Everybody knows that Jon & Kate Plus 8 opened its fifth season with monster numbers, proving yet again that lurid tabloid covers are the best publicity.

Since then, the Gosselins have put their notoriously rocky relationship on the shelf. Instead, the TLC reality show has devoted itself to plugging other TV programs.

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Subsequent episodes were built around a trip to the bakery set of TLC's Ace of Cakes, a cooking demonstration from Emeril Lagasse, and an extended visit from the boys of TLC's American Chopper.

That last one got me wondering just how big the Gosselins' new spread in Wernersville is. Kate was zooming up and down the driveway like Pinky Tuscadero on her souped-up moped, but no matter how far she went, we still couldn't see the gate. Did they buy the Ponderosa?

Apparently, viewers didn't have a big appetite for these glorified commercials. The audience has dropped 70 percent since the season debut.

Oops, time to dust off the marital discord. The channel has scheduled a special one-hour episode for Monday, running promos with Kate saying, "Recently, we've made some life-changing decisions - decisions that will affect every member of our family."

Can't wait. But I'm telling you now, if the big moment turns out to be Kate announcing that Kat Von D of the TLC series L.A. Ink is giving all the kids "I Love Mom" tattoos, that's it. I'm done.

Inane messaging. It's become standard for every show courting a younger audience to boast of interactivity, recruiting viewers to e-mail or text the program in real time.

MTV's new talk show, It's On With Alexa Chung, which rolled out this week, is the latest to employ this gimmick.

"Friend us, tweet us," the hostess urged. "We want to know what you're doing, what you're thinking, if you want to borrow five bucks."

Chung, a cheeky British import, seemed particularly pleased to be wielding that last bit of American colloquialism.

The vaunted online element resulted in a ticker of messages rolling across the bottom of the screen as Chung interviewed her guests, Jack Black and Michael Cera.

The punctuation-challenged observations included "It's On With Alexa Chung ha ha ha I love her" and "Jack Black is a rock and movie star."

What an invaluable addition! How did we ever watch TV without it?

Can I drive the truck? Denis Leary richly deserves to be nominated for an Emmy next month for his performance on Rescue Me. No one in prime time inhabits a character as much as he does Tommy Gavin.

That is, until he puts on all the fireman gear. Then he just looks like a kid playing dress-up in his father's clothes. A skinny kid with a very expensive haircut.

It's all relative. Actress Portia de Rossi, most recently seen on the ABC sitcom Better Off Ted, is reportedly shopping around a memoir in which she details her long battle with anorexia, claiming that at one point while appearing on Ally McBeal, she had dropped to 82 pounds.

Maybe no one noticed because she was standing next to Ally's stick-figure star, Calista Flockhart.

My next guest . . . Everybody wants to try their hand at being a talk-show host, from Chevy Chase to Whoopi Goldberg to Pat Sajak.

The latest underqualified aspirant is a certain Fox sports announcer who shall remain nameless. His Joe Buck Live rolled out this week on HBO. The debut was torpedoed by a nasty, foul-mouthed appearance by Howard Stern sidekick Artie Lange.

The raunchy tirade didn't bother me because much of Lange's invective was targeted at the Dallas Cowboys and because it totally sabotaged Buck, the only TV personality I find more insufferable than Kathie Lee Gifford.

At the top, noting the program's unusual quarterly format, Buck mused, "If this show stinks, I've got to chew on this for three months."

Start chewing, Joe.

Contact staff writer David Hiltbrand at 215-854-4552 or dhiltbrand@phillynews.com. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/ daveondemand.