'Jon & Kate': Kids, Cameras, and Controversy

In many ways, fame has agreed with Kate, who has slimmed down to a size 4 and keeps her skin a deep bronze with regular visits to a tanning booth. She's written two best-selling books about their family, Multiple Blessings and Eight Little Faces, and aspires to follow Oprah's lead. ''There are no mom-centered talk shows,'' she explains. ''I think that would be a very comfortable thing for me to discuss.'' Then there are the downsides to celebrity life. After Jon quit his job as an IT analyst in November 2007, fans criticized him for his lack of outside employment. ''It's hysterical,'' says Kate, adding that coordinating their family life — and the reality show about their family life — is a full-time job. ''I thought nursing was hard, but you ain't seen nothing until you see how late we're up working, doing e-mails, conference calls...'' Kate is also regularly lambasted on websites (like the Gosselins Without Pity blog) for her harsh words to Jon. Still, the producers are loath to sanitize the couple's exchanges. ''It's real and it's raw, and that's what has made the show popular,'' explains series producer Jeff Lanter. ''If we water it down, we lose what we've built in the past four seasons.''

Today, the state of Jon and Kate's marriage threatens to overshadow everything the show was originally about. In February Jon was photographed with two coeds at a bar, and in April paparazzi snapped pictures of him leaving a local club with Hummel. (Hummel's brother recently told Us Weekly that his sister and Jon were definitely having an affair.) While Jon won't address specific allegations, he insists the encounters were innocent. ''I may be guilty of choosing the wrong time and place to hang out with my friends,'' he says, ''but I am not guilty of cheating on my wife.'' The scrutiny has worn on the couple: ''Jon's poor judgment and irresponsible behavior has...caused some added tension and stress between the two of us,'' says Kate. The March 23 season finale — which was taped around the time the first tabloid story broke — played like a cliff-hanger, with Jon hinting about shutting down the show, saying ''I can't just be Jon — I have to be Jon & Kate Plus Eight.'' Back in her sitting room a month later, Kate confirms that the duo had considered pulling the plug; for TLC's part, O'Neill says the couple currently has a multiyear contract, but ''we're considerate of what they want to do.''

So what made the Gosselins change their minds about coming back for season 5? ''I decided it was to benefit my kids,'' admits Jon. ''I don't like the public life. [But] there's a lot of positives, obviously — the house, an education for our kids, car, whatever. Material things.'' The new season of Jon & Kate will incorporate the issues that their fame (and infamy) have brought. ''It will touch on our lack of privacy,'' says Kate, ''but also some other big events.'' She and the producers won't reveal much — like why the family recently took an outing to get passports — but say the younger kids will be chattier than ever.

The tabloid coverage may only increase interest in the Gosselins and their series, but that's not why Kate thinks fans continue to watch. ''People want to see our kids grow up. At this point I almost feel like I owe it to them. They've seen [our children] since they were 15 months old. And so to stop now would be like 'What ever happened to them?'''

Originally posted May 15, 2009 Published in issue #1048 May 22, 2009 Order article reprints