Following '19 Kids and Counting' Scandal, Is an Identity Crisis Looming at TLC?

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im Bob and Michelle sat for a family portrait in 2005 surrounded by the 16 biological children — 10 boys and six girls — they had at the time. Michelle gave birth to their youngest child, Josie Brooklyn, in December 2009, a little more than a year after their show first aired.

The Duggars scandal hits the network at a pivotal time, as demos are shifting and salacious programming is becoming the norm.

A version of this story first appeared in the June 19 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Ten seasons in, 19 Kids and Counting is the biggest thing going at TLC. Before the scandal, the series stood as one of the network’s few lingering originals that bore any resemblance to the less-exploitative family-fronted fare of the past.

TLC’s most watched (3.44 million viewers) and youngest-skewing (1.3 rating in adults 18-to-49) primetime show, 19 Kids has been invaluable to the Discovery-owned net’s atypical ratings consistency. As competitors A&E, History and USA continue to suffer damaging drops, TLC boasts rare stability for a top 20 cable net — not losing any audience in more than five years.


But 19 Kids’ potential exit comes at an uncertain time for the network. The composition of its audience is evolving. Viewership among men 18-to-49 has dropped 40 percent in five years, and the median age is skewing older.

At the same time, programming has shifted from home-improvement and family reality shows to far more salacious programming (see the special The Grandmother Lovers or the series My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding), making TLC an increasingly confusing sell for some advertisers.

"TLC has become very female," says Sam Armando of media-buying firm SMGx. "It’s changed a lot over the years, and now it’s another network that has to define itself."

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The Top Ten TLC Series of 2015 Among Adults 18-49*

1. 19 Kids and Counting — 1.3 rating
2. Sister Wives — 0.9 rating
3. Kate Plus 8 — 0.7 rating
4. My 600-Pound Life — 0.6 rating
5. My Big Fat Fabulous Life — 0.6 rating
6. Our Little Family — 0.6 rating
7. The Willis Family — 0.5 rating
8. Who Do you Think You Are? — 0.5 rating
9. Long Island Medium — 0.5 rating
10. Love, Lust or Run — 0.4 rating

*All ratings, per Nielsen Media, are latest live-plus-7 averages.

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