Will Hype House's Reality Show Break the Influencer Curse?
As a long time fan of YouTuber Grace Helbig, I was excited when her E! talk show premiered in 2015. I watched Helbig videos every day on her first channel, DailyGrace, and followed her to ItsGrace in 2014. Seeing Helbig’s online fame (she had over two million subscribers) earn her a seat at the big-kids table at E! News felt like progress not just for Helbig, but for YouTubers as a whole. Their talents were being taken seriously! Their hard work was paying off!
The Grace Helbig Show was cancelled after one season.
As influencers and online creators become more commonplace, networks are increasingly tempted to see if their millions followers can translate to TV audiences. It seems like a natural next step—the creators film themselves on YouTube, surely a budget and set could only make things better? But more often than not, these YouTube-turned-TV projects don’t stick and the creators return to the browsers from whence they came.
The news, then, that the Hype House is getting its own reality show, doesn’t sound like anything we haven’t heard before.
Deadline reported on Tuesday that Wheelhouse Entertainment has signed a deal to develop and produce a docuseries about the TikTok creator collective, Hype House, called The Hype Life. It seems like a slam dunk: combined, the creators have 150 million followers, and their TikTok and YouTube videos are visual, day-in-the-life style projects, anyways. Now Wheelhouse Entertainment just gets a cut of it.
But that logic can be applied to any number of failed influencer TV projects over the years. YouTuber Tana Mongeau, who has over five million subscribers, was denied a third season of her MTV YouTube reality show No Filter (there can only be one, muahaha). While the season one premiere episode has accrued over eight million views since its July 2019 release, the season 2 premiere has only earned a little under two million. Meanwhile, videos on Mongeau’s personal channel rarely see views below two million, and have gone as high as 12 million.
One reason fans may not follow creators into the mainstream is because there they are often not so much creators as they are props. Tana Mongeau and Grace Helbig’s online success comes not just from being in front of the camera, but behind it, too. They’re the ones coming up with the ideas, and often the ones editing the videos. When they put those decisions in the hands of a production company, the content loses the very thing the subscribers tune in for.
It’s not hard to see a similar dissonance plaguing The Hype Life. But the series does have one advantage: fans are already accustomed to following TikTokkers like a reality show. The interpersonal drama between popular creators is diligently documented by observers on TikTok, drama channels, and Instagram accounts. One of the most popular such Instagram accounts, TikTokRoom, has over one million followers.
“We just want to make it like the next TMZ, the go-to news source for TikTok,” TikTokRoom co-creator Elasia has told me.
Influencer success on TV is not unheard of. Lilly Singh’s late-night NBC talk show, A Little Late With Lilly Singh, just earned a second season, and Liza Koshy is well on her way to becoming a Netflix darling. If The Hype Life succeeds, then it could become the next Real World or, given the limits of the pandemic (which don’t seem to bother the creators anyways), Gen-Z Love Island. Or, in a few years, join The Grace Helbig Show and No Filter on the shelf.