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Creativity, Unscripted

From gigolos to trailer parks, Marklen Kennedy mines the underbelly of Las Vegas—and his own past—for gutsy reality-TV ideas

Former nightclub mogul Marklen Kennedy has hung with A-list celebrities, entertainers and even the occasional former president. But on this late October afternoon, Kennedy is unshaven and shoeless with a fedora covering his uncombed hair as he hosts a different clientele inside the clubhouse of an eastside mobile-home park.

One by one, they come in, sit down and tell their story. There’s the bipolar, married mother of three who is missing all of her front teeth because of methamphetamine use; the ex-wife of an ’80s rock star who’s rebuilding her life and raising a 14-year-old son; the college-educated nurse and single mother of two; the married recovering drug addicts raising their three kids; and the 69-year-old woman and 38-year-old bisexual man who have a relationship that even they can’t seem to define.

In his new role as reality show creator, Kennedy takes it all in while a producer sits next to the camera and asks the same set of questions to each visitor. It’s all in an effort to find cast members for Trailer Park Housewives, a Vegas-based reality show that will focus on the lives of six women living in a mobile home park. Once the right cast and network are found, he’d like the show to air this spring. It’s the second foray into reality television for Kennedy, who stepped away from a lucrative career in Las Vegas nightlife last year after his first project, Gigolos, was picked up by Showtime.

Despite their chance at fame, some of the people interviewed for Housewives expressed apprehension at being on the show. They’re afraid of the trailer-trash connotations of its title, but Kennedy says the concept is more “recession TV” than a spoof on redneck stereotypes. It falls in the same category as the sitcom, Downwardly Mobile, that Roseanne Barr recently sold to NBC.

“I don’t want to have a show that basically exploits people, and doesn’t show a real look at what their life is like,” he says. “If I’m going to have a show about trailer parks, I didn’t want it to be about redneck hot tubs and duct-taping babies to walls. It’s all funny, but is it real? Because if we ended up having some crazy, rundown strippers or crazy cocktail waitresses that we were going to manipulate and put into a situation that’s not them, then I could see people saying, ‘OK, this is nothing more than exploitation television.’ Then you’re Girls Gone Wild but living in a trailer park. Our goal is to really find people who are interesting characters, who really might not even want to be on television.”

Kennedy’s new career as a reality TV producer stems from both his nightlife past and his earlier life in Hollywood as an actor who appeared in more than 20 movie and television roles. He constantly created unique and original promotions while working in nightlife—helping usher in modern day-clubs and nightclubs with Light Group and later Tao Beach. He was even ordained by the Universal Life Church Monastery after watching too many clients go off property to get married, a move that received national attention and scrutiny.

With his imagination, charisma and proximity to the rich and famous, Kennedy was first approached about starring in his own reality show as far back as 2004, but as a nightclub host he had to protect the anonymity of his celebrity and high-roller clients, as well as the inner workings of the casino, so he had to decline the offers. But that started his mind thinking about reality-show possibilities.

One of the movies Kennedy acted in was Heaven or Vegas, a 1999 romantic drama starring Yasmine Bleeth and Richard Grieco, who played a gigolo living in Las Vegas. That experience was among the influences that gave Kennedy, who also played a gigolo in the film, the idea for the reality show. Even though his agent raised an eyebrow at the idea, Showtime and Relativity Media decided to develop Gigolos, which began its second season on Oct. 20. After coming up a winner in his first reality-TV venture, Kennedy now has six shows in various stages of development that are under contract, including one focusing on the Gun Store on East Tropicana Avenue.

“This is an opportunity that is pretty damn amazing, that’s coming up out of nowhere,” he says. “There are people in L.A. that have been trying for 20 years just to get a meeting on ideas. … It was amazing beginner’s luck going in.”

Pariah, the production company behind Oxygen’s Bachelorette Party: Las Vegas, is working with Kennedy on Housewives, which has received an unusual amount of press for a show that has no cast or guaranteed deal with a network. “It’s made me a little nervous because now there’s pressure on you,” Kennedy says. “The only reason that made me think I could do any of this is just because I never thought that I couldn’t. And the same with nightclubs: When I went in, I didn’t know come here from siccum about it.”

Kennedy, a native Texan who played football while attending Southern Methodist University, started his nightlife career in 2000 while working as a doorman at a Chateau Marmont on Hollywood’s Sunset Strip. He relocated to Las Vegas in 2002. Now with literally thousands of contacts he has made over the years, his aggressive nature and a wild imagination, Kennedy has the resources necessary to pursue his reality-TV ambitions. His goal is to have five shows on the air at once, but even if his dreams of becoming a reality-TV mogul fail to become, well, reality, it will not be for lack of trying.

“If you have ideas and you don’t implement them, then they’re just kind of ridiculous,” he says. “I’ve got some creative ideas, and I’ve got access to people that other people don’t have. If you’re persistent, you’ll succeed at whatever it is. I find I’m busier now, mentally and physically, more so than I was with nightclubs. I miss the game of the nightclubs, but I like this game, as well. But as long as you’re playing in something, that’s really what it’s about.”

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