Reality Week: ‘Bling Empire’s Jeff Jenkins On How Streamers Are Fuelling Docusoap Boom & Teaming With Paula Abdul, Anthony Scaramucci & Jocelyn Wildenstein

Jeff Jenkins has worked on reality series The Simple Life, Keeping Up With The Kardashians and most recently Netflix’s Bling Empire.

Deadline can reveal that Jenkins is also working with pop star Paula Abdul, former Trump advisor Anthony Scaramucci and Jocelyn Wildenstein, the socialite known for her extensive catlike cosmetic surgery as he looks to take advantage of the latest boom in the world of reality docusoaps.

“I like to work with the unique folks out there. They’re harder and harder to find in our homogenized world and it is definitely becoming harder and harder to find fresh, unique, on-camera talent who the viewer is compelled to watch,” he told Deadline.

His latest project, Bling Empire, launched in January 2021 and he says it has become one of Netflix’s most-watched unscripted docuseries to date, numbers that encouraged the streamer to renew it for a second season.

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The show follows a wildly wealthy group of Asian and Asian-American friends and frenemies in Los Angeles, including Christine Chiu and Anna Shay.

“Every producer in the business who saw the amazing movie Crazy Rich Asians halfway through the movie thought this would be a great reality show,” he said.

However, he had a headstart, having previously developed medical-focused projects with Christine Chu and her husband Dr. Chu and a project with Shay and Faye Dunaway. “They trusted me and were willing to be open, so, I was able to build around them,” he added.

A project like this could have taken years in development, but Jenkins, who was previously co-president at Bunim/Murray Productions and launched his own shingle in 2018 with backing from 3BMG, said that the introduction of the streamers, and Netflix, in particular, has buoyed the sector.

“Every buyer in town was looking for their Crazy Rich Asian cast. Netflix was lighting fast to pull the trigger. They were able to just jump right in, where I think the approval process for a cabler is a slower, longer, more contemplative process, perhaps,” he added.

Before Netflix came on to the scene, the reality docusoap world was largely the preserve of NBCUniversal cablers E! and Bravo and MTV. “The opportunity for guys like me has opened up again with all these changes. There is a renewed appetite for docuseries, higher volume. For instance, an E! or a Lifetime might only be able to buy one, two, maybe three projects a year in total to series. Whereas Netflix can probably buy three projects to series a month or a week.”

Case in point, Jenkins is also making My Unorthodox Life for the streamer. The series centers around the personal and professional life of fashion mogul Julia Haart – former member of an ultra-Orthodox Jewish community turned CEO of Elite World Group. Since taking the reins of a global talent empire, Haart has been on a mission to revolutionize the industry from the inside out – all while being a mother of four. Her children include a TikToker, an app designer, a lawyer, and a high schooler torn between two conflicting cultures, and Haart helps them reconcile their orthodox upbringings with the modern world.

“She escaped when she was 40 with very little education, no contacts, no tools, no money, and within the span of six, seven years is now a billionaire running a Forbes 500 company, Elite Models Worldwide, the largest modeling agency on the planet. Eighty percent of models who you see in advertising are represented by her agency,” he said. “The streamers can take a little bit of a risk.”

The docusoap world is coming full circle with the likes of Paris Hilton, the original reality star from The Simple Life, recently signing an overall deal with Warner Bros. and shopping a new series, and the Kardashians moving from E! to Hulu with a new project.

Jenkins believes that this genre would still work on broadcast television. “We need that broadcast executive who has the guts and vision to pull the trigger. When The Simple Life aired on Fox, the premiere was a huge rating. It got number that no one even gets today. I think that can happen again, and I think the time is ripe for it.”

Having said that, it’s harder and harder to find talent. Kids have grown up with reality shows like Jersey Shore and Real World and they live their lives on social media, which can make it harder to frame a show around them. “To find genuine humanity in new cast members who aren’t curating themselves, who aren’t editing themselves, who can really share their genuine soul. It is harder and harder to find, and it’s part of my job to ferret that out and find those people,” he said.

On the celebrity side, too many stars want to keep too much of their lives private to make doing a reality show worthwhile. He said Kim Kardashian is the perfect example of living her life 98% on camera with the 2% that’s not is to protect her children or family. “But her actual life, it’s there. That’s why she’s the queen of reality television is because she’s made sharing an artform.”

“If you had an abortion and you never want to talk about it, no problem. I was developing a series with a very well-known scripted actress. Young, beautiful, dynamic, articulate, recently divorced but trying to co-parent,” Jenkins said. “She wanted to keep all of her new dating life off camera. I said ‘Ok’. Then the following week, she had a very fascinating ex-husband who was still in love with her. That was a lot of story but she wanted to keep everything with him off camera. So, over the course of a few weeks, she lopped off 70% of her life and I had to call her manager and say ‘I love her but I’m not going forward’.”

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