While preparing to interview Todd Chrisley—the patriarch helming USA’s reality show Chrisley Knows Best alongside his wife and gaggle of children—one question kept popping up from the outer reaches of the Internet to the inner reaches of my editor’s office: Is the show scripted? After all, Chrisley speaks in quotes, perfect nuggets that can be Tweeted, Pinned, and Snapchatted without any editing.
Fifteen seconds into our phone call, he tells me “I am a son of the South,” and the answer is clear. The show isn’t scripted. Difficult as it might be to believe, Chrisley speaks this crisply, this quotably. I’ve heard it with my own ears. Happily, I might add, as it’s made my job that much easier. What also made it easier is that Chrisley, an Atlanta real estate agent, is truly a Southerner at heart, one yearning for a place forgotten by the modern world.
“My brother and I would get on our bicycles, and we’d ride all day long,” he says, remembering his childhood in rural South Carolina, but his tone changes sharply when considering today. “Nowadays I wouldn’t even think of letting my children ride their bicycles by themselves. I worry about my kids no matter where they go, and now I have two grandchildren.”
This becomes a common theme. The iron fist he rules with on the show, that remnant of the Old World, isn’t about pride. It’s born from love of his progeny, a love so deep, he’s never let anyone else care for his kids.
“We’ve never had a nanny,” he says. “The kids have never had a babysitter.”
It’s what we discuss for most of the interview, during which Chrisley doesn’t sound like a television star or a millionaire. As our allotted twenty minutes stretches to forty-five, he simply sounds like a loving father.
A funny, loving father, of course: “I’ve had so many people say to me over the course of my life in rearing my children – ‘You guys do things differently in the South. You’re a little slower.’ And I say, ‘We are a little slower. And we take the time to tell our children why we’re going to smack their ass.’”
His goal, with the show and his life in general, is to raise his children to be “kind, respectful, and courteous,” which isn’t something that can be scripted. “Those are qualities that have been instilled in my children since they were a year old,” Chrisley says.
In some ways, the conversation places the man from the silver screen in a different context. Sure, he can be demanding, but that no longer feels like show for the cameras, which he claims the family forgot about within hours of their placement. Instead, his words ring more clearly: “I had to make sure my children knew I was present, 24 hours a day.”
He was so present, he brought them to television. To support them, and to support others.
“What I hope we’re delivering is a glance at a real family with real issues that deal with problems with patience, love, and understanding.”
Whether you feel the show’s scripted or not, it’s a difficult goal to argue against.
“At the end of the day, families from the South pull together,” he says. “We may fight amongst each other, but we all stick together.”
There’s one more chance to catch Chrisley Knows Best this season, so tune into USA next Tuesday at 9/8c for the finale.
Travis M. Andrews is an associate editor for Southern Living. Follow him on Twitter @travismandrews.