By Frazier Moore
NEW YORK — Jenny and Bryan Masche bring something welcome right now to TV’s genre of extreme parenthood: their absence of theatrics.
An attractive young couple with 2-year-old sextuplets, they star in “Raising Sextuplets,” a six-episode series premiering on cable’s WE tv at 10 p.m. Thursday — which happens to be the youngsters’ second birthday.
There are three sons and three daughters in the bulging Masche household in Lake Havasu City (an Arizona community perhaps best known until now as the home of the relocated London Bridge).
Bryan is a pharmaceutical salesman studying at night for a master’s degree. Jenny manages to fit the occasional marathon into her busy schedule, as well as shifts in the ER as a physician’s assistant.
For the Masche family, money and space are tight, sleep is at a premium, and offspring are abundant. It’s fun to watch and, to one extent or another, relatable (as in the first episode, when Bryan, who added 30 pounds of his own during Jenny’s pregnancy, submits to a weight-loss program).
A four-person crew has been filming the Masches for the new series since the kids were just a few months old. (It follows up on “OMG! Sextuplets!” — a documentary on Jenny’s challenging pregnancy that premiered a year ago, and re-airs at 9 p.m. Thursday.)
“It ended up being a lot of fun,” says Jenny by phone, with her husband and their kids in proximity. “Around five days of each month, when the crew was around, we got a little break from the routine, we got to have some friends around —”
“— and a few extra hands,” added Bryan gratefully.
Since the Masches admitted cameras into their world, other series about multiples have flourished: TLC introduced “18 Kids and Counting” and “Table for 12.”
And in the past couple of years, “Jon & Kate Plus 8” has swollen into a huge hit for TLC, then, in recent weeks, burst into a tabloid spectacle. Viewers by the millions are hooked on Jon and Kate Gosselin, not just as the parents of twins and sextuplets, but also as scandal- ridden stars in a crumbling marriage.
Meanwhile, suspicions have been raised that the Gosselin kids are being exploited by the TV production. Recently, Pennsylvania’s Labor Department said it was investigating whether the series is complying with child labor laws. (In response, TLC said it “fully complies” with state laws and regulations.)
All this means “Jon & Kate” is loaded with drama — maybe too much to sustain a reality series, or a marriage.
The shock waves from it have given Jenny and Bryan much to think about as their own series’ premiere approaches.
“At first, the Jon-and-Kate stuff made me scared,” Jenny acknowledges. “I was thinking, ‘Omigosh, why are we doing this?’ But then I started thinking, and praying, and I realized that so far, it’s been a real blessing for us.”
She says during her pregnancy, she had gotten phone advice from Kate (whose sextuplets just turned 5). She calls the harsh publicity and marital discord plaguing the Gosselins “sad and heartbreaking.”
“We need to not only learn from others’ mistakes but have some boundaries put in place and pray for wisdom that we can stay strong and united,” says Jenny, who wed Bryan in 2004. “We really have to focus on our marriage — because it’s hard.”
WE tv President Kim Martin says “Raising Sextuplets” is different from its by-now-notorious predecessor because, quite simply, the Masches are a different family.
“Jenny and Bryan are grounded,” Martin says. “They are nice people raising six kids in a really healthy environment.” And they draw on a community of friends and extended family, she adds.
Whether or not the series continues for a second season, the Masches’ support system has been assigned to give them regular reality checks, says Jenny, to help insure TV exposure doesn’t lead the family astray.
“We don’t pretend to be high-and-mighty,” says Bryan, whose wife agrees: “We told everyone around us, ‘If you EVER see us going in a certain direction that isn’t right, hit us! Put us in our place!”’