How a Sex Tape and O.J. Trial Launched The Kardashians Into Billion-Dollar Brand

The family ushered in the era of the reality celebrity as an empire that goes beyond TV.

August 16, 2017 2:36 pm

Keeping with the Kardashians has been on air for 10 years—the centerpiece of what became a veritable dynasty for the show’s stars.

The show’s “happily debauched family” — Kourtney, 38; Kim, 36; Khloe, 33; Rob, 30; Kendall, 21; and Kylie, 20; as well as matriarch Kris, 61, and her ex Caitlyn Jenner, 67 — have ushered in the era of “reality celebrity as a brand,” as The Hollywood Reporter puts it.

Airing in 167 countries, the show also has nine spinoffs to date.

The Kardashians have a combined social media reach of 700 million-plus followers and five incredibly profitable apps. In 2015, E! agreed to a reported $80 million deal to keep the Kardashians through season 14 (it is currently on its 13th season). The family also makes millions in pocket money from various paid appearances, endorsement deals, and personal products.

But their saga sprang from the most unlikely of sources: notoriety over both the O.J. Simpson trial and a sex tape featuring Kim Kardashian and rapper Ray J.

The Hollywood Reporter sat down with the family and E! execs to discuss their fame and fortune. Ryan Seacrest said that the origins of the show can be traced to the success of MTV’s The Osbournes, and his search to find something “in this world and take it to E!” Producer Deena Katz mentioned that idea to Kris, who talked to Seacrest. He sent a film crew over to the house to try some shots out.

Hollywood Reporter Kardashian cover
(The Hollywood Reporter)

Then CEO of E! Networks Ted Harbert was intrigued because he knew of the family through their father, Robert Kardashian’s work defending Simpson. Well that and Kim’s notorious sex tape, of course.

Kim also had a look that was considered relatable, yet unique for television at the time. E! picked up the show.

Kris told The Hollywood Reporter that she then sat everyone down and told them: “If we’re going to do this, we have to be all in. We have to really be who we are.”

Harbert told The Hollywood Reporter that “Kris deserves the credit for turning it into an empire.”

Their lives changed once the show started airing. People took notice. Then once Twitter came out, the girls started using the social media platform and sharing their lives and engaging with the audience in a way that most people on “proper” television ignored. Soon, they were internationally recognized.

Read the whole Hollywood Reporter interview for more information from the whole family and the team at E!

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