Did you know "Kate Plus 8" was still on the air? Yeah, me neither, but it is (Mon, 10 p.m. EST on TLC). And if you’re not watching, rest assured you’re not the only one. The crown jewel of TLC is looking a lot like a stinky old lump of coal these days, ratings-wise.
Of course, the show used to be a mega hit by basic cable standards. Almost ten million people watched the fifth season premiere episode (granted, this was back when Kate and Jon Gosselin were in full marital meltdown). But since the show (and Kate herself) dumped the Jon in the title, “Kate Plus 8” has fizzled. Though the Kate-only version debuted to decent ratings (3.4 million viewers), it quickly slid to 2.2 million the following week and 1.6 million by August of last year.
You’d think that would be reason enough to cut Kate and her enormous brood loose, but maybe TLC is simply too afraid of the Wrath of Kate (and really, who isn’t?) to pull the plug, as a second season is limping along. Last week, Kate and kids brought in 1.4 million viewers (in comparison, ‘Pawn Stars’ pulled in 7.3 million in the same time slot on the History Channel).
Still, I had to see what all the fuss (or non fuss) was about. After all, Kate Gosselin
and her Ed Hardy-devoted douchebag ex are household names, and I refuse to believe that human jellyfish of a husband was much of a draw. So what’s changed?
Well, I can’t say I ever watched a lot of “Jon & Kate Plus 8,” but I could see the car wreck appeal of the old show. Despite Kate’s dogged attempts to run the household the way Mussolini ran the trains, the kids were small and adorable chaos monsters, Jon put the passive in passive aggressive, and it was easy to vacillate between finding the woman completely intolerable and understanding how eight kids and a weenie husband could make you that way. On the interview couch, Kate and Jon seemed like any other beleaguered, exhausted parents, except they had, well, eight kids and a TV show.
While Jon had zero appeal as a personality, his absence is, shockingly enough, felt in the current incarnation. Yes, he was Kate’s punching bag, but it turns out that Kate without a punching bag is boring. She’s not exactly a mom who overflows with warm maternal feeling, so the only quality we have to admire in the woman is her ability to deal with the kind of challenges that would make the rest of us quake in our boots, like getting eight tiny children to eat breakfast while her oafish husband looks for a pile of sand to stick his head into. But now, not only is Jon gone, the kids are growing up. And while that may be good for Kate, it’s bad for TV.
The cute little chaos monsters are still passably cute, but not in that squeee, look at the baaaabeeeee kind of way. They’re just garden variety kids. Herding them may be annoying enough to make Kate want another round of Botox for her frown lines, but it’s nothing compared to what it was like getting the kids dressed and out the door when they were, say, three. And now that those no-longer-babbling babies are providing their own couch interviews, they’re saying cheerful things like “Mommy can be scary” (a truth spoken by one of her twins), which is more depressing than funny.
But the real problem may be Kate herself. Spray-tanned to an unappealing shade of chestnut, wearing heels to any and all occasions (even when that means she isn’t able to play with her kids, whom she tends to treat as small irritants), she looks and acts more like a C-list starlet than a struggling mom, and it’s pretty clear TLC has taken any struggle out of her day-to-day existence. While she’s now a single mom, she’s one who gets book deals and TV contracts and has a bodyguard. We could just as easily be watching a family of meerkats for as much as we can relate to Kate’s high class problems.
On a recent episode, Kate and the kids worked at a food bank, Kate did radio interviews and drove a NASCAR pace car and the family posed cutely for pictures and signed things for a good cause. At the end of the show, Kate bought a cart full of groceries for the poor and whipped out her checkbook to sponsor food “backpacks” for eight kids. It was all heartwarming and positive and utterly dull. Worse, other than the volunteer work, the episode lacked almost anything the average person could relate to. But this is the monster TLC has created in Kate Gosselin – a reality star whose reality isn’t interesting anymore.