TLC has halted production of Jon & Kate Plus 8 until August in the wake of the couple's divorce announcement.
Now, experts wonder whether the hit reality show has a future at all. On Monday's episode, Jon Gosselin suggested that he may not do the show anymore, despite Kate declaring, "The show must go on."
"I don't know if the show can make that new transition," says Robert J. Thompson, founding director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University. "It's like if The Cosby Show, mid-season, suddenly became Married With Children."
He says the show has already lost original fans who initially tuned in to watch "this cute little show about parents changing diapers and feeding their kids." As the couple's crumbling marriage made headlines, the show attracted a new fan base looking for drama.
But even those new viewers haven't stayed glued, as ratings continue to dip significantly since May's season 5 premiere, says Thompson. And those new viewers likely "aren't going to tune into a show about eight little kids for very long," he says.
Adds Marc Berman, senior television editor at Mediaweek: "Once all of this dies down and Jon and Kate aren't in the news anymore, this could be a problem for the show. They divorce, they move on with their lives and so do the viewers." Berman cites Sonny and Cher as an example. When they split, Cher got her own show; Sonny got his. "It didn't work," Berman says. "I'm worried."
Thompson tells Us "it's possible" the show could survive, but it needs to undergo several changes. "What they need to do is gather a whole new fan base," he says. "People who will watch it with their tongue in their cheek. People who like to watch someone they can mock."
Producers should "stop this Jon storyline and make it about a single mom raising eight kids," Thompson advises. "Try to go back to the spirit of the show – something you could watch with anybody in the house."
The problem: Who knows how Kate will behave? "The producers only have so much control," Thompson said. "She could become a very complicated character to try to do a show like that. She could start dating, or start leaving the kids with the nannies." Adds Thompson, "I would not want to bet what's left of my retirement fund on the ongoing success of this show."
Us Weekly television critic John Griffiths says Jon and Kate "should throw in the towel and tend to their kids. They should have their own reality shows down the road." "The ratings have already slipped," he says. "What are they going to keep do, have huge stunts all the time?"
"Ultimately, I think that viewers are not just going to get tired of this, but they're going to get depressed by it," says Griffiths. "People want a lot of drama in reality shows like The Real Housewives of New Jersey. But this is not about that. This show is supposed to be about the kids."
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