Critics Hated ‘Keeping Up With the Kardashians’ When It Premiered — But 13 Million People Still Tuned In
Maybe you loved the show and watched every episode. Maybe you were only tangentially aware of it and picked up clips here and there. Maybe you loathed its very existence. No matter where your opinion of Keeping Up with the Kardashians stands, there is no denying that the conclusion of the long-running reality show will mark the end of an era.
Thinking about the show’s finale has plenty of fans and critics alike taking a moment to look back on the impact the series has had on pop culture in general and reality TV in particular.
Part of that retrospective includes confronting the fact that the show wasn’t very well-reviewed when it premiered, but the attention it demanded was just too big to ignore.
‘Keeping Up With the Kardashians’ premiered in 2007
When Keeping Up with the Kardashians first premiered in 2007, people weren’t really sure what to think of it. The series followed the lives of a rich but not particularly famous family whose primary claim to fame at that point was that their late father had served as a defense attorney during the O.J. Simpson trial — that’s not exactly fodder for compelling reality TV.
The series promised an up-close-and-personal look at the family as they attempted to raise their public profiles and claw their way into the spotlight. At the time, no one could have guessed just how successful they would be at leveraging first reality TV and then social media to completely change the game when it comes to being an influencer — and making substantial bank in the process.
All that is in a distant and untested future, however, when the show first airs. All viewers know is that they’re suddenly following the day-to-day lives of Kris Jenner and her children — most notably Kim Kardashian, who at that point was the most recognizable of the group and primarily known for her sex tape scandal.
The Kardashian-Jenner sisters have changed a lot over the years
It would be easy to forgive someone back in 2007 for expecting KUWTK to be a short-lived experiment. After all, plenty of reality TV shows with far more substantial frameworks have crashed and burned. KUWTK went against the odds and endured, and over the years, fans got to see the family change in completely unexpected ways.
Each of the famous sisters matured in the public eye, growing from young adults — or, in the case of Kendall and Kylie Jenner, children — into serious businesswomen who kept their names in the headlines for their entrepreneurship and their often complicated love lives. As their lives changed, so did their ability to use their influence to further their success.
Their appearances went from being novelty events based on their somewhat-baffling celebrity status to legitimate paydays over their influential ability to steer their massive fan base toward luxury brands. Eventually, the sisters transferred that influence to their own product lines within the cosmetics and fashion industry.
‘Keeping Up With the Kardashians’ changed reality TV forever
The podcast Even the Rich explores the lives of celebrities and takes a closer look at the stories of their rise to fame. A recent episode, likely inspired by the fact that KUWTK is finally wrapping up, explores where it all began. It opens with a description of Kim Kardashian posing for Playboy as her mother eggs her on and urges her to get past her nerves and body insecurity.
The episode reminds us just how far the Kardashians have come. Back in their early days, the eldest Kardashian sisters got paid for club appearances, but Kim Kardashian had her sights set on more substantial fame. Kim Kardashian was willing to put herself on the line — including an appearance on Dancing with the Stars and acting in a parody film Disaster Movie to help make her more recognizable.
It paid off in a big way. While it’s hard to say which of Kim Kardashian’s exploits made a direct impact on the series, Keeping Up with the Kardashians saw a huge audience tune in even as the critics panned it. The Season 1 viewership reached 13 million, which made it clear that the critics’ opinions weren’t keeping people away. In fact, fans became obsessed with the Kardashians’ — especially Kim’s — life.
That’s the opportunity that eventually led to social media presence for the sisters that would help set the stage for an entirely new way for celebrities to interact with their fans and for brands to reach consumers. In some ways, Keeping Up with the Kardashians and the Kardashians’ willingness to put themselves in the spotlight for the sake of their fans ushered in the era of social media influence we know today.