I won’t sugar coat this: I watch a lot of TV.
Moreover, I take my TV pretty seriously. Which is why I can say that I am literally in pain watching the travesty that’s unfolding on one of television’s most beloved networks: TLC.
You know TLC. The Learning Channel! The lovable network that brought us fantastic documentaries, National Geographic specials, and great education-themed reality shows like Junkyard Wars. TLC used to be one of my “go-to” channels, meaning that I would often flip it on when I couldn’t find anything else worth watching on TV. It was always entertaining and interesting, and you really didn’t feel like you were ever wasting your time watching it, which is a tough thing to say about a television station (case in point: have you ever watched FOX and felt like you weren’t wasting your time?).
Then, something changed. I don’t know what exactly it was, but TLC programming started to shift in a different direction. I should have noticed it with shows like Trading Spaces and What Not To Wear; these weren’t the types of shows that I grew up watching on “The Learning Channel,” they were lame reality shows aimed at bringing in more casual viewers. I ignored it though. Maybe it was a case of selective viewing, I don’t know. Hell, I even watched Trading Spaces a few times.
Unfortunately, and unbeknownst to me, though, these shows were a harbinger of doom. Sometime in the mid 2000’s, somebody must have snuck into TLC’s office and replaced their programming schedule with a steaming pile of crap, because all of the gripping documentaries, educational content, and cool stuff like Robotica and Junkyard Wars was replaced with more and more lame reality series. They’ve even changed their network’s tagline, from “A Place For Learning Minds” to “Life Unscripted” to “Life Surprises.” To illustrate my point, let’s see what’s on this once proud network’s primetime schedule:
- Little People, Big World: One of two TLC programs about people with dwarfism (commonly referred to as “midgets,” though I won’t use that here). There is nothing else special about this family other than the fact that they are “little people.”
- The Little Family (formerly The Little Couple): Because one show about dwarfs isn’t enough.
- Kate Plus Eight (formerly Jon and Kate Plus Eight): A show about a woman with eight kids. More to the point, it’s about a woman with eight kids who is recently divorced from her husband due to (in my opinion) pressure from being on a TV series. Before the show, there was nothing special about them other than the fact that they had eight kids. Now, Jon is a national scumbag and Kate has turned her fame into a spot on Dancing With The Stars and an autobiography. Can you imagine when these kids grow up? They’ll be able to watch their parents’ marriage fall apart on a DVD boxset! You don’t think these kids are going to be screwed up because of this? A more apt title: “A woman who will sacrifice her kids’ well-being for fame and fortune Plus Eight.”
- Nineteen Kids and Counting: Because one show about a family with a bunch of kids isn’t enough. Seriously, we get it. It’s hard living with a ton of kids. Do we really need to destroy another family to prove this point? Didn’t we learn our lesson with Jon and Kate?
- Table for 12: Hell, let’s ruin a third family. Just for fun.
- Toddlers and Tiaras:
- TLC Executive: “Hey, I have an idea! Let’s make a show where we publicly humiliate unsuspecting mothers and embarrass their children for the rest of their lives!”
- TLC Executive 2: “Wait, don’t we already have Jon and Kate Plus Eight?”
- TLC Executive: “No, this one’s different! It’s about beauty pageants, it’s perfect! We’ll just pay the moms and let their kids be on TV. We’ll tell them that the whole world can see how beautiful their children are, when really we’re just showing everyone how nuts the moms are!”
(High fives all around, the TLC executives dive into their pool of money like Scrooge McDuck.)
- Cake Boss: A show about a guy who makes cakes! But wait for the kicker… He’s a hothead from Jersey! Laughs all around! Sadly, this is probably the most legitimate show on the network right now. At least they’re not exploiting people with real problems.
- World’s Tallest Children, Half Ton Mom, The World’s Fattest Man, Half Ton Dad, The Man With Half a Body: Here, they’re exploiting people with real problems. In there I count 3 specials about people who are morbidly obese. Listen, TLC, we get it. Fat people have problems. Serious ones. But do you need to prove this to us so much that you need three separate people to do it? You understand that tons of people just tune into these shows to make fun of the people on them, right?
The fact that shows like this exist makes me sick to my stomach. Hell, even shows like Entertainment Tonight kind of upset me; the fact that society is so interested in other people’s problems seems quite strange, sad and voyeuristic. Even so, I’ve certainly accepted that this has a place in today’s world, and simply choose to ignore it.
I never in my wildest dreams thought it would happen to TLC, though. As much as they try to stand behind the quality of their programming (“The people are just on our show to get help! Look, the fat guy is getting liposuction! It’s educational!”), it’s obvious that they’re trying to appeal to the lowest common denominator, which is sad when you realize that they used to be one of the few sanctuaries on television; a channel one could watch and not feel like they’re losing too many brain cells.
It’s disgusting. And the sad thing is, it’s working; TLC’s ratings are higher than ever, which means they’ll just keep churning out mounds of garbage season after season. At least change the name, TLC. The Learning Channel you are not.
I guess I’ll just shut my mouth.