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Say what you will about reality television. I have probably said the same. It’s staged. It’s trash. It’s a load of bull. There are acceptable guilty pleasures (“Top Chef,” “Keeping Up With the Kardashians”) and trashy wastes of airtime (“The New Atlanta,” “Bad Girls Club”), but the expectations don’t seem high to begin with. I’m wondering what type of show “Chrisley Knows Best” will be seen as when I drive up to the gate of the 30,000 square-foot Georgia mansion that I’ve already become cozy with on USA network trailers.

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h look, there is the pool where Todd threw his son’s laptop. And how about the kitchen where he was fighting with his daughter? And even later I was bestowed with a peek of his drool-worthy closet where the magic happens. These dramatic moments are the stuff network executives dream about: follow around a brazen man and his feisty wife with their five precocious kids (and two grandkids) while they work on building their very own name-brand department store, and you’ve got a hit show. A hit worth fighting for. It was a sizzler-turned-series situation that started a bidding war between the networks to snag the rights to this family’s drama. “Chrisley Knows Best” didn’t even have a pilot. Preliminary footage of the Chrisleys was so exciting, nine networks bid for the show — the biggest offer coming from the Oprah Winfrey Network. But in the end, Todd chose USA as the show’s launchpad and home because, “It just has the most viewers of any network,” he says. “And they have never done a reality TV show before.” “What you see on TV is real,” he assures me, and by the chaos I’ve already presided over, I would say it’s true. His daughter, Savannah, pops in and out of the kitchen to grab things; Julie has already doled out bags of McDonald’s treats and Styrofoam cups of sweet tea for breakfast; the housekeeper is screwing in lightbulbs above while the house manager takes a tally of what needs to get done. The other kids are out doing a charity drive at a local school, and I can’t imagine what it would be like should they arrive home soon. But in this way, the show hasn’t changed their lives. “We have a controlled chaos,” Todd explains. “No matter what your family looks like, it’s your family. This works for us.” Just then, his granddaughter wobbles into the room, barely walking in pink-patterned jammies. Todd lights up, stops talking and immediately engages with the energetic infant, cooing, “Come to Papa!” He holds his hands out for her, and she smiles a wet, spattered smile and hobbles toward him. Todd is in the zone. He’s a dad at his very core. A family man. Perhaps it’s this characteristic that sets the Chrisleys apart from their spring-lineup counterparts: the way in which they approach the standards of family together. Both parents want the best for their children, however, Todd rules with an iron fist and Julie with an open palm. The greatest part is, unlike most, they are not afraid to discipline their children in front of millions of Americans. It’s a bold move — one that comes at a cost of negative social media comments and aggressive digi-

tally launched judgements — but one that exposes the challenges all parents face in this age. Later, Julie tells me, “It’s hard as parents because, of course, you want to shield your children from the hard stuff. And being on the show certainly hasn’t made it easier. As parents, we reassure our children what people say has nothing to do with who you are.” Todd agrees: “This has removed their blinders through life,” he says. “Overall, this show has given them a different perspective. We are still the same parents we always were, we just reinforce what we have already taught them.” Such lessons include how to dress like a lady, when to listen to your father (always) and family togetherness as the ultimate credo. For a man with serious Southern values, he’s pretty liberal. The colorful use of colloquialisms and tell-it-like-it-is no-nonsense is a Todd Chrisley calling card, while Julie is known for poignantly timed smiles and quippy responses. It’s a brilliant pairing. They are also progressive when it comes to gay marriage, women’s rights and racial equalities. “No one is going to tell me how to feel, who to love and what to do with my kids,” he explains. But this doesn’t detract from an overly generous moral compass. What sticky tabloids and adventurous TV clips won’t show you is the Chrisley’s commitment to charities — like the dozens of fundraisers they host and to which they devote time — or the empirical

“WE HAVE A CONTROLLED CHAOS,” TODD EXPLAINS. “NO MATTER WHAT YOUR FAMILY LOOKS LIKE, IT’S YOUR FAMILY. THIS WORKS FOR US.” outreach they take on — like Todd personally buying Christmas toys for hundreds of underprivileged kids during the holidays. Truth is, compassion isn’t a great storyline for primetime. Kindness is centered around a slow-moving progression of choices instead of the raging excitement of spousal fighting, mischievous children and luxurious overspending. As I ask Todd about these endeavors, I get the sense that he doesn’t really want people to know about all of those things. In a world of “gotcha” media and commitment to an open-book lifestyle, some things are meant to be personal, and he’s happy just to help people and stay quiet about it ... even if it means he’s misjudged. “I don’t care what people think,” he says. “We are who we are. This hasn’t changed us.” SPRING 2014

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Profile for Eide Magazine

THE CURIOUS ISSUE  

Spring 2014: Behind the scenes of Chrisley Knows Best, offstage with Young the Giant, the slow fashion movement, industrial design, Sophia W...

THE CURIOUS ISSUE  

Spring 2014: Behind the scenes of Chrisley Knows Best, offstage with Young the Giant, the slow fashion movement, industrial design, Sophia W...

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