"I'm getting the bug again," Kylie Jenner confesses to her therapist in the series premiere of her E! reality show Life of Kyle. "I just want to run away. I don't know who I'm doing it for." She's discussing her distaste for fame, but she could be describing America's growing lack of interest in her family.
According to USA Today, only 1.1 million people saw Life of Kylie's debut last week (the second episode airs tonight), whereas 1.9 million tuned in to see Tara Reid's Sharknado 5: Global Swarming. Kylie's ratings are part of a broader trend that has affected the Kardashians across most platforms since The Apprentice star Donald Trump announced his plans to run for president two years ago.
Forbes staff writer Madeline Berg points out that Keeping Up with the Kardashians ratings have plummeted since 2014, a year before Trump entered the Republican primary. In May 2016, 3.1 million Americans watched the season 12 premiere, a significant decline from the 2011 peak when 10.5 million viewed Kim Kardashian's 2011 televised wedding to Kris Humphries, according to Cosmopolitan. Despite viral previews of Kim opening up about her Paris robbery, viewership tanked again for the latest premiere in March 2017, with 1.48 million people watching—less than half of the previous year's premiere viewership. The ratings are even worse for Rob and Chyna, whose baby special, Showbuzz Daily claims, delivered less than a million viewers.
Cable ratings have dropped overall according to Hollywood Reporter, but New York magazine's Josef Adalian reports The Rachel Maddow Show has risen to nearly 3 million viewers per night thanks to Trump news playing out like a reality show.
Whereas Trump's tweets and White House feuds play out simultaneously on social media and CNN, Kardashian shows replay moments the Kardashian-Jenner clan captured on social media months earlier. Life of Kylie's premiere, for instance, documented Kylie crashing a prom, but the public already saw that story in April via her Snapchat. This leaves the Kardashian-Jenners' reality empire to run on mundane original footage, like Kylie gossiping with her makeup artist and hair stylist.
Kylie is currently Snapchat's most viewed user and Kim is the seventh most followed celebrity on Instagram, but the first family of reality TV has even been faltering online. Last year, politicians ruled Google's list of the most searched people. According to Refinery29, Trump came first, with Hillary Clinton, Michael Phelps, and Bernie Sanders following. The only non-politicians to make the list were athletes and Making a Murderer subject Steven Avery. Only a year earlier, Time reported that Kim topped the most googled list.
So far in 2017, the Kardashians have mostly gained headlines for the wrong reasons. Pepsi yanked Kendall Jenner's ad off the air after Black Lives Matter activists critiqued her for appearing as a white savior who ended a square-off between protesters and police by handing a cop a Pepsi. Tupac's former photographer, Mike Millar, sued Kylie and Kendall for plastering his photo of the late rapper on their shirts, while numerous designers have accused the sisters of ripping off their designs. (The Kardashian-Jenners have denied any wrongdoing.) These stories, though, were immediately eclipsed by White House drama: The Pepsi controversy fell from public view as soon as Trump fired missiles into a Syrian airbase.
Reality television has been here before. In her seminal account of the mid-2000s, The Bling Ring: How a Group of Fame-Obsessed Teens Ripped Off Hollywood and Shocked the World, Vanity Fair scribe Nancy Jo Sales hypothesizes that 2009, the year Barack Obama was inaugurated, marked the moment when the Kardashians replaced Paris Hilton, Nicole Richie, and Lindsay Lohan. Kim went on to rule the Obama years as Hilton dominated the Bush era.
Nobody, of course, stays number one in Hollywood forever. Even Meryl Streep, writes her biographer Karen Hollinger, starred in repeated bombs in the early 1990s, before revitalizing herself as an Oscar queen. Those with longevity have careers that ebb and flow. Hilton maintained relevancy through a new career as one of the world's most highly paid EDM DJs before gaining popularity again by turning into a meme queen.
But it remains unclear whether the Kardashians will continue their reign as the first family of reality TV, especially when the country's actual first family consists of reality stars much more outrageous than the skinny tea-slinging sisters.