It’s been exactly one year since the final season of “Bling Empire” premiered, and reality TV veteran Jeff Jenkins, who has executive produced shows ranging from “The Simple Life” to “Keeping Up With the Kardashians,” looks back at the Netflix series about affluent Asian Americans as one of his most personal and proudest projects.
“More than any other show I’ve ever produced in my 25 year career ‘Bling Empire’ is closest to my heart,” Jenkins told TheWrap. “My niece and nephew were adopted as infants from China and South Korea, respectively. They’re teenagers now, but when they were coming up, there was almost no one like them on television on a regular basis, scripted or unscripted.”
“When ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ came out [in 2018] and was a smash hit, I determined this is the moment. This is the moment! I thought, ‘Okay, who are the wealthiest Asians in Los Angeles?’ And luckily, I’ve been friends with [castmembers] Anna Shay for about a dozen years and Christine Chiu for about a dozen years. So I called them immediately and that kind of kicked things off.”
While the cast lived in the lap of luxury, they also faced personal issues — some of which are considered taboo topics in Asian culture — including abusive relationships, infertility and more.
While their lifestyles was aspirational, their struggles were relatable. For instance, Chiu had to reconcile her desire for a second child and the physical and emotional strains of IVF. Kevin Krieder opened up about his struggles with depression, alcoholism and identity (he was born in Korea and adopted by white parents).
The show, which debuted in January 2021, came at a time when there was a surge of anti-Asian sentiment in the United States. Stop AAPI Hate, an Asian American Pacific Islander reporting center launched at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, recorded over 2,500 incidents of anti-Asian discrimination between March 19, 2020 and August 5, 2020.
“I hope that that series added something to the discussion, especially in America, about equality for Asian Americans and people living in America of any Asian descent: the hate crimes, the bullying, the teasing, the discrimination is disgusting. So hopefully, if you fall in love with Anna Shay and Kane Lim and Kevin Krieder, maybe if you have racist tendencies, you’re gonna rethink where your head is at,” Jenkins explained. “I hope the show added to that positive outcome of reducing racism and hatred on the planet. And I’m very grateful to Anna and Christine, especially, who had the most to lose and jump in, when they got the call.”
Sadly, Shay passed away from a stroke earlier last June at age 62. Jenkins said her contributions to the show were unmeasurable.
“Anna’s passing was so devastating,” he said. “‘Bling Empire’ wouldn’t have existed without Anna. She contributed not only herself, but her generosity — and the generosity of pocketbook, when we were developing it and shooting the pilot. She was all in to help in any way that she could.”
“I don’t think ‘Bling Empire’ would have received as many eyeballs as it did, if it weren’t for her,” he continued. “I think viewers had never seen this type of woman, because she’s a one in a zillion. You haven’t seen this type of human before. So what is her legacy? I think she drove the right eyeballs to that show, which hopefully, as we discussed, improved the state of relations in America between people of different race, color, or creed. That’s her legacy. She helped us as human beings. She never asked for anything. I’m pretty sure she saved all her paychecks and then spent it on the crew with parties and gifts. She was an amazing, amazing human.”
Netflix announced in April that both “Bling Empire” and “Bling Empire New York” were not being renewed.