Last call with Keeping Up With The Kardashians in its last season
NEW YORK: It is a cultural abyss for some, an addictive melodrama for others.
But no matter your view, Keeping Up With The Kardashians (KUWTK), which premiered its 20th and final season last Friday after 14 years on the small screen, succeeded in syncing reality television with social media - and making the clan a fortune.
It is currently airing in Singapore exclusively on streaming service hayu at hayu.com and its app.
Kim Kardashian, who is among the show's central figures, and her mother, Kris Jenner, last year decided to get on the streaming train.
Post-KUWTK, the family has announced a partnership with Disney, for a new show on Hulu and the nascent platform Star.
But first, they are wrapping the show that made their name, which remains on the cable channel E! - though audiences have dropped off dramatically since peaking during Season 4 in 2010.
But its final season promises emotions on high - scripted or not - what with the possible closure on the Kourtney Kardashian and Scott Disick drama, the second baby ordeal of Khloe Kardashian and Tristan Thompson, and allusions to the separation of Kim and Kanye West.
"Kim and her family created authentic personas on the show and their social media accounts. Consumers trust them and want to be like them," said Dr Christine Kowalczyk, a marketing professor at the University of East Carolina.
Kim, 40, has 210 million Instagram followers, and according to Dr Kowalczyk, "was very innovative and transformative" in her use of online networks.
"Her use of social media is not random," she said. "She uses the different platforms to create and maintain her brand image."
She has turned the brand into a vast fortune. According to Forbes, she is worth US$780 million (S$1 billion).
Along with the distribution contract with E!, which sits at US$30 million a year, she launched a number of product lines, notably her cosmetics brand KKW Beauty.
Last year, she sold 20 per cent of its capital to the make-up giant Coty for US$200 million.
Add in the fortune of her half-sister Kylie Jenner - estimated at US$700 million - and the clan's worth, which started from little, is approaching US$2 billion. And there is still the controversial legacy of the show to consider.
"The Kardashians capture the unease of a society that is in many ways affluent... but might be decaying morally," said Professor Ellis Cashmore, a sociology scholar currently at Aston University.
"And what I meant by that is we have become fascinated with other people's private lives."
Some others point to the show as a platform that helped normalise mixed-race couples, or to familiarise the public with transgender people.
The transition of Kris' former husband, Caitlyn Jenner, was square in front of the cameras.
Other analysts have noted the way the show emphasised independent women who call the shots in both their private and professional lives.
Whatever Disney's next project is, the show's end does not spell the end of the Kardashians.
They "are constantly evolving to maintain themselves and their brands in the marketplace", Dr Kowalczyk said. - AFP