(Photo: Rahoul Ghose)
The first day of realscreen‘s Factual Entertainment Forum saw KISS rocker-turned-A&E reality star Gene Simmons taking to the stage with partner Shannon Tweed and kids Nick and Sophie Tweed-Simmons to discuss the “warts and all” experience of making Gene Simmons Family Jewels.
In a panel entitled ‘Reality Royalty,’ the family – along with Thinkfactory Media producer Adam Freeman – talked about how the show has evolved now that the series is coming up to 130 episodes, with its sixth season set to debut on A&E Network on June 14.
The show originated out of Thinkfactory Media owner Leslie Grief’s friendship with Simmons, who originally wanted to make a show about the rock star called Gene Simmons 24/7. Simmons said that as MTV and VH1′s demos were trending towards tweens and teenagers, he wanted to promote his solo record, Asshole, in a different way.
“Grief and I talked about the A&E thing, which is a cool place because they have us on the air,” recalled Simmons. “They were interested in filming our tour to Australia. Along the way they met our proud and charming family. The ratings were very high for that special.”
Tweed chimed in that audiences responded very well to the family, which led to the Gene Simmons Family Jewels that we all know.
However, the Simmons-Tweed clan didn’t jump in without any qualms. “I was worried we weren’t interesting enough, so I decided to jump out of a plane,” quipped Tweed. “It does give me an opportunity to do things that I was maybe putting off and step up my life a little bit. When you’re being filmed, you stop putting things off. We consequently spend more time together and do more things together.”
For youngest child Sophie Tweed-Simmons, now 18, the pilot was shot when she was 12. Sophie said she had basically grown up on the show. “All through middle school, we didn’t do lots of sleepovers because people didn’t want to sign waivers,” she said with a laugh. However, she also mentioned that the experience probably kept her “out of trouble.”
Her brother Nick, meanwhile, said he mostly regrets his “interesting” fashion choices, which have been captured as he’s grown up. “You all lived through your teenage years – imagine reliving that on TV. Why did I wear those purple pants?” he said, prompting laughter from the assembled delegates.
Over those years, the production team and the Simmons-Tweed family have grown closer, which has allowed for more familiarity. “Initially [the series] is as real as we are, but you’re also aware that the cameras are there,” said Simmons. “There’s this sense of ‘Gee this is fun.’ The more the cameras are there, the familiarity brings out more [from the family]. You see the warts and all.”
“At the beginning the crew was a bunch of strangers. Years later they’re friends. The sound guys have had their hands down my shirt all these years,” joked Tweed.
“I’ve seen the sound guys put their hands down her shirt all these years,” added Nick.
Striking a more serious tone was a clip from the upcoming season, which showed Tweed and Simmons having a delicate conversation about their relationship. If the clip is any indication, the “warts and all” aspect of the show’s depiction of the family will be somewhat magnified this season.
Besides the obvious family dynamic at play during the series and on stage at FEF, the family also credited Tweed’s vault of home videos for adding a little something extra to the show. “The reason I had so much [footage] is that Gene was on the road for so much of their young lives and I videotaped things so he could see all of their firsts. It was the only way he could watch them growing up,” she said.
Freeman said that being able to pair a moment like Nick getting into his red SUV to drive off to college with old footage of a four-year-old Nick getting into a battery operated red car and saying ‘Bye mom’ as he took off down the driveway, “makes a full picture of them and makes them real people and relatable.”
While the Simmons-Tweed family enjoys doing the series, minus the embarrassment of those fashion misfires, at least one member of the family isn’t looking to keep the cameras rolling into the rest of her life. “I hate cameras and I’m studying to be a computer engineer,” Sophie said, to applause.
“TMZ will still follow you – you’ll never get out!” her mother joked.
And what does the ‘KISS Army’ think about seeing the “family guy” side of Simmons? “They’ve never liked it, that I’ve been about ‘listen to your mother, don’t smoke, don’t try crack if you can, eat your veggies,’” he said. “This is not cool stuff.”
However, over the seasons, KISS fans have come to enjoy the reality series, along with millions of viewers. “[Even] our dog gets fan mail – she can’t read,” said Nick.
Does the Simmons-Tweed clan have any say in the portrayal of them in the show? Not really, said Freeman. “We bring the family into the edit bay. It’s become a courtesy. It’s a tribute to them [that they're shown] warts and all,” he added.