SPOILER ALERT: This interview contains spoilers from the “Claim to Fame” Season 2 finale, which aired on ABC on Aug. 28, streaming the next day on Hulu.
Known for heralding romance shows “Love is Blind” and “Married at First Sight,” the production company Kinetic Content threw its hat into the ring of competitive reality television when creating “Claim to Fame.” Unlike “Survivor,” which recruits average, everyday people, “Claim to Fame” taps a unique demo — contestants who are related to celebrities.
“We were looking for a way to create a show [with] a different mechanism for elimination competition,” executive producer Eric Detwiler tells Variety. “To have a game that’s celebrity adjacent combined with a world of mystery and intrigue, it’s a fun show.”
The ABC series challenges contestants to conceal their celebrity relatives’ identities while living together in a house, and competing in a series of challenges. Unlike other reality shows, in “Claim to Fame,” everyone is related to someone famous — and the objective is to find out whose who. At the end of each episode, one person subsequently goes home each week in a “Guess Off.”
For Detwiler, it was “a lightbulb moment” when conversations about Kevin and Franklin Jonas hosting the series began. “[They have] a real connection to the idea of what the show is,” he said. “Kevin is a star, a household name. And Franklin, when we started the show in Season 1 — not so much.”
Among Season 2’s cast were Tom Hanks’ niece and Eddie Murphy’s daughter, but it’s not the nepotism that makes the show entertaining — it’s the personalities. “They’ve never had their own opportunity to have a turn in the spotlight, and to show what they can do out of that shadow of their celebrity relative,” says Detwiler. “When they’re given the freedom to express themselves and be the stars of the show, it’s undeniably entertaining.”
Reality shows feature everything from groups of wealthy women living in the same area to international couples embarking on the K-1 Visa process, but there’s never been a series comprised of those who are related to NFL Hall of Famers, Academy Award and Nobel Prize winners. “They have a shared experience,” he says. “They know what it’s like to be related to a celebrity, and can bond over that.”
Each challenge serves as an opportunity to learn more information about their competitors with the revelation of clues. “When we’re evaluating a celebrity relative to put on a show, we have to take into account the number of clues we’re gonna create to tie back to that celebrity,” says Detwiler.
How does the show’s creative team decide which celebrities are famous enough to cast their relatives? “The bigger the better,” Detwiler says. “If a certain celebrity is only known for one thing, it’s hard to make clues stretch across the entire series. We’re looking for celebrities who have had longer career paths.”
And Kinetic doesn’t just cast the relatives of A-list musicians and actors — Season 2’s cast featured the son of astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, Daytona 500 winner Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s niece and the grandson of former U.S. president Jimmy Carter. “We make lists of people: actors, musicians, athletes, political leaders and historically important figures, to get a real cross-section of what it means to be a celebrity,” Detwiler says.
Though Detwiler found there was “a lot of trepidation” from relatives to “put themselves out there on television” while casting for Season 1, this wasn’t the case for Season 2. “We could have cast two seasons back to back with the number of options that we had.”
That explains why its sophomore cast sported the nieces of Dolly Parton and Jenny McCarthy, the daughter of J.B. Smoove and the sister of Alicia Keys. Ultimately, Nick Cannon’s brother Gabriel ended up winning the season, snatching up the $100,000 prize — and the hearts of the audience.
According to Detwiler, Gabriel Cannon’s approach to “Claim to Fame” was different from the other contestants, with him utilizing his “social skills” (guess it runs in the Cannon family!) to encourage fellow houseguests into believing he was related to an NFL player. “Gabriel took [the game] to a whole other level,” he said. “He’s such a good, nice person that you feel immediately relaxed around him…I think Gabe played it perfectly.”
Cannon worked closely with Donny Osmond’s son, Chris, who also made waves during Season 2. “No one in ‘Claim to Fame’ history has been called up in the Guess Off more than he has,” says Detwiler. Parton’s niece, Jada (who went by Jane throughout the season), first attempted to guess Chris’ relative — believing he was related to Elvis Presley.
“I remember watching the moment where Jane has the epiphany that Chris is related to Elvis Presley,” Detwiler recalls. “When she has that moment of shock on her face, I think everybody had the exact same look, because we knew she was wrong. It was like watching a runaway train scene, because she had convinced hersel — and for that to [be wrong], it was amazing.”
Carter’s grandson Hugo Wentzel and Lil Nas X’s brother J.R., too, went on to incorrectly guess about Chris, knocking them out of the game and exposing their own celebrity relatives. “When Jane guessed Chris incorrectly, I was excited about that — because it shows how the format works,” he adds.
The season’s most viral moment came when Tom Hanks’ niece, Carly Reeves, was identified correctly in the show’s first episode by Hugo. “Carly’s exit at the end of Episode 1 was fairly shocking,” Detwiler says. Upon being eliminated, Carly returned to the house, audibly distraught about leaving the game. “It was a big reaction, and she went out with a bang — she made her mark, for sure.”
“Our producing team went into action to make sure that her feelings were heard, and that the situation was de-escalated as much as it could be,” he continues. “When she had her moment to say her peace to Hugo, watching it I knew, ‘This is going to be a loud moment for the show.’”
The “Claim to Fame” appeal is undeniable — it’s generated a world that gives a spotlight to an incredibly niche community. While there are “no official announcements yet about Season 3,” Detwiler and his team are “certainly hopeful that there will be one soon.”
“It’s just a fun show to have the space to play, and have fun games,” he says. “From the beginning, it was always about tone. The game is basically based on lying and concealing the truth, but it’s never mean. To be able to create a show where there’s competition happening, but it’s still a fun show — it’s awesome.”
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