Family dissolves on screen

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Reality show documents pain as Jon and Kate separate

By Ben Sheroan

Many critical issues of the day face our nation. Based on coverage devoted by television’s morning news shows, the entertainment magazines and buzz in the community, one of the most significant may be the pending dissolution of a high-profile marriage.

So here's my take on Jon and Kate.

For those of you without cable or without an interest in cute children, Jon and Kate Gosselin are parents of two sets of multiples which have developed a national audience by allowing filming of their family for a reality television program called Jon & Kate Plus 8 and aired by TLC.

Dealing with infertility issues, the couple sought medical assistance and had twin daughters. A second attempt at a pregnancy produced six children — three girls and three boys.

Having two sets of multiples brought the family to the attention of television producers and after a cable special received acceptable ratings, a weekly reality show was created.

TLC has become the network for unusual families. Other programs in their lineup include Table for 12, 18 Kids and Counting and Little People, Big World.

But the stars of the universe appear to be the Gosselin family which provided a candid glimpse into their household of precise scheduling, firm parenting, cute kids and stressed spouses squabbling but devoted to each other and the kids.

The female influences in my life drew me into the Gosselin’s life. The youngest kids are about the same age as my grandchildren and my adult daughters discovered the show, eventually bringing my wife into the fold. During a lazy summer night last year when the networks had nothing much to offer, I was introduced to the show.

Soon I was hooked.

I actually received the DVD of Season 1 and 2 as a Christmas gift. A loyal friend and church minister said I should be embarrassed to admit it, but the DVD was on my wish list.

At some point, it seemed the show began drifting away from its focus on two everyday parents dealing with the huge task of raising a crowded house of growing kids.

Episodes began to include obvious plugs for resorts that had provided the family with a Utah ski vacation or given Jon a free hair transplant. We no longer see visits from helpful friends like Nana Janet, who stopped by weekly to fold giant piles of laundry, or family members like Aunt Jodie who lived a few doors up the street. The family now is visited by celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse and the creative crew from Orange County Choppers. A couple years after we watched Jon and his brother-in-law renovate the attic as a bedroom for the oldest daughters, the family was moving into a multimillion-dollar house.

At a reported $75,000 per episode, the Gosselins were able to quit work and stay home with their kids all the time. Great for parenting, but the reality show began to seem so much less real. Kate co-authored some books about the family and now spends weeks away from home on promotional tours, including a visit this year to an Elizabethtown church.

The show, which was supposed to depict their lives, became their lives.

And now it appears to be smashing their relationship.

There’s a rule in physics that whatever you measure is altered by the act of measuring it. For example, the fuel level in your gas tank is influenced by the device in the tank placed there to tell you the fuel level.

Apparently, that applies to reality television too.

The Gosselin marriage is in disarray and headed to the courts. But the show will go on.

The couple has posted this official statement on TLC’s Web site: “During this very difficult time we will be working to focus solely on the needs of our family. This includes no longer commenting publicly or reacting to media stories and speculation. Our goal is to do the very best for our children and that will be done as privately as possible. We appreciate the understanding, support and well wishes from so many.”

How would things be different if the television cameras never had shown up to record their lives?

Ben Sheroan is general manager of The LaRue County Herald News.