When the Kardashians were ready to begin their new show, everything was kept top secret. Even the producers in discussions to be hired on the show didn’t know what series they were being interviewed for.
“When we were interviewing showrunners, I wouldn’t ever say what it was for,” executive producer Ben Winston tells Variety. Winston, one of the partners at production company Fulwell 73, says he met with over 50 potential showrunners throughout the process, and wouldn’t reveal that the project was with the Kardashians until the prospective producers got to the third meeting.
“We said, ‘It’s about a group of six billionaire businesswomen, who are connected in some way and they all run the incredible companies.’ People were like, ‘Wow, that’s an amazing story.’ And then I would say that they are sisters, and everyone was like, ‘Oh my god, that sounds like the most fascinating family.’ They weren’t thinking it was a famous family,” Winston shares. “That’s the approach that we wanted to have.”
“If I was pitching a documentary series,” Winston continues, “That is about six women who all run incredibly successful businesses, have amazing family interactions, live in Los Angeles, are some of the most famous, most followed people in the world and they happen to all be related, you’d say, ‘Well, that can’t be true.’ But that’s who the Kardashians are. You’ve got to step out of the Kardashian brand to look at it and go, ‘Well, that’s unbelievable.’ That’s a documentary within itself. And then, when you find out that it is the Kardashians, then you look at it a bit differently.”
Ultimately, Danielle King — an Emmy-nominated producer who has executive produced a slew of unscripted projects, including Bravo’s “Million Dollar Listing” franchise and “RuPaul’s Drag Race” — was selected to be the showrunner for Hulu’s “The Kardashians,” which premieres on Thursday.
When King was hired, she had never met the family before. Now, she speaks to them multiple times every day.
“I will get a text or a call from one of the family members and they’ll say, ‘Hey, this is going on. Can you bring cameras over?’” King shares, noting the great deal of access the Kardashian-Jenners give production, even after already documenting their lives for 15 years on television with the show that made them famous, E!’s “Keeping Up With the Kardashians.”
The new series at Hulu stars Kris Jenner, Kourtney Kardashian, Kim Kardashian, Khloé Kardashian, Kendall Jenner and Kylie Jenner. All six women also serve as executive producers.
“They care deeply. They all care about the show,” King says. “They have an amazing level of professionalism, and they talk openly, like, ‘We know what we signed up for and we’ve agreed to share our life — the good, the bad and the ugly.’ And they make good on that.”
Here, King talks to Variety about what to expect on this season of “The Kardashians,” and what it’s really like to work with the most famous family in the world.
What was it like the first time you met the family?
They’re all incredibly warm and and they were super friendly. You don’t know what you’re walking into, and it’s easy to have a lot of preconceived ideas, but I just walked in with an open mind. They exceeded all of my expectations and my fear went away. They’re really delightful.
You work so closely with the family. What is something about them that you don’t think the public might recognize?
They’re incredibly resilient. Something I knew, in a peripheral way, is how much backlash the family can get from the press and that there are people that bully, but the family has an incredible resilience. In a world where there can be so much ugliness, in terms of people expressing hate on the internet or just the judgment that is on their lives, they have an amazing ability to rise above it and it’s refreshing. I think that’s something that maybe the public doesn’t appreciate enough.
How is the style of “The Kardashians” different than “Keeping Up With the Kardashians?”
The show feels a lot more like a documentary on the Kardashians. We really elevated the look and the style of the show from the cameras that we’re using, to doing a lot with drones — the show looks really cinematic. Stylistically, we’re doing some fun stuff, like the family breaks the fourth wall a lot, so they engage with the audience by looking straight down the lens and and talking to them. I think the show feels a lot more intimate.
This show puts a larger focus on the women’s various businesses, while still addressing their personal lives. How would you say the tone of the show is different?
The cast is all grown up now. They’re adults and they’re living different lives than they were during “Keeping Up With the Kardashians,” even though that wasn’t that long ago. We cover all aspects of their lives — we cover them as businesswomen and entrepreneurs; we cover them as mothers; we cover their relationships; and we cover them as a family, obviously. It feels fresh, even though some of the themes might be the same.
