TLC launches its new season of "Jon & Kate Plus 8" Monday at 9, and how it handles the couple's marital problems on-air could make or break the show. Promos pitch Monday's show as the first time Jon and Kate Gosselin come together face-to-face since they've gone public with their troubled marriage.
"They're now in a really interesting position," said Syracuse University Professor Robert Thompson, who heads the school's Center for Popular Culture. "They're in the news, people are talking about them, and there's a story surrounding them that's got some real buzz other than having a litter of children."
But there's risks with that, too. Since it launched, "Jon & Kate Plus 8" has been a show that draws families because it focused on the daily lives of the couple and their eight kids - and everything from poop to parties. Now, however, with Kate admitting to People magazine that she was unsure of their marriage, and Jon being photographed out late with someone other than his wife, the story may change. A promo for Monday's show includes the couple's sextuplets' fifth birthday party, and clips of Jon and Kate, looking a bit beleaugered, doing rare interviews alone.
"The world isn't about ratings, and TV," Jon says. "It's about happiness and love, family and God. I think we all get caught up in everything. Too much of anything is bad. Because I love my kids, and I love my family, and that's what it is. Kate and I, obviously, have been going through a lot of stuff. And discussing what's best for our kids ... what do we say in the beginning \[of the show\], it's a crazy life, but it's our life."
Therein lies the challenge, though. Because of the troubles in their marriage, and the tabloid tales following them, the audience potential for Monday's show is enormous. Perhaps the biggest ever for a show that generated its largest audience with the fourth-season finale, when the scandal was just surfacing.
In the finale, which was watched by 4.6 million people, the couple discussed the challenges that being on TV presented and how Jon was having trouble with a loss of privacy. TLC won't discuss the show beyond a prepared statement saying production on season five was moving foward, and the network was supporting the family through this challenging time.
"This show has always been about a real family dealing with real-life situations, and that will continue to be the case for the new season," the network said.
The risk, Thompson said, is if the show gets too much into the personal problems, it could turn off families watching together. "It goes from being a [show] about cute kids," he said, "and makes it into 'Knots Landing.'"