Get ready for this summer's latest ratings juicer: celebrity couples' marital problems played out on cable TV.
Exhibit A: The way Brooke Hogan's unscripted VH1 series Brooke Knows Best closes its June 7 season debut episode with a tension-filled telephone conversation between Hogan and her mother, Linda Bollea. The conversation exposes nerves rubbed raw during the bitter, public divorce battle between Linda Bollea and ex-superstar wrestler Terry "Hulk Hogan" Bollea.
"You've just been acting like a teenager," Brooke Hogan tells her mother, criticizing her romance with 19-year-old Charlie Hill, while refusing to see her during a visit in Clearwater.
"I feel like my whole life's been flipped upside down," Linda Bollea replies.
At least the Bolleas are not alone.
On Monday, an audience of nearly 10 million watched Jon and Kate Gosselin's relationship crumble in an episode of their unscripted show about raising eight children, Jon & Kate Plus 8 — the largest audience for any unscripted cable TV show in history.
Dogged by rumors of infidelity, paparazzi and a growing rift fueled by their TV-bred fame, the Gosselins could barely muster an answer when asked on camera about the future of their relationship.
They join a growing list of couples who found relationship crises quickly followed big TV series: Nick Lachey and Jessica Simpson; Bobby Brown and Whitney Houston; Britney Spears and Kevin Federline.
Which raises a pointed question: Is this a devil's bargain? Are these families trading increased opportunities and fame for a level of scrutiny bound to damage the family?
"These things happen when reality catches up with the reality TV show," said Andy Dehnart, founder of the RealityBlurred Web site. "The show can no longer ignore the real situation and has to focus on those things which drag the show out of its fantasy world."
A writer for Rolling Stone first coined it in a catchphrase: "going Hogan."
It's that moment when a seemingly normal family goes on reality TV, only to find the influx of fame and public attention turns everything upside down. And given down-and-out celebrities' penchant for using unscripted family series to goose their careers — like M.C. Hammer, Coolio and Kiss bassist Gene Simmons — the trend will likely escalate.
Tossed out as a bruising reference to the public travails of the Hogan/Bollea family after starring in VH1's Hogan Knows Best series years ago, the phrase took on new weight last week, when Brooke Hogan accused her mother of abusing drugs in a video interview and a representative for Linda Bollea responded with a scathing e-mail referencing Hogan's breast implants and her sexual partner.
Incidents in the Bolleas' divorce often explode across media, with Terry Bollea making regular stops on pal Bubba the Love Sponge Clem's morning radio show. Listeners to Clem's show call in to WHPT-FM 102.5 with stories about Linda Bollea's behavior in public.
During the new episode of Brooke Knows Best, Linda Bollea is shown talking by phone with Hill, and Brooke Hogan gets to know her dad's 30-something girlfriend, Jennifer McDaniel — echoing catty remarks already published in a host of gossip columns by saying, "She's older than me, but she looks like me."
"When you go through a divorce, it almost might be easier when the kids are little, because they don't know what's going on . . . they can't really pick sides," Linda Bollea says during the episode, insisting she thought Hill was 27 or 28 when they met.
"Reality shows exaggerate, intensify and exacerbate every problem you have," Patrick Wanis, a celebrity life coach who once worked with the Bolleas, told Rolling Stone magazine. "You begin to think 'I'm a god. I can do anything I want. I'm untouchable.' And then reality hits."
Producer and filmmaker Fenton Bailey (The Eyes of Tammy Faye, Tori and Dean: Home Sweet Hollywood) suggested that the fame may simply destabilize families already in trouble. "In a state of fame, it's tough to balance things," said Bailey. "If you're not famous, nobody has an opinion about you."
As the Hogans and Gosselins quickly discovered, TV fame also breeds a public appetite for personal details — like a door opened that can never close again.
"Kate Gosselin doesn't realize that the same people buying her books are buying those tabloids, because they want to suck up every bit of her life that they can," said Dehnart of RealityBlurred. "It's all part of one big circle that starts with the TV show."
Still, despite all the negative attention, a representative for Linda Bollea said she does not regret doing Hogan Knows Best and is contractually obligated to appear on Brooke Knows Best. (VH1 says Linda Bollea wanted to appear on the show and signed a contract to do so).
"She got to show her love for the family (and) it helped keep the family together," said Linda Bollea's spokesman, Gary Smith.
Even some people who know the pitfalls of unscripted series fame can't resist the siren call of the cameras.
"The one time I ever applied for an (unscripted) show was for ABC's The Mole in 2002, and the application had a clause which said, essentially, 'We can turn you into an unrecognizable character and use your name to represent that character for all time,' " Dehnart said.
"And I signed it," he added. "Because I wanted to be on the show."
Eric Deggans can be reached at (727) 893-8521 or [email protected] Read his blog, the Feed, at blogs.tampabay.com/media.