Show Must Go On. Right?

Post-separation 'Jon & Kate' Returns To Tv On Monday - And Now It's 'relatable'

August 02, 2009

Jon & Kate Plus 8, a TV show about a large family that millions of viewers have come to care about, returns to prime time Monday night as a tabloid-ravaged tale of divorce.

With its return comes a host of questions that will perhaps tell us as much about ourselves as the Gosselins. Will viewers come back to the TLC reality series about a family with sextuplets and twins now that Dad's got a condo and a lady friend in Manhattan, and Mom's reported to have a condo and a boyfriend in Maryland - and the kids are living in the family mini-mansion in Pennsylvania with only one parent at a time? And how do the executives at TLC, the cable channel based in Silver Spring, plan to try and keep this three-ring circus of infidelity and bad behavior alive? What will the show look like Monday night and in weeks to come - if it can survive?

"Instead of seeing Jon and Kate together with the kids, you'll see Kate with the kids, Jon with the kids - and as they all go through a transition, you'll see glimpses of that transition," Laurie Goldberg, senior vice president of TLC, said in an interview last week. "Instead of 'Jon and Kate and the kids take a trip, and look how hard it is to get all of them in that minivan,' now it's going to be, 'Oh, my God, how is Kate going to get them all in the minivan by herself?' "

Saying that "half of American marriages, unfortunately, do end up in divorce," Goldberg believes "it makes sense to continue showing the family" as it "deals with the separation" of the parents. That, she says, is the overarching strategy of the show from here on out.

"The idea for the show is still going to be the half-hour of what it's like to deal with a large family," Goldberg says. "But instead of having two parents, you're only having one parent to navigate it. We think that's very relatable. We're really going to try and go back to the heart of the show, which is seeing these adorable children either with Mommy or Daddy. ... This is a happy family show, and that's what we want to get back to."

But the reality of the Gosselins today is not a happy one - it's divorce, which is rarely a pleasant experience for young children. And this divorce is worse than most, because it's a highly visible one with supermarket stands full of tabloids showing Dad and Mom on the covers often standing arm in arm with or close to another woman or man.

"Well, you know what? Divorce is a reality," Goldberg says. "Half the kids out there are living with single parents. There are over 10 million single-parent homes. And seeing a family that's going through that, you know, could be relatable. That's what a lot of families look like - Mom getting frustrated because, 'Oh, my God, I never thought I'd have to pitch a tent by myself. These are the kinds that are harder to do than I thought.' But that's what a lot of families are going through, and we're going to try and be true to that experience for this family."

One difference in Jon & Kate pre- and post-hiatus will be the couch on which the two often sat addressing the camera during the show: It's gone, according to Eileen O'Neill, president of TLC.

"The show comes back on Monday, and most new episodes remain a work in progress," O'Neill said during a news conference last week. "But I will tell you, the iconic couch is gone. Jon and Kate will have separate chairs for their interviews."

While that might sound like a small change, it poses the larger question of whether viewers will ever see Jon and Kate together with each other or the kids.

As it stands now, Goldberg says viewers are mostly going to see the children "either with Mommy or Daddy," but "when there's a transition from one to the other, that may or may not be captured," she adds.

There are no plans at this point to venture to Jon's condo in Manhattan or to Kate's should she take up residence in Rockville, according to Goldberg, who declined to comment on Kate's reported move to Maryland.

There's no need to take the TLC cameras to New York or Maryland. The tabloids will be happy to fill in those blanks, as they have been doing for months.

Goldberg declined to comment on advertiser pullout, but industry analysts predict that Jon & Kate Plus 8 will have no trouble finding advertisers as long as TLC can produce a reasonably credible version of a family in the process of separation and divorce. The reason for that: The show's audience was so large by the standards of basic cable during the past season that even if one-third or one-half return, the show will be profitable.

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