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Carlos King On Producing Reality TV And Whom He Misses Most From ‘RHOA’

Television producer Carlos King.
Television producer Carlos King.
Courtesy of Eric Campbell Photography

Television producer turned late night TV host and podcaster Carlos King is enjoying a new echelon of fame. His fans, who have christened him “The King of Reality TV,” know he is the brainchild behind some of the most celebrated moments and seasons of reality TV favorites like “The Real Housewives of Atlanta” and “The Real Housewives of New Jersey.” King was a producer on “RHOA” from 2008 to 2017.

But his work on newer shows produced under his own production company — namely “Love & Marriage: Huntsville,” the breakout hit on OWN that continues to soar in the ratings — along with his growing on-air presence is now making him just as famous as many of the people he’s helped become household names over the years.

That is a feat all on its own. But as a Black gay man in entertainment, King is now providing a much needed template for many like him to follow. In an interview with HuffPost, King reflects on his growing visibility, the success of his shows and what we can expect in the upcoming seasons of “Love & Marriage: Huntsville” and “Belle Collective.” Thankfully, because he is reality TV royalty, King also entertains some of my questions related to the “Real Housewives” universe.

You have over a decade’s worth of experience producing some of the most successful reality shows on OWN, Bravo, BET and VH1. Fans call you “The King of Reality TV,” so it’s not as if people haven’t been celebrating you, but I feel like after the launch of your late night talk show, “Nightcap with Carlos King” and “Love & Marriage: D.C.,” that you are reaching a new peak. Does it all feel that way?

It really does. Look, I’ve been fortunate to have a great career by producing on some of the biggest shows in the world such as “The Real Housewives” [and] to bet on myself and to start my production company, Kingdom Reign Entertainment. My goal was to create my own shows because I studied Tyler Perry, who I actually know personally, and he always talked about ownership and creating your own destiny. So, to create a franchise for a Black woman who I looked up to since I was a kid — Oprah Winfrey — and for it to be the most-watched show is a blessing. And to launch a new city with “Love & Marriage D.C.” that’s doing well and then to be the first openly gay Black man to have a late night show on her network … is nothing but God’s blessing and grace. It also just goes to show you that the moment you step out on faith, anything’s possible.

I’m presently in mourning about the breakup of “Desus & Mero,” but when people talk about disruptors of late night TV, I think of you as much as them or anyone else by the fact that you’re the first openly Black gay male to host a show. A lot of gay Black men like myself have to contend with the perception that we lack commercial viability, yet here you are. I’ve seen you retweet some of the messages, and you know, it means a lot to see someone like you who actually likes gay Black men to be in this space. Can you talk a little bit about making history and the impact you’ve heard from the community directly?

Oh, absolutely. Listen, I am where I’m at because someone else gave me an opportunity, right? So me retweeting and reposting messages from people who were like, “Oh my gosh, you represent us” and “I now have someone to look up to who’s in front of the camera.” I did not have that at 12 years old watching Oprah Winfrey and Montel Williams, and then Ananda Lewis on “Teen Summit.” Like, there was nobody who looked like me in terms of an openly gay Black man. We were just nonexistent, to be honest with you. So me having the opportunity to be that face for my community is a big deal. And I don’t take it for granted. And I know what that means for us, not, not just the little boys; I’m talking about grown men. Patrik Ian-Polk, who created “Noah’s Arc,” and he’s now a co-EP on “P-Valley,” sent me the sweetest message saying, “Boy, you better do it. And you are representing us.” Like that means the world to me for someone of his stature to even recognize me.

You’ve said that your production company, Kingdom Reign Entertainment, was launched because “I wanted to create a platform for Black professionals to showcase you know, the good, the bad, the ugly so that they can be relatable to a mass audience.” What I have loved about your shows is that they are based in cities like Huntsville, Alabama, and Jackson, Mississippi, because not only are Black people mostly in the South, they’re not all in Atlanta. Can you tell me a little about your thought process in choosing these cities? Did you know at all that would boost appeal to Black viewers?

I knew that the curiosity factor would be there when you launch a show with the name Huntsville in the title, because prior to meeting Melody and Martell [of “Love & Marriage: Huntsville”], just to be honest with you, I [had] never heard of Huntsville [laugh].

The cast of "Love & Marriage: Huntsville," which airs on OWN.
The cast of “Love & Marriage: Huntsville,” which airs on OWN.
OWN

So I met with them and asked where they’re from, and they said they — I love their accent — “We from Huntsville, Alabama.” And I’m like, what? Where’s that at, chile? I knew that I had to be in business with the Holts, so I said, you know what, let’s do it. And again, it was that curiosity factor of just tapping to an unknown territory like Huntsville because Atlanta, to me, is oversaturated. But yes, we still have more stories to tell within that city that I love so much, but I know that when it comes to keeping my audience on their toes and my biggest thing is making sure that they expect the unexpected.

