Divorce and Kardashians InKorporated

Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries: Says an observer, "This divorce is just another thing that keeps people fascinated."
Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries: Says an observer, "This divorce is just another thing that keeps people fascinated." (EVAN AGOSTINI / Associated Press)

Gossip, drama are this E! phenom's bread and butter; some think the split won't hurt it a bit.

Posted: November 15, 2011

LOS ANGELES - The news of Kim Kardashian's divorce from basketball player Kris Humphries didn't surprise many fans of Keeping Up With the Kardashians. The E! reality series had captured scenes of the couple bitterly squabbling in the weeks leading to their blockbuster two-part TV wedding spectacular, which attracted an average of four million viewers on both nights.

It was the timing of the split - a measly 72 days after the nuptials - that caused a ruckus. Fans felt duped, and the cynics felt vindicated.

Water cooler jokes and conspiracy theories swirled: Was the whole fairy-tale romance a publicity ploy? The divorce quickly became a running gag on Twitter with the trending topic #thingslongerthankimsmarriage (among those suggested: an iPhone's battery life). Saturday Night Live wickedly lampooned the family: "I know a lot of people think Kim got married just to earn over $17 million from the wedding, but that's not true," said Kristen Wiig in the persona of Kardashian matriarch Kris Jenner. "She also got married for attention."

Could the dissolution of a 72-day marriage hasten the downfall of the Kardashian family's empire? Strategically developed over the last four years under the leadership of Jenner, the Kardashian kingdom includes boutiques, fragrances, jewelry, self-tanner, candles, books, and the recently launched Kardashian Kollection of apparel, shoes, and accessories for Sears.

That is in addition to the reality TV franchise, which began with Keeping Up With the Kardashians and branched into Kourtney and Khloe Take Miami and Khloe and Lamar. It continues with Kourtney and Kim Take New York, the second season of which premieres Nov. 27 and will provide a glimpse of Kim's unraveling marriage.

Analysts agree it's too soon to tell whether the controversy will have any lasting effect on the Kardashian business. But some suggest that because the family's brand feeds on drama, it's likely to absorb the shock.

"It's probably good publicity," said Paul Swinand, an equities analyst with Morningstar who covers Sears. "Since Sears' problem is that it's a little dowdy and a little old, some news that's a little outlandish is probably a good thing."

Online traffic is another potential benefit of the controversy, he said. "The Kardashians drive a ton of Internet traffic, which is actually one of the bright spots in Sears' operating results. It's not too hard to imagine it driving Sears' online traffic - you go to do a search for Kardashian and a banner ad for Sears can pop up." (Sears declined to discuss possible repercussions on sales of the Kardashian Kollection, citing the customary quiet period in advance of earnings reports.)

Recent reports suggesting that the deal to include two Kardashian-inspired wedding gowns in the spring 2012 White by Vera Wang collection at David's Bridal would be doomed as a result of the divorce are off base; they'll roll out as planned, said a press representative for Vera Wang.

Elizabeth Currid-Halkett, an assistant professor at University of Southern California's School of Policy, Planning and Development and author of Starstruck: The Business of Celebrity, said the gossip surrounding the failed marriage only strengthens the Kardashians' pop culture standing.

"This divorce is just another thing that keeps people fascinated," she said. "People want to know how the divorce plays out. They want to know if Kim will meet someone new. This family has never failed to keep things interesting."

That explains why a little reality show starring the daughters of late O.J. Simpson lawyer Robert Kardashian has become a force for E! In its debut season, Keeping Up averaged one million viewers and has settled into a Sunday cable staple. The most recent season finale, which ended with the proposal, averaged 3.5 million viewers.

"I think there were definitely questions when the Kardashian family came on the scene whether they would be able to sustain the level of fame they earned so quickly," said Jen Garcia, assistant editor at People. "You have to give a nod to Kris Jenner, who has built an incredible empire for these girls. She realized early on that these shows will not be around forever."

Jenner openly addresses these grand ambitions in her memoir, Kris Jenner ... and All Things Kardashian, which came out the week the divorce was announced, further feeding theories that the breakup was used to artificially build hype around another Kardashian venture. In the chapter "Building the Brand: Check!" she chronicles the construction of the empire, marking things off along the way: "nutritional supplement: check! ... spin-off show: check! ... skin care line: check!"

The epic wedding special, Kim's Fairytale Wedding, revealed the extent of E!'s investment in the clan. Since the special premiered, the network has telecast part one 21 times and part two 25 times. (E! president Suzanne Kolb downplayed suggestions the network spent more than $15 million to televise it, calling the amount "stratospherically incorrect.") And People's issue with exclusive pictures from the wedding sold 1.2 million copies.

Kim said that even she got swept up by it all. In a message to fans on her website, she wrote: "I got caught up with the hoopla and the filming of the TV show that when I probably should have ended my relationship, I didn't know how to and didn't want to disappoint a lot of people."

But not everyone is convinced bad publicity is good publicity. Jo Piazza, author of Celebrity, Inc.: How Famous People Make Money, thinks fans feel betrayed - and that's how things start to crumble.

"The phrase I've been using is that we've seen the wizard," Piazza said. "The curtains are parted, the fairy dust is wearing off, and we know how the machine works now."

She suggested the family "lay low" and wait for the news cycle to rotate. But that's not the Kardashian way. It was business as usual for Kim, who headed to Australia two days after filing for divorce to promote her line of handbags, though she later canceled the second half of her commitments after the media onslaught became too great. Ironically, the reality starlet has begun filming on the Tyler Perry movie The Marriage Counselor. And production is expected to start in the next few weeks on the seventh season of Keeping Up With the Kardashians.

"There will definitely be the curiosity factor to see how this thing unfolds," said media analyst Brad Adgate. "It's a real-life soap opera, and E! is cashing in on this. They've created a rich monster."

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