The veteran producer behind The Real Housewives franchise discusses launching his own reality TV empire and being the first openly gay Black man to host a late-night show.
Carlos King orchestrated some of your favorite moments on The Real Housewives of Atlanta. You can thank the 42-year-old television producer for iconic scenes like Nene Leakes’ condemnation of white refrigerators, Sheree Whitfield’s “Who gon’ check me, boo?” showdown, and Kim Zolciak’s first foray into music, “Tardy for the Party.” But after steering one of Bravo’s highest-rated ships for nine seasons from 2008 until 2017, King stepped from behind the camera into the spotlight to helm his own production company, Kingdom Reign Entertainment.
The power of ownership was the driving force behind King’s professional pivot, something he learned from his pals, Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry. “I created a production company that speaks to the culture I was responsible for making relevant on these mainstream networks,” he says in a phone interview.
Since producing what could be considered his magnum opus of reality TV, King has created a bevy of unscripted shows like Styling Hollywood on Netflix, BET Presents: The Encore, and OWN’s top-rated franchise Love & Marriage (Huntsville and D.C.) Now, he’s the center of attention on his half-hour late-night series, The Nightcap with Carlos King, which premiered in May. It’s where King kikis with celebrity friends, who have no qualms about letting loose, playing games, and dissecting juicy headlines. He also hosts Sirius XM’s newly launched Stitcher podcast, Reality with the King, where he shares firsthand accounts of all he’s seen across his decade-plus career.
As King corners the reality TV market, the importance of what he represents as an openly gay Black man isn’t lost on him. “My success means everything to the Black community and the gay community and the Black gay community,” he says. “I’m the first openly gay Black male to have a late-night show, and that’s a statement — Happy Pride Month!”
King spoke with Mic about Beyoncé’s new single, representing the gay Black community through unscripted television, and his thoughts on those Andy Cohen comparisons.
Mic: Some would argue that reality TV is overly saturated. How did you find a way to carve out your lane and voice within this space?
Carlos King: I look at who I want to be in business with. It’s not about who’s relevant because they attack people on social media or who trends every week from the vile things they say. That’s not my brand or my DNA. Instead, how can we see people we can be inspired by but also relate to? Which is very hard to do.
You’re starting to come in front of the camera, hosting show reunions and now Nightcap. What is that transition like for you?
I take pride in making other people stars, so putting myself in front of the camera was an interesting transition because I was 12 years old and wanted to have a talk show one day. Thirty years later, I was able to live out that dream. Nightcap is a love letter to the fans of reality television. And I’m having so much fun doing it because it’s filling a void that I felt was missing in late night when it comes to having a show that reflects Black culture, the way we speak and thrive and have a voice. I posted something on Instagram last week about the end of Wendy Williams’ talk show being the end of an era in daytime television because Wendy Williams’ show, regardless if you liked it or not, provided an outlet for Black entertainers, reality stars, and bloggers to have a platform to promote their stuff. They don’t get the same opportunities elsewhere, so I want The Nightcap with Carlos King to fill that void that she left. I want it to be the destination for those who can no longer be booked on The Wendy Williams Show to come to my show and promote things. Let's talk about it because it’s Black culture and pop culture, and that’s the beauty of The Nightcap.
What does your success as an openly gay Black man mean to the community?
You know, Meghan McCain is somebody I love, and she reminded me of how my late-night show is a big deal. She said, ‘I don’t think you understand what it means to your community.’ And that’s a white woman from Arizona who’s a conservative, and the fact that she can see the importance of my voice is essential. The other beauty of my success is that I have had so many gay Black men come up to me on the street and thank me with pride in their eyes because I’m giving them a platform and being myself. So I know that my purpose on this earth is to provide a platform for people who look like me, but it’s also to be a voice. And I use that voice. I talk about being openly gay on my late-night show.
Maybe it’s because you did so much at Bravo, but you’ve gotten a lot of comparisons to Andy Cohen. Is that offensive to you? Do you want to have your own thing and not be compared to anyone else?
I think anybody who’s successful and works hard doesn’t want to be compared to anybody. I’m not a copycat of anyone. And when you work as hard as I have and create a brand as I’ve done, you don’t want to be compared to anybody. Beyoncé does not want to be compared to Diana Ross or Tina Turner, you know? She wants you guys to see her, and I feel the same way. I’ve told Andy before that he’s paved the way for people like me, and he has. I will always give him credit. I’ve done it privately, and I’ll do it personally. But at the end of the day, he and I could not be more different. So, listen, I get the comparison. It’s fine. But I think when people watch Nightcap, all comparisons fly out the window.
Do you feel more expectations from the industry because you are a gay Black man? Certain pressures you have to face that others do not?
Absolutely. With great power comes great responsibility, so I receive it and understand it. What I get from the gay community, especially the gay Black community, is, ‘When are we going to see more voices for us?’ And I point them to Styling Hollywood on Netflix, which stars Jason Bolden and his husband, Adair Curtis. Then, I have the pressures of the Black community that say I only make shows where people argue. And whether you’re Black, white, Latino, people argue. I’m not responsible for the actions of people. However, I am responsible for ensuring that I create a landscape where people can be seen and heard. I’m all about showcasing professionals and showcasing the real. I make shows for people who love my work and can see themselves in my content. So if you don’t like my shows, that’s fine. There are other outlets for you to watch.
We can’t end without discussing Beyoncé’s new single, “Break My Soul.” House and dance music started in the queer community. What are your thoughts on this recent resurgence of the sound in the mainstream, especially during Pride month?
Listen, I love that these mainstream celebrities are paying homage to the queer community, saying we recognize you, we love you. They know that we’re at the forefront of breaking history regarding music, fashion, and things like that. So to be able to have our queen, Beyoncé Giselle Knowles Carter, drop her first single in six years and it be a song that speaks to our community during Pride Month is the biggest love letter she could have ever given us. And like I said, one thing I want mama to do is to vogue in the music video.
I will die.
Honey! I’m a little older, so I don’t go to the club anymore because, chile, I like to go to bed by ten o’clock. But the gay club is going to vogue down if mama gives us a performance in the music video, and that’s all I can say.