Why 'Honey Boo Boo's' Ratings Are No Cause for Alarm (Yet)

Here Comes Honey Boo Boo with choreographer - H 2012

Here Comes Honey Boo Boo with choreographer - H 2012

After TLC's Here Comes Honey Boo Boo pulled its highest ever ratings this past Wednesday, the network touted the news with a release labeling the Thompsons, the series' controversial subjects, as "America's favorite family."

The 2.3 million viewers tuning into the 10 p.m. broadcast don't justify that title just yet, but it's probably a little disconcerting to those in the near-universal chorus branding it as exploitation -- people like The Hollywood Reporter's own TV critic Tim Goodman, who, among other things, calls it "awful and soul-crushing."

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And while Honey Boo Boo's ratings and growth are certainly something to brag about for TLC, are they enough to give the series cultural phenomenon status after less than a month on the air? Not yet. Honey Boo Boo is still nowhere near TLC's 2009 train wreck TV payday. 9.8 million viewers once tuned in to watch Jon and Kate Gosselin's marriage unravel after four comparatively benign seasons of Jon and Kate Plus 8.

Sarah Palin's Alaska, an admittedly different kind of basic cable lightening rod, debuted in 2010 to an audience of 5 million on TLC. The one-off season bottomed out at around 2.5 million viewers, a brag-worthy showing by the network's standards.

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But Honey Boo Boo's numbers, whether or not they maintain their momentum over the next three episodes, do seem to guarantee a renewal. It's already outpacing parent series and TLC's previous critical black sheep Toddlers & Tiaras by more than 1 million viewers.

The network has already given a nod to Honey Boo Boo producers Authentic Entertainment by ordering a similarly themed unscripted series about child cheerleaders.