Gil and Kelly Bates have not only stayed married to each other for 25 years, they have parented all of their 19 children without any pesky ex-spouses. No wonder they're getting their own TV show.
But it's not a science fiction series about aliens -- it's a reality TV program premiering tonight on TLC called (are you ready?) "The United Bates of America."
The cable channel is putting the cute-as-a-bug clan under the microscope to show how this efficient ant-like army functions: cooking, cleaning, homeschooling -- even hanging out together 24/7 without bickering.
Quite a contrast to the Kardashians of Calabasas who quibble constantly and seem to have all their meals catered. In fact, the Bates children claim they don't even know who Kim Kardashian is, perhaps not so surprising since the family doesn't own a TV set.
The Duggars vs. The Bates
If you're thinking this clean-cut bunch is just a Duggar doppelgänger, you're right. The two reality TV show families are not only good pals in real life, they also have 19 children apiece. Both broods are part of a movement called Quiverfull, a philosophy that interprets "be fruitful and multiply" to mean "fill the whole fruit bowl." Parents typically homeschool their children, keep them away from pop culture and raise them according to old-fashioned gender roles.
The Duggars and Bates are more like hip Amish people than average mall-going Americans, so it is a bit surprising they would stick pins into the protective bubbles they've created by having their own reality TV shows.
Yet, so far, in the four years they've had their "Umpteen Kids and Counting" show, things appear to be working out fine for the Duggars -- the parents are still married and the kids have managed to stay off drugs and out of jail. However, not all reality TV families have fared so well.
Reality TV Families from the Past
The first reality TV couple, Bill and Pat Loud of Santa Barbara, got divorced as a result of their show. Back in the 1970s, "An American Family" was broadcast on public TV as if it were some kind of high-brow documentary instead of a cheesy reality TV show. Ironically, it was later revealed that wife Pat was manipulated into catching her husband cheating.
Today's poster children for a family falling apart in front of the TV cameras are Jon and Kate Gosselin. Their show "Jon & Kate Plus 8" turned into "Kate Plus 8" after the couple's marriage went kerplooey when Kate found out Jon was cheating with the daughter of the plastic surgeon who did her tummy tuck.
The outrageous Osbourne family seemed out of control on the TV show starring rocker Ozzy Osbourne, his wife Sharon and two of the couple's three children, Kelly and Jack (a second daughter refused to participate). The kids went to rehab and Ozzy fell apart during the filming of the show. But who knows? The colorful family might have gotten into even more trouble without the cameras' presence.
Perhaps the biggest casualty of reality TV was Anna Nicole Smith, the dumb-like-a-fox Playboy model who married an octogenarian billionaire just before his death. She and her son Daniel starred in "The Anna Nicole Show," but both spiraled downward and died within a few years of the show's demise.
Hazards of Being a Reality TV Family
Given the genre's unkindness to its participating families, how will the Bates family of Tennessee survive reality television?
Unlike the Kardashians, we're not seeing any decadent weddings or quickie divorces in their future, and it's more likely one of the Bates children will have 72 children than be married for only 72 days. If Kelly discovers Gil cheating, we suspect it will be at cards.
More likely, jaded viewers will experience déjà vu after realizing the Bates are just another boring family on TV, and the biggest tragedy they will face is being cancelled after just one season.
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