I wanted to do more unknown territories like Jackson, Mississippi, with “Belle Collective.” And, you know, there’s a lot of different cities that me and my development team are tapping into. So yes, it was for me to show that not all Black folks live in Atlanta who are successful. I want to explore different cities to show the wealth of Black people who are doing a great job representing their town. And last but not least for me, it goes to show you that if you are a Black person who’s raised in a small town, it doesn’t mean that everybody wants to leave the small town. And I think Huntsville represents that. I think Jackson represents that. So I wanna continue to do that effort and explore more unknown territories.

OK, on Twitter, you appreciated my compliment to “LAMH” star Melody Holt that she looked like Diamond from Crime Mob if she pledged AKA. I’m a fan, but love or hate her, I think she speaks to your eye for talent. I’ve read about how you two met, but generally, can you tell me: Has it gotten easier or harder over time to find stars like her? Do you keep the same methodology when casting a new show?

I have the same method. I know a star when I see one within 30 seconds. It’s a certain bravado. It’s a certain look, it’s a certain personality or characteristic. And the examples with Melody Holt and Nene Leakes, two very distinctive personalities, but arguably both stars, right? Nene is more boisterous, in your face, larger than life; whereas Melody’s very sweet, she’s meek, but she means what she says and she says what she means. And what’s been interesting is ever since I launched “LAMH,” a lot of women who are either on my current shows or auditioned to be on my show, a lot of them say, “Please make me Melody Holt.” [Laughs] Melody Holt is like the blueprint for the upcoming reality stars in the same way Nene Leakes was, because when I was working on “Housewives,” a lot of women — I’m not gonna name names, but it’s a lot of your favorites — they would be like, “I wanna be Nene Leakes.” So, I feel like Melody definitely has that star quality that a lot of people recognize and want to be able to attain.

Before I move to the next question, Kimmie from the show looks like a R&B star from the 2000s that has kept it together the entire time.

I know you do. That’s a huge compliment. She’s giving you old school, like old school, En Vogue tease.

Yes, but with a nursing degree. It’s amazing. OK, so I love “Love & Marriage: Huntsville,” and the mid-season preview showed a physical altercation between Marsau and Martell. You don’t typically like violence on reality TV, so at that moment as the producer of the show, what were you thinking?

Well I will say this, there isn’t a physical altercation. Meaning there aren’t two people whose fists are landing. Let me say that. I don’t wanna spoil it. I’m happy to report that nobody was touched in the sense of punches, right? And you are right. I don’t believe in making television to where that’s the constant thing you see. I’m also aware that things happen outside of anyone’s control. You look at what happened with Will Smith and Chris Rock at America’s favorite award show where these two Black men had an unfortunate incident and you look at that and you say to yourself, “Well, it’s not the producer’s fault that that happened.” It was based on someone being in their feelings and decided to take it out on the person making the joke. Not here to judge, but that’s what happened.

So I remember looking at that, saying if that happened on “LAMH” or “Belle Collective” [or] any of my shows, there would be this big petition that would go around saying Carlos King is perpetuating stereotypes whereas we’re not given the same grace. When I say we, I mean reality television and reality stars. We’re not given the same grace to say, OK, this person had a bad day or this person did a bad thing. We’re not given that same grace.

So I want to be sure to address that things do happen, however, the difference between my shows and other programming that really involves physical altercations, you don’t see that in every single episode of mine.

Can you tell us about the second season of “Belle Collective”? And also how you’ve become the King of OWN? I remember how the network used to be full of rich white women.

So to be the king of OWN, as you say, it’s something I do not take for granted. The Oprah Winfrey Network executives are some of the smartest people in the business. They really are great collaborators. When it came to my late night show, “The Night Cap with Carlos King,” the one thing they said to me was be yourself. This show can only work if it’s all you, all the time. We can give you notes, but it’s you.

And when it comes to the second season of “Belle Collective,” it was that same notion of “make this show great.” But this season of “Belle Collective” is what I like to call “Love & Marriage 2.0,” in the sense of we’re diving more into the couple and their relationships.

So there’s a paternity scandal. There’s a pregnancy scare. There’s a cheating scandal. No, I’m not talking about Huntsville. I’m talking about Jackson. Oh, honey, it goes down in Jackson. And again, we’re talking about successful Black female entrepreneurs who are the head of their household — and they have these very interesting relationships inside of that household and with each other. So it’s this beautiful display of success, but also stakes as relates to their personal lives. This season is four times as great as last season. And I can promise you, when you watch that season premiere, you’re going to stay tuned for the rest of the season. I promise you that.

So, as someone that consumes a lot of reality television, I’m a big fan of your podcast, “Reality with the King.” It’s a fantastic mix of laughs, recaps and shade, but there’s also a lot of thoughtfulness in the interviews. There is a certain comfort level everyone has with you — even if they haven’t worked with you directly — and that often makes for really interesting conversations where I feel like reality stars are able to be both challenged and given a space to better explain their situations. I’m thinking of Eboni K. Williams from “The Real Housewives of New York” or Charmaine Bey from “Black Ink Crew: Chicago.” I know the podcast is relatively new, but has it turned out the way you envisioned it?

