Troubled Times for Jon & Kate
As ratings double for "Jon & Kate Plus 8" and troubles deepen for the TLC show's stars, Jon and Kate Gosselin - marital woes, increased media scrutiny and accusations of child exploitation - the network says the family's well-being remains "top priority."
The Season 5 premiere of the show, which chronicles the lives of the Gosselin family of twins and sextuplets, drew nearly 10 million viewers (more than twice the number who saw Season 4's finale). Pop culture watchers expect even more to tune in for tonight's two new episodes (9 p.m. ET/PT).
The show has drawn so much attention because of marital troubles between Jon and Kate, who acknowledged in a "People "cover story that they were "struggling." Reports of infidelity started earlier this year after Jon was spotted out at a nightclub while she was out of town. Then, "Us Weekly" suggested that Kate was getting cozy with a family bodyguard. In last week's premiere, the two were visibly uncomfortable sitting on the same sofa.
"All of this, which is certainly difficult and challenging for the family, has struck a chord for our audience because there's such relatability in it," says Eileen O'Neill, president and general manager of TLC.
Meanwhile, it's not just connubial conflict the grown-up Gosselins are facing. The Pennsylvania Department of Labor (the family lives in Wernersville, Pa.) is investigating a complaint concerning child labor compliance. In a statement, TLC said it "fully complies with all applicable laws and regulations. "Jon & Kate Plus 8" is no exception. For an extended period of time, we have been engaged in cooperative discussions and supplied all requested information to the Pennsylvania Department of Labor."
As separate accusations of child exploitation fly, including from Kate's brother and sister-in-law last week, O'Neill says "the best judge of the children's welfare are their parents, who, over almost 100 episodes (No. 100 airs June 8), have demonstrated love and attention and care for their children. The TV show keeps that front and center. They're beautiful, well-cared-for children - sometimes naughty."
As the 40 episodes of Season 5 progress - TLC resumed production a few weeks ago - "we'll chronicle what's appropriate and what they're willing to share with us," O'Neill says. "We take our cues from the family. It's their lives and we've followed their lives. We'll continue to do that and be respectful of the choices they make."
O'Neill says the Gosselins' actions and behavior aren't scripted or influenced. "Anyone who watches the show, they're going to understand this is an honest and difficult moment, not a stunt. The series has made this family a household name. They're not celebrities, although some have tried to make them into celebrities. We're not manufacturing their lives. We wish only the best for this family."