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Ellen Gray: Basking in the spotlight - and a case for privacy

I'M A CELEBRITY... GET ME OUT OF HERE. 8 tonight, Channel 10. JON AND KATE PLUS 8. 9 and 9:30 tonight, TLC.

TLC's 'Jon and Kate Plus 8' could be in hot water with the Pennsylvania Department of Labor.
TLC's 'Jon and Kate Plus 8' could be in hot water with the Pennsylvania Department of Labor.Read more

I'M A CELEBRITY... GET ME OUT OF HERE. 8 tonight, Channel 10.

JON AND KATE PLUS 8. 9 and 9:30 tonight, TLC.

UP NEXT: "I'm a Sextuplet . . . Get Me Out of Here."

OK, so that's not - yet - a TV show.

But shouldn't it be?

As NBC tonight prepares to relaunch a U.S. version of the British "reality" series "I'm a Celebrity . . . Get Me Out of Here" with a cast of people who, for one reason or another, are so unwilling to leave the spotlight that they'll go to the jungles of Costa Rica to prove it, there's a set of sextuplets and their older twin sisters living under near-constant surveillance out in central Pennsylvania.

And that's not counting the paparazzi - or "P-people," as their mother prefers they call them.

Tonight, TV viewers reportedly will see the kids make a cake for their mother's birthday with the help of a Food Network star - yep, that's "reality" - and watch as one child gets taken on a "relaxing trip to San Diego" with Mom as the other seven stay behind with Dad.

No one asked the main attractions of TLC's "Jon and Kate Plus 8" if they wanted to be "reality" TV stars.

No one asked if they wanted their potty-training accidents filmed, their birthday parties broadcast, their vacations recorded for someone other than Grandma.

Because this is America, and in America, parents get to decide if their minor children spend their young lives being trailed by TV cameras.

Sometimes even parents can't completely control the situation, as actor Charlie Sheen found when he tried to get a court to block his ex-wife from having their two young daughters participate in her E! "reality" show, "Denise Richards: It's Complicated."

She won, which means the kids lost.

On Friday, the Associated Press reported that the Pennsylvania Department of Labor was investigating a complaint that "Jon and Kate" might be in violation of child-labor laws.

It's a charge TLC is denying, but that might just mean that the laws regulating child labor in this state weren't really designed to deal with "reality" television.

What this country might need instead is a law governing a child's privacy.

Because sudden celebrity is a difficult enough thing for most adults to handle.

In the case of the Gosselins, the kids don't have to look any further than their parents to see that.

Nearly 10 million people tuned in last week to see this unhappy couple snipe at each other against the backdrop of the sextuplets' fifth birthday party. "Reality" television - and the money and freebies it brings - appears to have robbed them of more than it's given them.

It hasn't, so far, been much better for Scotland's Susan Boyle, who's traveled the road from adulation to vilification at record speed this spring.

Boyle, a 48-year-old woman with a glorious voice and a maybe not-so-glorious past - she's said to have been teased as a child for her learning difficulties - appeared to be crumbling under the pressure of her Internet-fueled celebrity even before this weekend's "Britain's Got Talent" finale.

One of the show's judges, Piers Morgan, who's been defending Boyle since reports first broke last week of a couple of alleged altercations involving her use of profanity, wrote on his blog Friday:

"To be involved in a show that is being watched, analyzed, commented on, and lambasted by people all over the world is a strange, slightly unsettling experience.

"And that's just for we judges, who are all very used to the media game after more than 75 years experience between us in the business.

"So God knows how poor Susan is feeling (and the rest of the final contestants for that matter, too).

"The level of attention they're getting is just unbelievable."

It is indeed.

And while there's no way of really protecting a grown woman from the nightmare that her dream appears to have unleashed, or even of preventing couples from subjecting their marriages to the well-documented strains of "reality" television, we do have laws to protect children from risks we consider reasonable for adults.

We don't let them drive, or drink or quit school to support their families.

And we shouldn't let anyone invade their privacy and sell their childhoods, either. *

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