A chill wind blew through TLC's "Jon & Kate Plus 8" as it returned for a fifth season Monday in an episode that didn't ignore the stars' tabloid-tainted off-camera lives.
The docu-reality series, which chronicles the lives of Jon and Kate Gosselin of Wernersville, Berks County, and their family of sextuplets and twins, has been dogged in recent months by reports of Mr. Gosselin spending nights out with a 23-year-old elementary school teacher whose brother claims the pair engaged in a sexual relationship. Tabloid reports have suggested Mrs. Gosselin had a relationship with her bodyguard. Both have denied any infidelity.
Monday's episode, which garnered the show's highest ratings ever (9.8 million viewers), addressed their relationship, initially in separate interviews with Mr. and Mrs. Gosselin.
"I have a lot of anger," she said. "He's made some very poor decisions and we all have to live with them."
Later the pair were shown looking as distant as two people could while sharing a loveless loveseat.
"I'm here," she said. "I'm here every minute that working doesn't require me to be away. I can't speak for anyone but myself."
"I'm here for my kids," Mr. Gosselin said. There was no discussion of marriage counseling.
Dana Kirkpatrick, a licensed professional counselor with Relationship Resolutions in Shadyside, watched "Jon & Kate" Monday.
"It seems they are emotionally separated," she said, "like they are living separate lives.
"Any children can cause disruption in a marriage, but eight children is more of a disruption, plus having these other things like a book tour going on, they're not working on the marriage," Ms. Kirkpatrick. "Working on the marriage means doing things together and sacrificing money to be together."
Monday's episode featured a fifth birthday celebration for the Gosselin sextuplets, which Mrs. Gosselin acknowledged was bittersweet. She began to cry.
"I remember thinking this possibly could be our last family picture so I knew it was important to do," she said. "I was thinking back five years ago and realizing parents of multiples have triple the divorce rate and thinking we were going to beat that, but I don't know if I can say that anymore."
At the birthday party, at least as the episode was edited, Mrs. Gosselin gave her husband the cold shoulder. She didn't look at him when he arrived, she didn't talk to him much. When she did speak to him, it was to give him an order.
"Daddy, I don't want you to leave anymore," said one of the children.
Relationship expert Michele Weiner-Davis, author of "Divorce Busting," said the Gosselins should mend their damaged marriage.
"For no other reason than to give their children the gift of a lifetime, they should learn the skills they need to work through this issue and get their marriage back on track," she said by phone from Boulder, Colo.
Mrs. Gosselin acknowledged she has been hard on her husband over the years but she didn't let him off the hook.
"Have I pushed him to this?" she said. "I don't believe I have because I feel everyone is responsible for their own actions."
In her interviews, she suggested her husband was no longer on board with their arrangement where he mostly stayed home with the children while she traveled the country promoting books and the "Jon & Kate Plus 8" brand. She said she's seen him "slowly resent his duties. I know it's a lot taking care of eight kids."
Ruth Houston, author of "Is He Cheating on You? -- 829 Telltale Signs," said the relationship could be ripe for infidelity by Jon or Kate.
"My understanding is she puts him down a lot. If she's belittling him, then that would make him very vulnerable to an affair," Ms. Houston said yesterday by phone from New York. "Men don't cheat because they're unhappy, but women do. Men choose to cheat for sex or ego embellishment."
Mr. Gosselin generally slouched on a sofa during his interviews. He looked drawn but showed little emotion.
"It's hard to picture things in the future because we're going in two different directions right now," he said, adding that as long as he and Kate can remain friends "whether you're married or not married" it will be good for the kids.
Children get hurt anytime parents separate, but if they've been splashed before the public on a reality TV show, even if the intent of making a TV show is to help pay to raise them, the consequences could be worse.
"Problems are a lot easier to resolve when they're personalized within a small realm. When it becomes worldwide knowledge, it's going to be a lot tougher to deal with the problem," said Gregg Steinberg, author of "Flying Lessons: 122 Strategies to Teach your Child to Soar in Life" and a health and human performance professor at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tenn.
In addition to the survival of the marriage, there's the question of whether a TV show built on the image of a happy family can survive if the parents split. "Jon & Kate" is veering closer to the documentary "An American Family," which aired on PBS in 1973 and chronicled the dissolution of the marriage of Bill and Pat Loud.
"An American Family" was revolutionary for its time, but it was also a 12-episode stand-alone series on public TV. TLC is likely to want its highest-rated show to continue.
TLC executives would not comment on whether the Gosselins will seek marriage counseling, the implications of their frayed relationship or any contract they have to appear on the program.