An über-rich family out of touch with the plebes, headed by a controlling matriarch and a long-suffering patriarch, and a daughter whose recent history includes a sex-tape controversy.
E! actually has two shows premiering Sunday fitting that description.
One is the 10th, yes, 10th, season of Keeping Up With the Kardashians (9 p.m.).
The other is The Royals, the network's first foray into scripted drama (10 p.m.).
Set inside the soapy world of a fictional British royal family, this is new territory for E!, a network that built its current brand on reality TV. The show features Elizabeth Hurley as the (Ice) Queen of England, albeit one more likely to wear complicated lingerie than handle a herd of corgis.
Her daughter, Eleanor (Alexandra Park) spends her nights gallivanting across Europe and ingesting as many drugs as she can, while brother Liam (William Moseley) looks to an uncertain future as the king of England while bedding the comely American daughter of the king's chief of security. Like the Kardashians, these royals have their own hangers-on, redheaded cousins (played by Hatty Preston and Lydia Rose Bewley), and the creepy uncle, Prince Cyrus (Jake Maskall).
An uneven yet entertaining slice of television, The Royals is one of those rare shows that would be better if it were trashier. Like its reality companion, it's best when the drama is turned up. Eleanor's drug-fueled antics are considerably more fun to watch than Liam's relationship with his very own Kate Middleton stand-in (Merritt Patterson).
Still, the most interesting thing about The Royals is that it isn't real. Or "real."
In moving into the scripted realm, E! is following in the footsteps of Bravo, which made the leap with Girlfriends' Guide to Divorce. That show wrapped its first season in February with a second-season pickup already done. The Royals registered similar success before its debut. E! renewed the show in January.
This move isn't a coincidence. Both networks are owned by Comcast's NBCUniversal and are overseen by Frances Berwick, who also heads Oxygen Media and the Esquire Network.
E! and Bravo built the brands that viewers (and advertisers) have come to know by riding the wave of reality television that followed the success of Survivor. Reality is cheaper to produce than scripted shows, not requiring a roomful of writers or highly paid actors.
The E! network, once known for celebrity news, began its shift to chronicling the lives of celebrities with The Anna Nicole Show in 2002, leading to similar takes on illustrious personalities such as actress Tara Reid (next up: Sharknado 3) and Backstreet Boy Nick Carter. The network hit gold when executive producer Ryan Seacrest delivered the Kardashians in 2007.
For Bravo, the shift to reality came with Queer Eye for the Straight Guy in 2003, eventually leading to The Real Housewives of Orange County in 2006.
Yet as E! and Bravo try out scripted shows, both are staying true to the brands that made them successful. After all, even before reality television existed, the real British royals were the ultimate wealthy, scandalous family everyone wanted to watch. As the fictional queen consort, Hurley flashes tabloid covers of her princess daughter trumpeting a particularly scandalous night out in Paris, much as the Kardashians' faces peek out from covers of the celeb glossies that line grocery store shelves.
In its own way, Bravo's Girlfriends' Guide to Divorce mimics the Real Housewives franchises. In an ironic twist, it's the fictional series that's more grounded, but both shows share a basic DNA. Girlfriends' Guide follows a group of beautiful, financially comfortable women old enough to have families but young enough still to wear halter tops and hop a plane to Vegas for the weekend. Also like the Real Housewives, their relationship statuses can be described as complicated.
Girlfriends' Guide, which is available with Xfinity On Demand, was better than it had any right to be, with a cast led by House's affable Lisa Edelstein as a self-help author dealing with the professional and personal fallout from her divorce. The show highlighted the importance of female friendship in the wake of matrimonial misfortune, which the Housewives shows do in their own weird way, even if the table-flipping and cat-fighting garner the most attention.
There's a business-minded answer as to why such networks as E! and Bravo are looking to scripted shows, as A&E and the History Channel have done: Advertisers will pay more to have their products appear near these sorts of shows.
It's also easier for networks to control the message of scripted shows. Real people are prone to off-screen antics that network brass does not need to worry about with fictional characters. There have been many high-profile instances of reality stars going off-book of late - Duck Dynasty's Phil Robertson's racist and homophobic slurs and Mama June of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo fame's bad taste in men, for example.
E! has its own reality PR-related issues to contend with. On this season of Kardashians, Bruce Jenner is rumored to come out as transgender, which could mean a bump in ratings. But he was also involved in a car crash last month that left one woman dead, leading to the postponement of his own reality series, rumored to be about his gender transition.
The Royals characters may behave badly on TV, but once the set is off, E! doesn't have to worry about them anymore.
There may be another reason, as well: a quest for legitimacy. When Bravo and E! flooded their schedule with cheap reality programming, TV's current golden age was just starting. When The Anna Nicole Show premiered, The Sopranos was only a few years old, and Mad Men was still four years away. Now, with television awash with high-quality shows, the reality networks are, in shows such as Girlfriends' Guide, and to a certain extent The Royals, seeking a modicum of respectability.
And maybe they have to. It's no longer enough just to set up a camera and feed lines to the fame-hungry, although both Bravo's and E!'s schedules are still fueled by such shows. Viewers want something at least a little more challenging. If that's the new standard, The Royals fits the bill.