Saturday, June 20, 2009

Don't Blame Kate

I'm sure it doesn't surprise readers that one of my TV shows is Jon and Kate Plus 8. J&K is what I call "easy watching" TV; I don't have to think too hard, I can do other stuff, and gosh darn it the kids are cute! And I love shows about large families.

Yes, Kate could be nasty, but I'm sure if cameras were following me around all the time my TWOP name would be Elizabitch. And yes, Jon can be too laid back, but man, with that many kids you don't want to be too hyper. And now this season, as anyone who reads People headlines knows, the usual marriage tensions escalated to rumors of divorce. No comment from me, except that it's heartbreaking, and it's no one person's fault.

Remember the Louds? In what some call the beginning of reality TV, PBS did a documentary called An American Family about the Louds. They (and America) got more than the bargained for when Pat asked Bill for a divorce; and son Lance's being gay? This was 1973. Groundbreaking.

Also groundbreaking has been the The Up Series (Seven Up / 7 Plus Seven / 21 Up / 28 Up / 35 Up / 42 Up / 49 Up) series; following Neil's mental health issues has been devastating and illuminating.

The question of children acting -- or being used -- has always been with the industry. Until actual actors aren't needed in order to make films and TV shows, children will be needed on stage, film, TV. Go back to pre-film days, and most of the great stage families had the younger members acting since (and before) they could walk. But some shows take the illusion one step further by having the viewer think they are "really" watching a "real" child's life, not too unlike the Gosselins.

Ozzie & Harriet Nelson used their own names, their own sons, and their sons' names for their TV show. It was a TV show, clearly, but it gave many people the illusion that they were watching a "real" family. Many people still believe that Desi Arnaz, Jr, played Little Ricky on I Love Lucy, in part because of Lucy/Lucy and in part because in Here's Lucy Lucie and Desi, Jr. played her children (but with different names.)

So, what other early documentaries have given too-uncomfortable (and not planned) looks into the darkness of life?

EDITED TO ADD: Gail Gauthier at Original Content has a very interesting take on J&K; I especially like how she sees the story/myth that is involved.

One final note; I remember watching the Sonny & Cher show as a kid, and then how it split into two shows when they separated, and then one again because of ratings. Does anyone remember if the domestic problems between Sonny & Cher were as in your face as with Jon & Kate?

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy


Rhiannon Hart said...

I watched a doco on The Up Series sometime last year--it was interesting, if a little depressing: seeing some of these hopeful children and teenagers turn into less-than-hopeful adults. A very important longitudinal study for psychologists, though.

web said...

Didn't most of them wind up living pretty decent lives though? I remember the surly teeange girl seemed quite happy as a mom. Though I'm not sure if I caught the last one or two.

Nora Ephron wrote about the Loud family, expressing her belief that the family was handpicked to explode eventually. I have no doubt she was right.