The Kardashian Universe Is Shrinking
The first time I discovered Keeping Up With The Kardashians, I was home with the flu during winter break in college. My mom had been begging me to watch this show for weeks, but I didn’t want to give in. Now that I was stuck on the couch, I had no choice. Everyone knows the best treatment for the flu is reality TV, and at the time, every season was on Netflix — what could be better?
As soon as I started the first episode of the series (original cheesy opening titles included), I was transfixed. When KUWTK’s first season debuted on E! In 2007, the Kardashians were primarily known for two things: Kim’s sex tape, and the family’s ties to the O.J. Simpson trial. Kylie Jenner wasn’t a multi-million dollar lipstick mogul, she was a 10-year-old begging her parents for a puppy. Kim hadn’t broken the internet yet, either: She was mostly concerned with making sure DASH, the boutique she owned with her sisters, wouldn’t tank.
At its heart, the show was about the core Kardashian-Jenner family: Kris, Kim, Khloé, Kourtney, Kendall, Kylie, and Rob. And Kris Jenner’s blended family of six children was just the beginning: There was a massive cast of characters, and it felt like new people were introduced at every turn. Quickly, it became clear that KUWTK wasn’t just about Kris and her daughters: It was about all the people in their orbit, too. But somewhere along the way, in the 11 years since the show premiered, that expansion stopped.
But, the swarm of merry, Kardashian-Jenner-adjacent men and women was part of what made the show so good. There were cousins, like Cici Bussey. There were Caitlyn Jenner’s children from a previous marriage, one of whom was Brody Jenner from The Hills. There were friends like Malika and Kadijah Haqq, constantly coming in and out of the Kardashian-Jenner household like they lived there — hell, maybe they did. Each added their own charm, a new variant on rich-people dialogue, to the show. Without Brody babysitting, would we ever have gotten to see Kendall and Kylie playing on the stripper pole that was (horrifyingly enough) in Kris’ bedroom? What would we have done without Lord Scott Disick throwing shade at his sisters-in-sort-of-law at every turn, delivering crabby one liners from his seat at the kitchen table?
Audiences were introduced to the highly entertaining Haqq twins as Khloé’s BFFs (and for the record, Malika totally deserved her own show… and something better than dating Ronnie from Jersey Shore). We also met Jonathan Cheban, Kim’s slightly peculiar partner-in-crime, who has been present in the background of almost every big moment in the Kardashian-Jenner’s lives since. And who could forget the never-ending line of suitors? As new love interests came into the sisters’ lives, they joined the show, swiftly making their exit when things went south: Kris Humphries was married to Kim Kardashian for 72 blissful days — other than their over-the-top, televised wedding, his presence on the show was a drop in the bucket. Same thing for Khloé’s relationship with rapper French Montana: He appeared on the show, but only for one episode.
As the years went by, something began to change. Instead of being introduced to more and more Calabasas personalities, the KUWTK universe started to collapse in on itself — and now, the show is almost exclusively about Kris and her daughters.
But why? It may have something to do the family’s matriarch, Kris Jenner. Kris is widely credited for steering the entire Kardashian-Jenner ship, managing every detail of their public image, however large or small. Over the years, there was a series of sensitive, dramatic developments in the characters’ lives that Kris Jenner could simply not control for quality television — and may have prompted her to cut them from the cast.
Take, for instance, the Caitlyn Jenner story arc. Caitlyn went public with her transition in a KUWTK special called “About Bruce” that aired in May 2015, explaining her decision to transition, and interviews with the rest of the family about their feelings on Caitlyn coming out as transgender. At first, the entire family was very protective, but relationships soured.
The final nail in the Caitlyn coffin, it seems, was the release of her memoir, The Secrets of My Life. In the book, Caitlyn made claims that Jenner knew she was transgender before they even had sex for the first time, which Kris later denied on an episode of KUWTK. Caitlyn's negative portrayal of Kris and the Kardashian family throughout the memoir also caused issues with her own children, including Kendall.
“[Caitlyn] goes around dissing the Kardashians, but those are the kids that you raised!” Kendall said on the show in response to the memoir's release. “If you have a problem with them, you raised them. That makes no sense to me, that she would go around bashing us for no reason.”
Once a regular fixture, Caitlyn has only appeared on the show twice since 2016.
Around the same time the Caitlyn drama unfolded, Rob Kardashian also began appearing on KUWTK less and less. According to what his family said on the show, Rob’s weight gain and depression made it hard for hm to be on camera, and Kim later told Andy Cohen on Watch What Happens Live that he skipped out on her wedding to Kanye West because he was uncomfortable being in the spotlight at such a huge event. In early 2016, Rob and Blac Chyna (who has a child with Kylie Jenner’s former boyfriend, Tyga) started dating. He shocked his sisters when he got engaged without telling them, and in turn they made it very clear that they didn’t support the relationship. Since then, he’s barely made an appearance.
Then there was Kim’s robbery at gunpoint in Paris in 2016. French police largely blamed Kim's social media posts for the event, saying that those who committed the crime could trace her every step during her time in Paris. Afterwards, Kim pulled back from public life, went silent on social media, and filming for the show was put on hold. Eventually, she returned, but one has to wonder if this traumatic event played into the choice to keep the KUWTK circle smaller than ever.
"Being at home for so many months and just taking work out of the equation and really being a stay at home mom has been so refreshing,” Kim said on a post-robbery episode. I'd love to expand my family and have this whole world at home."
Of course, there are plenty of examples of people disappearing from the show without such a massive side helping of drama. Scott Disick — who, to be totally honest, is the reason a lot of people kept tuning in — hasn’t been on the show much since his breakup with Kourtney, and earlier this summer, the Kardashians fired Joyce Bonelli, who had been their makeup artist for more than a decade. In the past four seasons, no one has made an appearance on the show actually got their own arc: Even Kourtney’s boyfriend, Younes Bendjima, and Khloé’s boyfriend (and baby True’s dad), Tristan Thompson, have each only been present for a couple of episodes, and briefly.
There may not be a truly insidious reason why the Kardashian universe has transitioned from an entire galaxy, to focusing on its biggest, brightest stars. Perhaps each of the Kardashian and Kardashian-Jenner sisters have built up a strong enough personal brand that they don’t need drama to keep people watching — they just need fans who adore them.
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Maybe Kris Jenner is just tired — after all, being a momager on perpetual damage control duty must be exhausting after awhile. We can see the appeal of damage-controlling fewer people’s disasters.
Now that Season 15 has begun, it seems like we can expect more of this smaller cast, especially if the promos E! has released so far are any indication — in fact, only Khloé, Kourtney, Kim, and Scott are featured in the main trailer. Reportedly, the Tristan Thompson cheating situation will be addressed (and no, I have not forgiven him and neither will you). Kourtney barely appears in the promo (which could mean everything or nothing at all), and Khloe is about to welcome her first child, and with any luck at all, we will get footage of Stormi Webster in all her squishy, Fendi-wearing baby glory.
There is an argument to be made that the smaller cast ultimately makes the show more boring, but as a fan, I’m not sure if I need much more than Kris, Kylie, Kendall, Khloe, Kourtney, and Kim. In my opinion, they can carry the show on their own. Do not underestimate how much excellent television can come from Kris Jenner dropping classic lines like “it’s snowing pussy willows,” my friends.
This empire was built on lines like this. Even if the Kardashian-supernova exploded and left behind a tiny neutron star — aka, Kris and her daughters sitting in one room and talking for an hour each week — I’m prepared to spend an infinite amount of time in their orbit.