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Viewers’ sympathies swing from Jon to Kate

Eight adorable kids, one seemingly miserable mom, and one dad gone wild, “It might be a crazy life,” but as Jon and Kate Gosselin remind viewers before each episode of “Jon & Kate Plus 8,” it’s theirs. Until recently, that introductory info also included the vow, “we’re in it together,” but as anyone who’s picked up a tabloid in the last few months knows, things change. And peopl
/ Source: msnbc.com contributor

Eight adorable kids, one seemingly miserable mom, and one dad gone wild, “It might be a crazy life,” but as Jon and Kate Gosselin remind viewers before each episode of “Jon & Kate Plus 8,” it’s theirs.

Until recently, that introductory info also included the vow, “we’re in it together,” but as anyone who’s picked up a tabloid in the last few months knows, things change. And people change. And public opinion about certain people changes, too. Which is why fans, who for four seasons watched a controlling Kate scowl, grump and snap her way to a bad reputation, suddenly have some sympathy for the reality TV mom.

It's not that Kate’s really done too much to facilitate that. Perish the thought. Bare feet on hotel floors and hidden dust zones are presumably just as unforgivable as they ever were. But given the complete transformation of beleaguered-to-badly-behaved dad Jon, Kate seems almost likeable by comparison.

The rise and fall of Jon’s appeal

In the early days of “Jon & Kate Plus 8,” back when the family actually resided in a typical middle-class home rather than a sprawling 24-acre estate, the hangdog face of papa Jon inspired compassion from viewers. The man appeared to want nothing more than to have fun with his kids, tinker with their toys, and quietly exist for a few moments without being informed that he had just unknowingly committed some minor slight.

Unfortunately for Jon, Kate let him know about all his crimes, be they small-time offenses such as grammar gaffes, or biggies, like allowing one or even both sets of multiples to play in areas that could lead to grass stains. On rare occasion, the poor man stood up for himself, but it never helped. Kate made the rules, and if Jon wanted an easier life, he’d keep quiet and follow them.

The system worked, for a while. Jon minded his Ps and Qs and had more than his share of supporters, while viewers looking for a villain never had to search much further than the family kitchen for the woman multitasking her way through the latest batch  of “monkey munch.”

The Kate viewers loved to hate

The truth is, Kate earned her share of scorn and even the occasional label of mean mommy. When she wasn’t berating Jon or stressing out about some perceived household disaster, she found plenty of time to channel her out-of-nowhere anger at the littlest Gosselins. It took nothing more than a bit of wayward chewing gum to prompt threats of a teddy bear-less future for one tyke, and a dribble of melted ice cream was worth a round of panicked cries.

With her tender moments few and far between, Kate challenged any would-be admirer to give her a chance, especially with that mostly offense-free Jon by her side. Back when he was by her side, that is. Eventually Jon, or possibly Kate, depending on whom you ask, had enough of the same old imbalance of power and called it quits.

When the pair first announced divorce plans, they each had a choice. For Kate, that meant she could continue Type-Aing her way to a smaller fan base or turn over a new, slightly less offensive leaf. She managed to do a little bit of both.

As for Jon, he could maintain that wronged but lovable dad role most everyone rooted for or mix things up with an unexpected and premature midlife crisis. He, of course, went with option B and then some, being photographed in St. Tropez and the Hamptons with more than one woman.

And so the sympathies shifted

Where did Jon go wrong? Rumors of romances on the sly began before the couple separated, but once Jon saw a chance to split from Kate and the kids, he took it. Free to date whomever he wanted, whenever he wanted, Jon didn’t appear to care how much younger the woman was or how ill-advised the match seemed. And who said he had to limit himself to one gal pal at a time? Or, you know, even be discreet about it?

The cliché would normally be complete upon adding Jon’s sudden love of motorcycles, but no one could have foreseen his friendship with Lindsay Lohan’s notorious publicity-loving pop Michael Lohan. Talk about guilt by association.

That’s not just the recipe for a midlife crisis, it's the previously unknown formula for suddenly manufacturing loads of Kate fans. Compared to Jon, she may not be the mom with the most, but at least still looks like and acts a parent. And thankfully, the paparazzi have yet to catch her schmoozing with anyone in the Hamptons.

Still, Kate’s victory is a hollow one. She may win the parental popularity contest (for now), but the sad fact is, it’s not just about Jon and Kate.

There’s Team 8 to consider. Twins Mady and Cara and sextuplets Alexis, Hannah, Leah, Aaden, Collin and Joel are at the center of this mess with no say as to how it turns out or how much of it the rest of the world gets to witness. The sympathies may have shifted from their dad to their mom, but really, whatever sympathies viewers can muster should go to them.

Ree Hines is a frequent contributor to MSNBC.com.