This week has provided another strange chapter in the saga of Kate Gosselin.
The reality star mom from "Jon & Kate Plus 8" was accused in court by her estranged husband of withholding $33,000 from their joint bank account. Then, in a taped segment on Monday's episode of the show -- which is ending its run next month in the wake of the couple's increasingly nasty divorce -- Kate entertained the idea of becoming a cartoon character.
That same night, she was holed up at Maria Shriver's Women's Conference in Long Beach, signing books for fans as security officials shooed away photographers who dared approach. Although Gosselin's appearance had been touted for months, her name was not listed among the 22 authors on the book-signing schedule given to reporters, and a question-and-answer session with TV reporter Giselle Fernandez lasted less than five minutes.
Organizers said Gosselin's blink-and-you'll-miss-her appearance came off as scheduled, even if the timing ended up proving awkward. Since she was invited by Shriver this spring, the bust-up of Kate's marriage from husband Jon became engulfed in a tabloid firestorm. As Shriver diplomatically told USA Today, "You don't disinvite people when they get into difficult predicaments." (For the record, Kate's attorney Mark Momjian told The Times that in court this week Jon tried to "deflect attention" from some of his own questionable expenditures.)
Clearly, Kate would like to take her fame to the next level -- perhaps unlike her soon-to-be-ex-husband, who is no longer taping segments for "Jon & Kate" and is otherwise keeping a lower public profile. Yet as her speedy appearance at the Shriver event makes clear, that's proving problematic.
Gosselin is not the first person who's attempted to use a reality TV series as a springboard to greater fame. Since "The Osbournes" became a surprise hit on MTV, Sharon Osbourne has parlayed her fame into a short-lived talk show as well as a judge's perch on "America's Got Talent." Elisabeth Hasselbeck was a member of the Kucha tribe on "Survivor: Australian Outback" before she landed on "The View." Virtually the entire cast of MTV's "The Hills" -- including Lauren Conrad, Heidi Montag and Whitney Port -- has branched out further in show business and other ventures, with varying success.
A registered nurse, Gosselin, 34, gave birth to twins Cara and Mady in 2000; sextuplets followed in 2004 after fertility treatments. In the wake of appearances on two high-rated specials, Discovery Health signed the parents and their unusual brood to a reality show in 2007, later moving it to TLC.
The series followed the clan's everyday life, depicting Kate as an intense, somewhat excitable matriarch (in one episode, she was shown screaming as a broken washing machine caused minor flooding) and Jon as laconic and detached by comparison. Ratings had been solid by TLC's standards, but they exploded earlier this year when cracks began appearing in the couple's marriage and the saga became a fixture of People magazine and online gossip sites. The Season 5 premiere in May drew 9.8 million viewers, a record for TLC, according to the Nielsen Co.
Kate in particular became a polarizing figure in the culture.
"She's an extreme caricature of domineering, over-achieving motherhood -- the lady has not only birthed and cared for eight kids, but she has also built a reality TV empire -- and, as such, she taps into a great deal of anxiety and resentment," Tracy Clark-Flory, who has written about "Jon & Kate" for the online magazine Salon, wrote in an e-mail.
But since the show's summer breakout, a backlash has built. Critics, including lawyer Gloria Allred, have attacked the parents for exposing the kids to the harsh glare of reality TV. Viewers have slowly drifted away from the program, and TLC has announced it's ending the series and may re-brand it as something else with Kate alone -- who reportedly has also filmed a talk show pilot with chef Paula Deen.
"Their divorce was ugly, sensational and public," said Katie Allison Granju, who writes the Mamapundit parenting blog. "Each of them took it to People magazine. But to our credit as a viewing public, we soon found it so distasteful that we stopped watching. It just got too ugly when kids were involved."
However, Gosselin may yet have some staying power as a cultural icon.
A clear sign of that may arrive on your doorstep this weekend. One of the top-selling Halloween costumes this year -- along with designs based on David Letterman, Michael Jackson and Bernie Madoff -- is a wig based on Kate's "reverse mullet" hairstyle.