Jon and Kate, Meet Sonny and Cher

By Jere Hester
|  Wednesday, Jun 24, 2009  |  Updated 11:21 PM EDT
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Famously Large Families: Duggars Welcome #19

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Sonny and Cher eventually moved on after their split. We may never be rid of Jon and Kate.

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Jon and Kate Gosselin, who carved a reality TV career out of having a big family, want to keep the show going, even as they head for divorce court.

Bad idea.

Look no further than the case of another TV couple who tried to make a go of it on the same screen after breaking up before fans’ eyes: Sonny and Cher.

There are major differences, of course: Sonny and Cher were actual entertainers, with some talent and considerable appeal. Jon and Kate have no known talent, and their appeal rests in watching them bicker as they raise cute kids. But the shtick, along with weeks of gossip-fueled hype, is apparently enough to make them stars – instantly identifiable by a pairing of first names – in the unreal world of reality TV.

For those too young to remember, “The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour” was a weekly collection of skits, music and guest star appearances that ran on CBS from 1971 to 1974, providing goofy but fun family entertainment. The show ended after they split, knocking fans for a loop even if the times weren’t all that innocent.

Sonny and Cher launched separate short-lived variety shows with middling success. In 1976, they reunited for the newly, if unimaginatively titled, “The Sonny and Cher Show," using the old formula. It didn’t work the second time around.

They went their separate ways and onto unlikely greater successes – Sonny eventually wound up in Congress and Cher won an Academy Award.

They were smart enough, though, to keep their image as a once-happy couple intact, most memorably appearing on “Late Night With David Letterman” in 1987 and singing their signature song, “I Got You Babe.”

Cher wept while giving the eulogy at Sonny’s funeral in 1998, recalling how he turned “an introverted 16-year-old girl and a scrawny Italian guy with a bad voice into the most beloved television couple of this generation.''

The "most beloved television couple" title will never be passed along to Jon and Kate, who are foolishly pressing on with their show, which is set to resume production in August.

As with any divorce, the No. 1 priority should be protecting the children – an especially difficult task when the family is on TV.

Sonny and Cher often would bring on their daughter Chastity at the end of their show. Nearly 40 years after the couple’s TV series debut, the very personal decision by Chastity Bono – who now goes by Chaz – to undergo a sex-change operation is gossip-page news.

The best thing Jon and Kate can do for their children is stay away from the TV cameras, work through their breakup behind closed doors and find new livelihoods. But that wouldn’t be in the interests of their bank accounts: the show reportedly nets the family up to $75,000 per episode.

So, unfortunately for Jon and Kate’s little ones, the beat goes on.

Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992.

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