The family in 2009, before Jon left the show. (Courtesy of TLC)Their television career began in the womb. Now 7 years old, the Gosselin sextuplets have had a longer run on TV than the original Brady Bunch kids. Their childhood, however, was unscripted.
After TLC airs the Monday night finale of the series, "Kate Plus 8" (formerly "Jon and Kate Plus 8" until season 6) reality TV's most famous siblings-Alexis, Hannah, Aaden, Collin, Leah and Joel- and their 10-year-old twin twin sisters- Cara and Mady- will finally resume their life off camera. Or will they?
"I'm sure you'll still see my kids at some point," Kate said Monday morning on NBC's Today Show. She added cryptically, it would all depend on "if the right thing came along."
That 'thing' may not only be relegated to reality TV. After news of her show's cancellation, mom Kate Gosselin tweeted about her 10-year-old daughter Mady's desire to stay in the spotlight: "Aww that Mady… So well spoken! Wants to do MORE TV!!! Disney anyone? Lol"
Regardless of plans for her brood, Kate wants to keep her own TV career afloat. She'll be guest-hosting on CBS's daytime show "The Talk" next. That means her identity as a multiples mom will keep her children leashed into the public domain, like it or not.
"I want to stay in TV because I feel comfortable there, it's an exciting life," Kate said in an interview with People Magazine last week.
But exciting isn't the first word that comes to mind looking back on her family's televised travails. What began in 2006 as a one-hour special on her pregnancy soon mushroomed into an epic televised destruction of a marriage. The show turned from wacky parenting challenges to a story of a love-less relationship and one couple's competition for the spotlight. Kate promoted her books, went on speaking tours, and got a "Dancing with the Stars" makeover. Meanwhile, Jon's mid-life crisis crash-intersected with reality fame, chock full of quick and dirty tabloid-centric relationships (including a bromance with Michael Lohan) and some very public legal battles with his ex.
The eight Gosselin kids were casualties. Rumors of behavioral problems were followed by reports of school expulsions. Alexis and Collin were removed from their private school and educated at home for a stint before returning. But they weren't always welcome.
The parents of Gosselin classmates complained about their excessive security presence. A Facebook group called "Jon and Kate Plus 8 Ruined Our School" was launched. "If you attend Lancaster Country Day School, and you feel that unnecessary changes have been made to accommodate the Gosselin Children, please join," reads the description.
If parents can be cruel, so can their kids. How will their classmates treat the in-house celebrities whose potty training exploits remain archived on YouTube? Even without the cameras, is it too late for these kids to live a normal life?
Jon took to rumorfix.com this past week to say he'd welcome his kids' return to normalcy, mom Kate told People she's worried about keeping her kids' home and school in tact without their TV income. Equally concerned are her kids.
"The scary thing is when kids are used to being providers for their family," says Dr. Hilary Levey-Friedman, a Harvard sociologist who's written extensively about reality TV families. "The Gosselin kids shouldn't be aware that their show pays for their school, they shouldn't even have to worry about that."
The money, which Kate admits to be a driving force her family's TV career, can have long-term consequences, both good and bad.
Kate, in New York in August, hopes to stay a fixture on TV. (Ray Tamarra/Getty Images …
After a 2010 investigation into the show's child labor practices, the Pennsylvania Bureau of Labor Law Compliance mandated that 15 percent of the children's proceeds from the show be placed in a trust fund for their future. It could afford them the kind of educational opportunities large families on fixed incomes don't have access to. But it could also create a habit-forming need for attention.
"The money focus is one that's been tied to long-term psychological damage for child stars raised supporting their families. Even studies of kids who grew up in the Depression have shown that a stressful relationship with spending money in childhood can stay with you as an adult," says Levey-Friedman. "For the rest of their lives, they may think they have to act a certain way to make money."
A patchwork of former child stars who struggled to maintain their stardom as adults is testament. Being raised on camera tends to stick, almost like a family business. Two current members of the "Real Housewives of Beverly Hills", both moms now, returned to the spotlight after their career as kid stars screeched to a halt. Kelly Osbourne, an early example of reality show offspring, has made a career as an on-camera fashion pundit and the continuing saga of both the Duggar and Manzo families has spawned sibling spin-off shows now in development.
"The good thing is that sometimes it can translate to behind-the-scenes work, because these kids get a unique exposure to the way entertainment is made," adds Levey-Friedman.
Several members of the Loud family, whose teenage upbringing was captured in the 1970's PBS series "An American Family", ended up forging a career as entertainment writers and TV marketing executives.
But that was last century. In 2011, it's harder to retreat into the background once you're front-and-center in the frame.
The Gosselins' televised childhood experiences, from dentist visits to amusement park meltdowns, live in perpetuity on the Internet and so do their peers. In the near future, fellow classmates and neighbors can snap cell phone pictures and leak gossip to celebrity blogs in seconds. Even in their own moment of attention-seeking, a revealing Facebook update could land Mady, Cara, Leah or Collin, in a very unpleasant public situation, as we've witnessed via the YouTube and Twitter accounts of the "Teen Moms". Once you're on reality TV, you're not like other kids. You're not even like the other child stars.
"Take someone like Miley Cyrus. A company like Disney can still on some level protect its child stars," Levey-Friedman says. "But when you're a reality star and you are the main character of a show, it's much more difficult to protect your privacy."
In 2009, a family trip to the store turns into a spectacle. (Ray Tamarra/Getty Images …
Jon and Kate still seem to differ on whether that loss of privacy was worth it.
While Kate says Jon is "relieved" to have his kids off the air, she sees the exposure her kids got as a gift. "Jon may be accepting of mediocre for his kids and working a regular job, " she jabbed in her interview with Matt Lauer on Monday. "To be a good parent is to work as hard as you can and give them the best opportunities in life, and this [show] has provided that."
It's possible the kids can have it both ways. Now that the show is over, they may eventually recede into a more normal life, with a unique knowledge of entertainment and the financial opportunity to foster it in their back pocket.
"Kids are remarkably resilient," says Levey-Friedman. "What they might be like tomorrow is different from what they might be like five months, or five years from now. What really makes the difference is the kind of stability they get from their family."
That remains a big question mark, as the Gosselin kids' entourage of camera crew, nannies and security detail- a kind of extended family- all fall away and they're left with two parents at odds with each other.
"Check back in when they're teenagers," Kate told People. That gives the eldest siblings, Cara and Mady, at least three years to develop without a theme song or microphone packs clipped to their belt loops. If they're lucky, they'll get a little more time than that.