A version of this story first appeared in the June 5 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
TLC has found itself in a disturbing paradox. The Discovery-owned network has yanked one of its highest-rated series, 19 Kids and Counting, after castmember Josh Duggar admitted to molesting underage girls, including some of his sisters. It’s the second scandal to shrink TLC’s talent roster in the past seven months, following the October news of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo star June Shannon dating a convicted child molester, which prompted that series’ cancellation.
But even as public outrage over Duggar, 27, led TLC general manager Nancy Daniels to pull the series and advertisers such as General Mills and Payless ShoeSource to flee, 19 Kids, after 15 seasons, will be hard to part with officially. The series can still pull as many as 3.3 million to a telecast. And it’s one of the contributing factors to the network’s ongoing success.
19 Kids‘ ratings are currently stronger than Honey Boo Boo at its peak, though the working class docu-comedy was on the decline by the time TLC pulled the plug. Scandal has fueled the network before. The televised dissolution of Jon and Kate Gosselin shattered records back in 2009 when nearly 10 million viewers tuned in to Jon & Kate Plus 8.
With or without 19 Kids, TLC is still in good shape. As rival cable networks such as A&E, Lifetime and History are suffering double-digit ratings declines, TLC’s average primetime audience has been steady with more than 1 million viewers. So as long as the network’s fertile families, wedding-dress dilemmas and little people generate ratings in an era of steep declines across cable’s unscripted landscape, TLC will be incentivized to endure a scandal or two.