I always found it fascinating that viewers watched “KUWTK,” even though everything on the show had already been printed in the tabloids. Why do you think there is this intense interest to tune into their lives, even though the ending of the story has essentially already been given away?
Reading about it in the news is one thing, but then you tune in, it’s like, “Oh, that’s what Kim was thinking, that’s what Khloé was thinking.” Now, I’m getting what really happened. I’m finding out a deeper level of what I’ve got some surface level about in the media.” Regardless of something already being out there, I think people want to know the real story. They want the real tea.
We have seen lots of photos of the family shooting the show around town. Does the paparazzi get in the way of production?
We do have paparazzi at a lot of our shoots, especially if we’re outside of Hidden Hills [the gated community in Calabasas, where the Kardashians live]. It’s only disruptive for entrances and exits, but they’re obviously not allowed in the establishments that we’re shooting in. And we always have security with us, which is helpful. People are interested in this family because they’re exciting and they’re interesting, so there is going be paparazzi, and they’re going to be written about in magazines and in TMZ and in the Daily Mail. It just speaks to the curiosity that people have with the family, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing.
The show is built on capturing their everyday lives, so you’d imagine you have to film the family every day. Do you even have a production schedule, or are cameras continuously rolling?
We do have a production schedule. We shoot Monday through Friday, but the caveat, of course, is often on the weekends. We shot this past Saturday. And last Sunday. I have an amazing crew, and they always rally, so we can usually be wherever the family needs us to be. There’s a set schedule, but we all are completely open to a great deal of spontaneity.
You were in production when Kylie gave birth. Would it be safe to assume that you filmed her birth?
It wouldn’t be safe to assume that. We might have been. We might not have. You’ll have to tune in.
It’s interesting that the family is still so committed to documenting their lives. At this point, they are almost too famous for reality TV. With their success, they truly do not have to do this anymore. Does the family set any boundaries when it comes to being followed by the cameras?
I think every human being has a limit, but I am impressed with how much they do share. They allow us a great deal of access.
Is there anything that’s off limits, and that they don’t want to share?
Ultimately, it just sort of ends up on camera. The show is just them sharing their lives, so we end up capturing it.
The women are all executive producers, so you’re working with them not only as talent, but as fellow producers. How hands-on are they behind the scenes?
They’re very involved. They love the show and they’ve been doing this for 15 years, so they certainly understand television. They know what works. They obviously give us access to their lives, which is the show, and sometimes they put their producer hat on, but never to the detriment of the show. They’re really good about not censoring themselves, and always looking at it as a producer, not as a person who is in the show. And they’re very active in promoting the show.
I typically don’t ask questions about the personal lives of celebrities, but given that the show is completely based on their personal lives, it’s fair to ask about storyline. So did you film Kim and Pete together at “Saturday Night Live?”
Well, they weren’t together at that point, so you don’t know if you’re shooting something, if something hasn’t happened yet. I wasn’t watching anything happen at that moment because nothing had happened yet. Does that make sense? They were obviously literally together at “SNL,” but then it unfolded from that point.
On “KUWTK,” Kendall had a rule that she would not film with a boyfriend unless they had been dating for a full year. On this show, is Kendall more forthcoming with her romantic relationships?
We’ll see Kendall with her friends more than you did in “Keeping Up.” But she is keeping her relationship private.
When Travis Barker proposed to Kourtney on the beach, photos leaked that showed your cameras were rolling that day. What will we see onscreen with her engagement?
You’ll see the proposal and you’ll see the aftermath of that proposal with the family. Kourtney did not know that her entire family was there, so when she came up to the suite where the family was, it was a whole family affair.
How did you keep that proposal under wraps? A surprise proposal is hard enough when you’re not famous and don’t have cameras following you, so I’d imagine that was tricky with production.
I had the fear of God put in me if it got out. I think Travis even put my name in his phone as like Bob or something, so that Kourtney would never see. It was fun, but it was also nerve-wracking. It was a lot of texting, and it was just a lot of covert activity.
Kim is going through a public divorce with Kanye West, which is playing out very publicly. How will that personal matter be dealt with on the show?
Kim is going through a divorce, and she is very open with her perspective. But Kim is incredibly respectful. She will share her point of view on everything that she’s going through.