It’s everything I imagine it to be and better. It is indescribable in terms of the feeling I get as I’m talking to these subjects. So yes, I have a late night show — obviously that’s more visual and right. We have to do everything within 21 minutes so I’m restricted a lot only because of timing purposes for the half-hour show. But for the podcast, it’s uncensored, it’s unedited, it’s raw, it’s real, and I appreciate you and everyone else who said there’s something very interesting about the way [I’m] able to extract information from subjects because you’re not exploiting them.

I give every single subject matter the opportunity to tell me if there anything [they] want to [me] take out. Is there anything you said you regret? I have to tell you [that] I have yet to receive a “Can you take this off, please?” I can do the podcast every single day. I love it so much.

I could ask you a 1,000 questions about reality television right now, but I’ll focus first on our beloved “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” and ask: What you think of Diana Jenkins?

I think she’s somebody who on paper appeared to be a great Beverly Hills housewife. What people don’t understand is when you’re thrust into this machine of reality television — especially “The Real Housewives” — where to me, it is a game of “Survivor” where you have to make yourself relevant in order to stay on the ship, right?

I think Diana came on the show thinking like, “Oh, this would be cute. This would be fun. I get to like show people my wealth.” Because one thing I know about wealthy people, nine times outta 10, the only thing they’re missing is the fame. They want the fame — nine times outta 10. I think Diana wanted to be famous. She doesn’t need the money. She likes showing her wealth. And I think the moment she started hanging out with these women and understood that no, it’s a job, I think she was like, “Mmm, whatever.” She had one great moment — the back and forth with Sutton, which I enjoyed — but overall, she isn’t somebody who I think is great. I’m way more interested in seeing Sheree Zampino than Diana.

I am so glad you said that, because my next question is: How long before Sheree Zampino gets her diamond?

Next season [Laughs].

Kenya Moore, Andy Cohen and NeNe Leakes on "The Real Housewives of Atlanta" reunion.
Kenya Moore, Andy Cohen and NeNe Leakes on “The Real Housewives of Atlanta” reunion.
Bravo via Getty Images

So, obviously, a lot of people pay very close attention to your opinion about “The Real Housewives of Atlanta” because you are rightly credited with being the showrunner of the best seasons of the franchise. As much as I adore this show and watch religiously — even in bad times — I must say, I’ve always felt a way how no matter the housewife, one of the punchlines is that their husband or partner is gay. I know you keep good relationships with the cast members, but I’ve always wondered as a producer, when you see that happening, do you have any reaction one way or another?

You know, one of the things that I do agree with you on is the fact that calling someone’s [spouse] gay is a lazy read. It’s not anything that I think is interesting. And if I was producing that season, I would’ve stepped in and said, we’re not doing this. As a gay Black man, I would have stepped in and said, we’re not covering the story. We’re not doing it. It’s lazy. It’s not funny.

There seems to be a Phaedra Parks renaissance afoot over at Bravo, which for a lot of people, instantly makes them think of why she left the show to begin with. Do you think people will ever leave you alone about what happened between Phaedra and Kandi? That includes me.

Number one: Yes, I do think she’ll go back to the show. Listen, one thing I know about social media is at the end of the day, when people have a hard-on for you, they’re going to constantly poke the bear because they want you to roar and I’m way too savvy and way too smart to even entertain it. I have done numerous interviews where I said I had nothing to do with it. And I remember a couple of years ago someone said, whatever, you’re lying. And I thought to myself, “Who are you to sit up here and tell me that I’m lying as if you were involved in the production or in the show?” So that’s when it hit me. When people make up their minds, they’re going to believe what they want to believe. And there’s absolutely nothing I can do about it.

For those still in mourning about the loss of “Hollywood Divas,” do you have any words of comfort?

[Laughs] Look, I would love to resurrect that show to reboot it. It’s the first show that my production company produced so it will always always be my No. 1 favorite show just based on that. And it gave me the clearance to know that, okay, Carlos King, you can have your own company, you know how to run a show on your own, you know how to do all of this. And we had three very successful seasons. So I would love to do it all over again. But you know, I’m waiting for the phone to ring, so they know who to call.

Of all the talent you’ve worked with, who do you miss producing the most?

Good question. I would say Kenya, Shereé, NeNe. My OGs. I miss the camaraderie that we all had. I do miss them. I don’t miss the show or producing the show because that’s a whole ’nother element, but I do miss those women and the camaraderie that we had because it was fun, and I’m a big Kenya Moore fan and all of her whimsical news. I used to just get a kick out of it, like, who raised you? Like, you come up with the craziest stuff to say, or to do. And that’s the reason why I’m so honest and open about my adoration for her, because she is so fun to be around. She’s a joy, as I like to say, in real life if that makes any sense — but off the show, she is somebody who I consider a friend who I love and who I talk to regularly. And Shereé I talk to the most because our friendship is deeper than just a TV show.

This is not your department, but if you could, can you please tell someone over at Discovery+ to put all of the episodes of your talk show and “LAMDC” on the app? It’s the only reason I got it.

[Laughs] You’re like the 50th person to tell me this. I promise you, I will let the powers that be know. I got you, I promise.