Kate Gosselin didn’t start out associated with spray tans, “Dancing With the Stars,” and rumored affairs with Australian bodyguards. But that’s how she ended. The world would likely never have known a thing about the 36-year-old suburban Pennsylvania mom had she not given birth to twins and sextuplets and then agreed in 2007 — along with then-husband Jon — to have their lives filmed. The original series of cutesy specials eventually turned into the hugely successful “Jon & Kate Plus 8.”
Looking back, the whole facade of “average middle class family trying to get by with eight kids and squeeze in a date night once in a while” started cracking early on. Kate got a tummy tuck; Jon got hair plugs; they both stopped working (because starring in your own reality show, it turns out, pays well). The show became less about the Gosselins’ hectic day-to-day lives and more about famous people trying to get good ratings. There were all-expenses-paid trips to Disney World and ski resorts, talk show appearances, in-home cooking lessons with celebrity chefs, and a gated mansion on 24 acres. Viewers watched Jon and Kate’s reality slip away.
And then, of course, came the divorce that played out in the tabloids and on TV, with Jon gallivanting around with new girlfriends and Kate making nasty accusations through the media. What happened to those chaotic dinners at the kitchen table and the action-packed trips to the grocery store? The frazzled family that used to look like yours (only bigger) was no more, and the show that began by innocently following a gaggle of diaper-clad toddlers had turned the Gosselin home into a broken one. And therein lies the problem, viewers realized. Reality TV, it seems, changes reality.
Kate hung on tightly to her 15 minutes of fame with the sorry-sounding “Kate Plus 8” after Jon ditched the show, but her solo effort didn’t last long. TLC pulled the plug on the single-mom series after a little more than a year. By the end, the show seemed like a never-ending publicity stunt, complete with a Sarah Palin camping trip episode. Thus ended an era of “reality” that might never have existed in the first place. These days, Kate’s trying to reinvent herself as a coupon blogger, and Jon mostly stays out of the spotlight, except when he resurfaces to publicly comment on his ex. Both claim to be focused on the kids, who, sadly, will most likely not emerge from their childhoods unscathed.
Will there be more reality shows about big families, odd families, and average families coming our way? Probably. But viewers will likely not trust those families as they did Jon and Kate. We’ll know that next batch of down-to-earth, everyday folks who just happen to have cameras following them around aren’t going to stay that way for long. And what’s the point of watching if we already know how it’s going to end?
Lizbeth Scordo is a content editor for Yahoo! Entertainment, where she focuses on celebrity headlines for omg! and TV news for Yahoo! TV. She has contributed to Us Weekly, TV Guide, Los Angeles Business Journal, Every Day With Rachael Ray, and Angeleno. She currently resides in Los Angeles but will forever be a proud Jersey girl who grew up spending summers on the Jersey Shore long before MTV ever set foot there. Follow her on Twitter.