On Memorial Day, it would have been nice if the top-rated show was PBS's concert paying patriotic tribute to our brave fighting men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. Instead, this Memorial Day had a different, much less laudable spectacle top the ratings. The cable channel TLC beat every broadcast network with a new season debut of "Jon and Kate Plus 8," a "reality" program chronicling the eventful life of parents of a set of twins and a set of sextuplets.
The show itself was not some offensive parade of sex or gore. The spectacle here is the collapsing marriage of the "reality" show stars, Jon and Kate Gosselin, prodded along for weeks by all the tabloids and celebrity magazines. First, there were charges that Jon cheated on Kate with a teacher, and then came counter-charges that Kate cheated on Jon with their bodyguard. The question that didn't dominate: With a marriage on the rocks and eight young children in the balance, why not cancel the show and concentrate on real life?
Executives at TLC, part of the Discovery Communications family of channels, will not discuss the Gosselins' contracts or the status of their marriage. But in a corporate statement, they predictably touted how the audience loves the exploitation: "the show's ratings have grown consistently, as there has been interest in these real-life issues of this real-life family." And: "We will continue to air as the interest continues, and the family wants to do it."
Translation: Family unity or sanity be damned. We've got a hit on our hands.
This is not the way this show and this family first looked like on TV. It debuted in 2005 on the Discovery Health Network as a special, and then became a series. It was a program that appealed to families who looked at the extreme parenting challenge of loving and caring for six needy babies.
The back story was charming. Kate had fertility treatments, but refused to "selectively reduce" (yet another euphemism for abortion) any of six babies for the sake of convenience. Jon's employer, the lout, laid him off because he didn't want the insurance burden. Jon and Kate instantly were very sympathetic figures facing a very real, human challenge -- and serious hardship -- with pluck and devotion. The show caught on enough to be "promoted" to TLC. That led to spinoff books and speeches, where the Gosselins were more candid about their Christian faith than they were on TV.