BEVERLY HILLS, CALIF. — After years of sticking its logo on all manner of T-shirts, dolls, drinkware and accessories, the rock band Kiss has stamped it on an entire arena football team as well.
And the creation of the Los Angeles Kiss Arena Football League team did not go undocumented. So a reality show about the effort, “4th and Loud,” premieres Aug. 12 on AMC.
It wasn’t crass commercialism that motivated the fire-breathing band, though.
The band’s irrepressible Gene Simmons, he of the tongue and blood-spitting, says he was filling a civic need.
“Los Angeles is the No. 1 media city in America and it doesn’t have football?” he asked rhetorically in a Beverly Hills hotel restaurant where he was doing promotion for the reality show. “You’re kidding me. So opportunity knocks, you answer the door and you give people bang for the buck.”
That bang includes, he says, the blasting brand of hard rock that put the still-active band on the map 40 years ago and more. “We have guys who rappel from the ceiling, we have extreme bikers, rock bands, pyrotechnics, girls in cages,” he says.
Looking somewhat more subdued out of his kabuki makeup, studded codpiece and the seven-inch platform boots he wears on stage, Simmons, in a dark suit and sunglasses, with a red rose he plucked from a hotel lobby display, resembled at 64 a dour mob boss or wizened tribal chief, his scowling face framed by the jet black hair.
With band co-founder Paul Stanley, 62, adorned with a flowing scarf and an open shirt, the pair came to sell the TV critics’ press tour on the show, just as they sell their catalog of songs to audiences on stages worldwide.
“We wanted to create something that was very much keeping with Kiss,” says Stanley, who began his spiel with a vulgar joke that landed with a thud. “We want to envelop you and pummel you.”
The show-biz aspect is something natural to sports, Simmons says. “A long time ago, people figured out in boxing that it wasn’t just about the boxing; they put girls up there carrying the [round] numbers out there. Who gets the biggest hand, the boxers or the girl carrying the number?”
It’s not a rhetorical question. He waits in an interview for the answer.
Further, “A lot of the cheerleaders that teams have have become rather sexless,” Stanley says. “We wanted to have girls who were women.”
One might expect Kiss to go sleazy — into Lingerie Football League territory, perhaps — or even bigger, since Los Angeles does not have a National Football League team. But that would take years, if it happened at all, Simmons says.
Creating an AFL team was easier. “Eight or nine months ago, there was no L.A. Kiss — that’s how fast it happened,” he says.
And from the beginning, reality-TV cameras were part of the proposition.
“Sure. It takes the same amount to make cents as it does dollars,” Simmons says. “So if you’re going to do something, go big or go home. We don’t do anything small. Whether it’s our shows, our licensing and merchandising, our restaurant chain, whatever it is, you got to do big.”
Simmons, of course, is a reality veteran who invited cameras into his home for seven seasons of “Gene Simmons Family Jewels,” amassing 156 episodes. “I Love Lucy,’ he notes dryly, “lasted 145.” (His statistics are wrong; it did more).
For Stanley, the 10-episode reality show seemed more of a nightmare.
“You either have reality or you have television, and you sacrifice reality to create reality television,” he says. “Life’s too short to assume a fake life in place of your real one.”
He calls “4th and Loud” more of a documentary. “The fact of the matter is, the show is not built around us,” he says. “You are going to meet some very, very interesting characters and stars in their own right that we want to come to the forefront.”
They include the additional owners, longtime Kiss manager Doc McGhee, managing partner and owner Brett Bouchy and president and owner Schuyler Hoversten.
As telegenic as the new team might be, the team hasn’t had the best inaugural season under Coach Bob McMillen. With three wins in its first 16 games, it was not quite at the bottom of the AFL’s West Division.
“We’ve had some not-stellar games and we are scrutinized much more than other teams because of who we are,” Stanley says. “But that being said, by next season we should be smooth sailing.”
Still, the band doesn’t get involved in the life of the team — leaving the recruiting, training and playing to the managers and coaches, and keeping Kiss separate from the players except for the uniforms and logos.
“You want to make sure that it’s real football for real football fans,” Simmons says.
A suggestion in the show that players also wear Kiss makeup was nixed by the band.
“First you have to earn it,” Simmons said of the war paint. A more overriding concern was that it would run in the players’ eyes as they perspired.
“But you’ll see lots of Kiss,” Simmons says of the games. “You want football to be legitimate, and all around it we’ll give you all the bells and whistles and all the stuff that makes Kiss the most iconic band of al time.”
“What we do best is spread the brand,” he says.
The band on the 40-show 40th anniversary tour that comes to Northern Virginia on Friday is rounded out by lead guitarist Tommy Thayer and drummer Eric Singer, who have been with the band for more than a decade.
It was originators Ace Frehley and Peter Criss who joined Simmons and Stanley when Kiss was inaugurated into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this spring, 15 years after first being eligible.
But because Simmons and Stanley wanted to perform with the current lineup rather than the original, the band didn’t play at all.
“We just went up and said thank you,” Simmons says. Criss and Frehley “clearly were equally important as we were in making the band. But if they would have been in the band still, it would have destroyed the band. Not everybody is designed to be a marathon runner. Some people are just shooting stars.”
“Being in the band from the beginning is not a birthright,” Stanley said. “If you are compromised by drugs and alcohol,” he added, “then you no longer deserve to wear the uniform.”
With the band still wearing makeup and familiar, flamboyant costumes, fans don’t seem to mind, flocking to their many appearances.
After the tour winds up, for example, “we have a Kiss Kruise, which we do every year with about 3,500 people from around the world from 33 countries,” Stanley says. “After that, we do a residency in Vegas for a month.”
“The band’s never been in better shape because, perhaps, with these tentacles and diversifying and getting into so many other things, it only solidifies and magnifies the power of the band,” Stanley adds. “Other bands can’t do it. So some people will say what we do isn’t quote-unquote rock-and-roll. But that’s always based on someone else’s limitations.”
“Kiss continues in ways we never imagined,” Simmons says. “We have a Kiss golf course in Las Vegas, a Kiss limo service, there’s a Kiss cartoon coming, a Las Vegas show, there’s a Kiss motion picture coming that my company is fully funding, there’s a Kiss event series that Warner Brothers is doing, already hiring the writer. And a documentary film that will be in theaters this year.”
Among the endless licensed items, there is, famously, a Kiss casket. “And a Kiss urn, too,” Simmons adds.
Is there a commercial tie-in that the band would turn down?
“We’d probably say no to Kiss crack,” Simmons says. “On the other hand, if we could spell it with a K, I like the marketing possibility.”
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4th and Loud Premieres Aug. 12 at 9 p.m. on AMC.