Bev - a novel by Matty Rich
Bev - a novel by Matty Rich and Andrea Williams, based on the life of Beverly Luther, a civil rights activist.
Since reality TV took off in the 90s, there's been no shortage of programs documenting the daily lives (and drama) of everyday people and celebrities. And there's been no shortage of moments giving millions of people on social media something to talk about. One person creating some of those memorable, and sometimes controversial, moments is Carlos King, executive producer of The Real Housewives of Atlanta and Love & Hip-Hop: Atlanta, and many more.
Carlos gives YBE a look behind the scenes of reality TV, addressing some of the criticism about the industry, and talking about his success and entrepreneurial goals.
YBE: How did you get your start in tv? Was that something you always knew you wanted to do? How did you become involved with reality tv?
Carlos King: I knew since I was a kid that my career would be in TV. I didn’t know that it would be as a producer, but I was intrigued with television. I always knew that people were happiest when their career felt less like work. So whatever career I chose would have to align with my passion.
I started working at BET as a fulltime employee and worked my way up. A few years later, I got an offer to work on The Real Housewives of Atlanta. I didn’t have any idea how it would work, but I put in a lot of preparation and was blessed to be put with the right situations and the right people.
YBE: You’ve had some of the biggest moments in reality tv, bringing record numbers of viewers for Love & Hip Hop Atlanta and The Real Housewives of Atlanta. How are you able to create such ratings phenomena?
King: First, I’m very blessed being able to work on these shows. When it comes to the success I’ve had, I follow the reality of the cast. I follow their world so that I can tell an authentic story that the audience can relate to. That’s the beauty of it.
With LHHA, the cast had a lot of great stories to tell. We followed what they were giving us to create those moments. When we started, I had no idea that Joseline [Hernandez] would become one of the biggest names in reality TV.
YBE: What is it about reality television that draws so many people in?
King: The thing about entertainment is when someone gets off work or you want to distract yourself from your own personal life, you go on social media, watch movies, etc. With reality TV, you are watching people live their lives on camera, and people are fascinated by that. You're able to escape your world and your problems for a while to see how other people live and handle their issues.
YBE: In your open letter on BET, you said, “we should be very mindful that not everyone on television is the designated spokesperson or example for their race.” However, we know that portrayals of black people in entertainment are often viewed as representative of our race. So do you take that into consideration when producing shows or are you more concerned with the cast authentically being themselves, regardless of the perceptions?
King: Yeah, I let them be themselves. It’s unfortunate that as black people, we have to carry the weight of the culture on our shoulders. I’m not saying that none of us has any responsibility. I have the responsibility to develop shows that tell different stories. However, my job is to also make sure that these people are telling their authentic stories, because you never know who will relate to it. Whatever someone on the cast is going through, nine times out of ten, someone in the audience is going through it or can relate to it.
YBE: Do you feel that the reason for that perception and criticism is a response to how others tend to view us? In other words, if we weren’t viewed stereotypically in our daily lives, would we view reality TV so negatively?
King: We live in a critical world where people criticize everything, sometimes just for attention. Millions watch it, and that’s why there’s more and more reality shows being created. This is an industry where we give consumers what they want. So for those who don’t like it, there are many others who will watch it.
You just have to have a thick skin in this industry. I work in a community where you’re putting yourself out there for criticism. It’s not like an engineer or teacher where everything is not out there. My career and the shows I produce are subjected to criticism.
YBE: Do reality shows need to have drama/conflict to be successful or is that just one aspect?
King: It’s just one aspect. People can truly be honest with themselves, there’s not one person on this earth that doesn’t have a level of drama in their lives. Very interesting that some people like to throw out the word drama as if they don’t have any. As much as I would love to tell people that I have no drama in my life, there’s tons. Whether or not you choose to show it, that’s definitely your right.
YBE: With so much reality tv programming out there though from inspirational to competition shows, do you feel that critics focus on Housewives and similar shows because of their popularity?
King: People need to separate the different types of shows on TV. There are shows that I’m developing that aren’t on the level of RHOA, and tons of shows that aren’t dramatic. I agree that there are extreme altercations of people fighting, throwing drinks in people’s faces. On Hollywood Divas and Selling It in the ATL, people have spirited debates that might get heated.
YBE: What positive feedback do you receive?
King: As a producer, I appreciate when black men, especially gay black men, say I admire you, you represent us well, you are creating opportunities for other black people.
Since my job is so public, I have a responsibility to the black community and gay community, but I don’t live my life trying to please everybody. Just because someone says they don’t view themselves as a role model for their culture doesn’t mean that they are abandoning their people.
YBE: Are you planning to venture into scripted television?
King: Yes, a lot of my new developments are in scripted tv. I do not want to be a one-note producer. Developing shows to show he can do more than one thing. Diving into scripted world and excited to see how people will respond to it.
Currently working on scripts this year. A few meetings this year and things happening right now.
YBE: When did you launch Kingdom Reign Entertainment?
King: Back in 2012 when I was on the verge of developing Hollywood Divas. I wanted to have my own production staff for shows that I created. It's great for us to create our own opportunities and pave our own ways. I've been blessed and fortunate to have shows that have the KRE stamp on them. I'm hoping to have a few more in 2017.
It's been a joy and a lot of hard work that he welcomes. I can’t wait for people to see what I have in development.
YBE: What challenges did you face in building your business and brand?
King: You have to wear more than one hat. You have to be an entrepreneur, leader, employee and mentor among other things. I didn’t realize how much hard work it would take when I started. You have to employ people who rely on you for employment for as long as they can work for you. You have to be responsible for overhead, for creative, for talent.
YBE: You talked about the hardships of being a black gay man in Hollywood. When did you come out? How has that made it easier or more difficult for you to be successful in your career?
King: Growing up was challenging, being a gay man in Detroit. It hasn’t hindered me though. I'm able to deal with challenges in a different way. People respond positively to that. I'm able to walk into the room and be myself and not just be what others expect me to be. Being black and being gay are such a huge part of my life and my world. It has helped because I can see the world through two lenses.
It makes me feel sorry for gay men who cannot come out the closet. The moment you are true to yourself, that’s when the world opens up in a way that you cannot imagine. You get to be yourself and the world welcomes you in a different way. That’s why it’s important to live an authentic life. I hope that I can help black men come out the closet through the life and success I have.
YBE: What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned as an entrepreneur?
King: Being authentic. As a manager, your employees respond to that. As a producer, the cast responds to it. As an entrepreneur, the networks respond to that. Being authentic allows me to provide opportunities for people.
YBE: What advice do you have for others that want to get into television, whether as on-screen talent or production?
King: Intern, intern, intern. Nothing like working for free and soaking up the experience. My level of concentration and ambition has to do with working for free. I would knock on doors to get inside buildings and didn’t mind being the first person there and last to leave. Internships will teach you a lot at an early age. This upcoming generation doesn’t understand hard work anymore. They think the way to success is easy, but what you see on tv or social media is not real. It might be a quick way to success, but it has no longevity. Beyonce works her tail off, but she understood hard work. She works hard at her craft, whereas others who came before or after are not still here.
You have to understand and appreciate the value and experience that comes from interning. If you only focus on the money, you’ll never win.
Building His KINGdom
An interview with reality TV creator/producer, Carlos King