Time to make 'Jon & Kate' about the grown-ups

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"Jon & Kate Plus 8" returned to TLC on Monday with two new episodes. In one, Jon manages the renovation of the kitchen cabinets while Kate and the kids go to the beach; in the other, Kate takes the kids camping and tries to start a fire by herself.

"Will the demands of outdoor camping be too much for Kate, or will a campout with eight kids prove to be surprisingly fun?" reads the description.

Of all the questions wondered by the millions of "Jon & Kate" viewers, that one is, yeah, not on the list.

TLC continues to produce "Jon & Kate" as a show about better parenting through product placement. But a record number of viewers are watching the series to glean tidbits about the parents' adult relationships.

The Gosselins know it. The media sure knows it. The only party that seems oblivious is TLC, whose show feels increasingly staged and surreal with every new tabloid revelation.

When I asked TLC president Eileen O'Neill at the TCA summer press tour why the show continues to present the Gosselins as if child squabbles are really the family's most pressing concern, she replied: "The show has always been about the parents' relationship with their children. This is a family show."

During the TLC panel, O'Neill dramatically announced there would be one major change to the series' format stating Monday. Henceforth, Jon and Kate will now be interviewed in separate chairs, and "the iconic couch is gone."

Oh no! Not the couch!

The marriage falls apart, Jon is flying around the world with a 26-year-old, magazine covers everywhere are focused on each new detail of this train wreck -- and TLC changes the furniture.

Meanwhile, judgmental finger-waggers slam the show, like last week's US Weekly: "Kate's Sad Kids," reads the cover, "Shame on the Gosselins; how the 8 are suffering as Dad humiliates the family and Mom keeps using them for fame and money."

It's admittedly a bit embarrassing to have your childhood telecast before you're old enough to understand the consequences, though it seems far from traumatizing, especially in our privacy-is-dead, long-live-the-Internet era.

The perception that the show is somehow bad for the kids could become an issue, however. The Gosselin parents appear to guard much of their own privacy from the cameras, while their kids remain onstage through a difficult period. It's not wrong. It just feels a tad, um, wrong.

Point being: TLC could solve two problems at once by downgrading the amount of time the Gosselin kids are on camera and make "Jon & Kate" more about the grown-ups.

It would give many viewers what they want -- a broader and more realistic look at this family -- while clamping down on any criticism that the kids are reality-show cannon fodder.

TLC says this is "a family show," but it's also a show about a family. The family has changed. The show should too.
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