TLC’s Jon & Kate Plus Eight aired its finale last night and—if we wish really hard and promise to be extra, extra good—just might never return to the air in any iteration. TLC had announced plans for a new Jon-free version to be titled Kate Plus Eight. But with Dad now forbidding further videotaping of his kids, it looks like that show is on hold, perhaps forever—though Kate is still on schedule to launch a show TLC is designing around her next year. And it was about time.
I’m not talking about the interests of the kids—maybe the show was harmful to them, maybe it wasn’t, and I’m not a big fan of easy moralizing about other people’s parenting (even when that is probably half the reason shows like Jon & Kate exist in the first place). No, it’s clear by now that this show has been done in as a show by the endless fighting, not just between the divorcing Jon & Kate, but between TLC and Jon.
When the couple were still together, one of the fascinations of the show was that it served as a Rorschach for people’s views about family and marriage. Besides having fun with the adorable kids, it allowed you to come to conclusions about which parent you identified with and/or blamed more, to be on Team Jon or Team Kate.
But watching last night’s show, aware of how TLC had warred publicly with Jon Gosselin and severed his relationship with the show, it became impossible to watch it even with the usual level of guarded skepticism you usually give any highly edited reality show. Because I was always conscious that of the two parents, only one of them—Kate—represented a brand that the network had incentive to protect at all costs.
So in last night’s finale, Jon came off pretty poorly, seeming detached from his kids at some times, whiny and overly harsh at others. Kate, on the other hand, seemed—while still businesslike and hyperefficient—more warm and at ease with the kids.
Now, who knows? Maybe both these portrayals were entirely accurate. Certainly we’ve seen both these sides of these parents before. But the facts of the show being what they are—namely, TLC is in business with Kate and is tossing around legal threats with Jon—it’s impossible to give any credibility to the picture we’re seeing.
For a while, the off-screen drama of Jon & Kate, however ugly, fed into the show’s popularity and added a layer to the story. Now the tabloid story and behind-the-scenes network fighting have completely swallowed the show up. Maybe Kate Gosselin can find new happiness as a talk-show host or lifestyle guru or whatever she and TLC have planned for her. But as for Jon & Kate Plus Eight, this separation couldn’t come soon enough for me.