"Jon and Kate Plus Eight" may still be airing, but the TLC series is all but over. Ironically, the show has finally become what everyone has always wanted and craved: the chronicle of a relationship's meltdown and destruction.
The dirty little secret of TLC's popular docudrama reality series "Jon and Kate Plus Eight" is that it never really was about the eight. It's always really been about Jon and Kate's relationship, and the entertainment has come from watching them navigate the lives they'd made for themselves.
At first, that life involved being parents to eight kids, twins and sextuplets, which had its own complications and difficulties. As the televised version of their lives became more and more commercial — a special turned into a Discovery Health series, which eventually moved to TLC — viewership increased, and the focus became more obviously about the parents with kids than the kids and their parents.
Simultaneously, Kate and Jon's lives became increasingly public and commodified, with camera crews invading their personal space and product placement beginning to involve their kids. Later, paparazzi and the media started paying attention. The now-daily saga continues in the tabloid press and the non-tabloid press, with enough allegations and revelations to fill a tabloid by themselves.
The latest round of volleying between the separated couple has been about their finances. It's ugly, but it's also what been what viewers have always wanted to know, the dirty little secrets, like how much money they've really made from the show ($1 million last year, according to Jon).
As the drama ramped up, more viewers came, and their desire for even more Jon and Kate drama fueled the media, which pressed harder, and that whole vicious cycle continued until it all imploded: Jon was photographed with women who were not Kate; Jon and Kate separated, intending to divorce; TLC announced it would drop Jon from the show; Jon threatened to have camera crews arrested for trespassing and effectively ended production on the series, at least for now.
Relationship was compelling because it was awful
This is what happens when you turn yourself into entertainment, when you let boundaries collapse so you can get still more money and more attention and more fame. The marital separation and ongoing battle is an obvious consequence, but one that was inevitable. The more pressure that was piled on their relationship, the more unstable it became.
Kate said on TODAY that the dissolution of her relationship with Jon "would have happened anyway, cameras on, cameras off."
That may be hard to believe, but not if you watched the series, where Kate's controlling dismissal of her husband and Jon's passive aggressiveness made for compelling television but an awful relationship. Watching them sit together but apart on that infamous couch during interview segments had more tension than most blockbuster thrillers. And this was real.
In an episode that aired earlier this year, Kate said "I'm gonna shoot him" after Jon failed to use a coupon to buy a new shower head for their multi-million dollar home. Moments like that made for great television, and people kept watching, culminating in record viewership for TLC this summer during the episode when Jon and Kate announced they were divorcing.
As always, viewers take sides: Jon's apologies for his dating life and his parenting seemed like a genuine mea culpa, but Kate's claim that he took money from their bank account swung favor back her way. And on and on it goes.
End the show for the kids
Kate regularly insists that everything she's done has been for her kids, and there's no reason to doubt that, nor to doubt either her or Jon's commitment as parents to eight pretty great and amusing kids.
The real question is what impact those actions are having on those kids, besides establishing a financially secure future for them.
Child stars who grew up with less public scrutiny have crumbled under the weight of the attention and fame. Reality show cast members from MTV's "Real World" have talked about being paranoid about being followed by cameras once they were back home, and they're adults whose time in front of the cameras lasted for a few months, not years.
All along, the Gosselin eight are and have always been just an excuse used by the world to become voyeurs in the lives and relationship of their parents. They've been used as pawns by everyone from TLC to their parents; Kate recently said the kids "are angry" that the crew isn't there filming after Jon's threats ended production.
Not having familiar people around may have upset the kids, but for their sake, the show — onscreen and off — needs to end now. Depriving us of entertainment will give them back their lives.