Kim's marriage caper with Kris Humphries resulted in a Britney-esque "oops!" just weeks after the couple's over-the-top television special, er, wedding, Internet activists waged a social media campaign to boycott all things Kardashian -- including the E! TV shows.
But the cable network is apparently not ready to put the curvy cash cows out to pasture quite yet. In addition to the seventh season of KUWTC, Rumor has it E! may launch four more Kardashian family spin offs, including a series for celebuteen sisters Kylie and Kendall Jenner. And we wouldn't be surprised if Kourtney's son, Mason Disick, lands a show with the Muppets before he's even out of diapers.
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