For a number of years, this was a nice little wholesome family reality show. Earlier this year it suddenly turned into something foreign for the earnest cable network -- a tabloid reality program, full of nasty remarks, possible infidelity, divorce proceedings, all in the midst of trying to raise eight children.
This is far cry from when Discovery founder John Hendricks was schlepping around nature and other documentaries in the early 1980s, making big cable operators swoon with the possibilities of an educational, family-friendly, and hopefully cool cable network.
Reality TV shows are, of course, a misnomer. They are unscripted shows where "cast" members get paid -- no different for Jon and Kate Gosselin, who get nice salaries and traded up from a $300,000 to a $10 million home as a result.
When it was discovered that Jon and Kate had filed for divorce, and that Jon had found a new young girlfriend and was travelling in glitzy circles, the tabloids jumped on the story. Gone was the image of a father struggling to take care of his eight children and wife.
The low-rated show turned into a sudden cable ratings giant for Discovery and TLC. But some critics and viewers were aghast - especially in light of those eight kids.
Now there are business dealings to consider. The positive: Kate Gosselin gets a guest shot on "The View" next month, probably something that wouldn't happen were it not for all the attention the TLC show received.. Gosselin will no doubt help that ABC show's ratings. Still, Barbara Walters might have a few questions of her own.
But there is another, trickier side: It seems that Jon likes to wear the Ed Hardy brand of clothes - apparently too much so for TLC executives. His garments featuring the "Ed Hardy" logo have now been blurred out.
A TLC spokeswoman would only confirm the network is doing this. She wouldn't elaborate.
We have some ideas why. Imagine if Donald Trump walked around with a Pepsi logo neatly embroidered on the back and front of his polished suits everywhere he want on "The Apprentice." NBC might have a problem with this - especially if it wasn't getting a nice revenue piece for all that exposure. Typically networks demand product placement payment or media dollars for such exposure
I doubt that a small designer-- -in this case Christian Audigier, creator of the Ed Hardy line, and now a friend of Jon Gosselin -- has a big enough marketing and media budget to pay for all that airtime his brand is getting on the show.
But here's the deeper problem: TLC and Discovery have oriented many of their shows and brands around being "authentic." But it seems if commerce and/or free TV marketing gets in the way, something has got to give.
Blurring "reality" isn't a good idea - even if most of the time advertisers might just shrug their shoulders. However, what they can't stand is when a TV program changes drastically.
"TLC probably has to meet with advertisers to make them feel comfortable about staying in," Shari Anne Brill, senior vp and director of programming and strategic audience analysis at media-buying agency Carat, recently said about the show
"They're taking a step back and figuring out what they're going to do next," she adds. "Fundamentally, what that show was is not what it is now."
Surely some "Jon & Kate" advertisers are happy about the sudden over-delivery of ratings points on the show. But other more sensitive, family-friendly advertisers probably aren't getting what they want.
Lessons learned can be that high-flying, public-attention-getting "reality" unscripted shows are perhaps a three-edged sword: one edge being incredible viewer attention; another, unpredictable outcomes; a third, sometimes unforeseen business consequences.