TLC is taking its time trying to come up with a response to the firestorm surrounding the Duggar family, stars of 19 Kids and Counting. According to People magazine, the network is considering a spin-off, 2 Brides and Their Grooms, that would focus on the younger, married Duggars.
“The show had begun to focus more and more on the next generation of Duggars, anyway – mainly Jill and Jessa and their marriages and babies,” a source tells People. “That’s when the show got its highest ratings.”
It was only in October when TLC was trying to get a handle on the controversy surrounding Here Comes Honey Boo Boo. At that time, the network wasted zero minutes canceling the show. We suspected that the swift action had something to do with the show’s slip in the ratings.
In the case of 19 Kids, perhaps the solution isn’t so clear cut from a ratings point of view. “The one-hour season premiere was the No. 1 ranked cable program in prime time with women and the series’s highest-rated season premiere ever,” People reported in February. But it should be even more clear cut from a reputation point of view.
The admission from Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar that their oldest son Josh molested a number of underage girls and further suspicions that Jim Bob took steps to hide the extent of the abuse and get it swept under the rug is serious. In addition to the gravity of the offense, the family has built its following on the idea of being wholesome. TLC has pulled the show from its lineup, though it’s still on its website as though it’s on hiatus. Advertisers are jumping ship to keep from being tied to the scandal. Many Republican politicians who were once proud to share the stage with the family are now keeping a distance. (Presidential candidates Mike Huckabee who supported the family and Rick Santorum, who told GMA this morning he’s “sickened” by it, are two of a few who have publicly said anything.)
The Duggars have become a powerful conservative force, but TLC must be mindful of its own brand and how it manages that going forward. The business of TLC is television programming. Keeping viewers and building a following is a large part of its mission. To that end, dilly dallying on what to do next is not in the network’s best interest. There is no question here that something terrible and (had the statute of limitations not run out) criminal happened. Just as “supporting the health and welfare” of those involved in the Honey Boo Boo case was important to them, it should be important here.
Most of the focus so far has been on the Duggar family. But The Daily Beast is already setting its sights on “the worst aspects of reality television” represented by TLC and A&E (with its Duck Dynasty debacle). “The approach by TLC and A&E has been to ignore these many red flags, distracting viewers from unpleasant truths about the stars that don’t fit in their shows’ folksy narrative, and hope to attract as many unaware viewers as possible before the bottom falls out—and as we’ve seen, it inevitably always does,” Adweek has written. This is a formula that won’t work any longer for the network. TLC can’t feign ignorance and then drag their feet hoping viewers will forgive, forget and move on.