TLC got Duggared?

Deuteronomy

I’m wondering why anyone was particularly surprised by the revelation that one of the male members of the Clan Duggar molested his sisters and a babysitter.  Information about the Quiverfull Cult has been easily available since at least 2009, and as Newsweek described it the cult is a ready-made environment for the abuse of women and female children.

“At the heart of this reality-show depiction of “extreme motherhood” is a growing conservative Christian emphasis on the importance of women submitting to their husbands and fathers, an antifeminist backlash that holds that gender equality is contrary to God’s law and that women’s highest calling is as wives and “prolific” mothers.” [Newsweek]

What follows is a loose network of extreme fundamentalists who value the creation of sons (daughters are just the potential mothers thereof), offer much militaristic palaver, and espouse the ultimate political message: If we can’t defeat our opponents now, then we can simply overwhelm them with our progeny later.  In this milieu family planning and gender equity must be eradicated to prevent the further “destruction” of society.  The desired result is a patriarchy in which godly women are submissive wives and mothers.  In short, it’s back to the Bronze Age.

Network “Difficulties”

TLC, which has devolved from an educational cable channel into a sideshow, decided airing a program about an extremely large family would attract viewers – an audience perhaps analogous to those who show up to view train wrecks – and it did, garnering some $25 million in ad revenue, a tidy profit since the network is paying the family approximately $40,000 per episode. [EW]  What happens to the show, (1) it continues; (2) it changes focus to a new family, or (3) it’s dropped may, well depend on whether TLC can find sponsors after Walgreen’s, Payless, General Mills, and Ace Hardware headed for the exits.

I’d feel some compassion for the network, but … first, this is what can happen when the felt need to provide content which appeals to the lowest common denominator overcomes the discussion about providing quality content.  The Network was “deeply saddened” to have to yank its re-runs in the wake of the Duggar Scandal, perhaps because it was drawing about 1 million viewers per nightly episode. [THR]  Just for a little perspective,  Game 1 of the NBA finals grabbed  14.37 million viewers. [TVBN]  Perhaps TLC should have learned a short lesson when A&E dropped the prime character in Duck Dynasty after his egregious commentary, after the Food Network had similar problems with Paula Deen, and especially after the network itself got entangled in the Honey Boo Boo fest; a lesson that when you are dealing with extremists don’t be surprised when they behave that way.

Secondly, the network might have known it was treading in dangerous terrain when some of the other prime characters in the Patriarchal Posse were also exposed  experiencing moral meltdowns.

In November 2013 the leader of Vision Forum Ministries confessed to an illicit affair, and the organization closed up shop. This was the anti-contraceptive advocacy group which gave Michelle Duggar that “mother of the year award.”  VFM wasn’t the only part of the Patriarchal Posse experiencing problems – we should add the conservative Institute in Basic Life Principles to the roster.

The IBLP, from whom the Duggars sought guidance, was “shocked” when leader Bill Gothard found himself facing allegations of “sexual abuse from dozens of women associated with his organization.” [Wire] All this might lead a person to wonder: Didn’t anyone learn anything from the sad saga of Jim and Tammy Fay Baker?

A network shouldn’t have to wait for a summation like the following before getting a clue that some programming might not be appropriate for prime time viewing;

“The “pitch” of Biblical patriarchy, as epitomized by Michelle Duggar, is that women will be coddled and worshipped in exchange for giving up their ambitions and the autonomy to practice an extreme form of female submission. The unpleasant truth is that a culture that teaches that women are put on Earth for no other purpose but to serve men is not going to breed respect for women. Instead, these incidents show a world where men believe they can do whatever they want to women without repercussions. Is it any surprise that a subculture that promises absolute control over women will attract men who want to dominate and hurt women? Don’t believe the TLC hype. Biblical patriarchy is a sour, dangerous world for women, and luckily, that reality is finally being outed.” [TDB]

A commercial enterprise

CNN once explored what components tended to create a television program with lasting popularity.  Its review indicated the following: “Culture watchers say a constellation of factors make a TV program last: great writers, producers and actors; a good concept; room to grow with a strong ensemble cast offering multiple story lines; a desirable time slot; audience comfort; loyal network support; and the public’s fickle taste — the wild card.” 

This is all well and good, but doesn’t address one of the primary considerations in television  – the cost.  Not-Quite-Reality Shows are relatively cheap to produce, ranging from $100,000 to $500,000 per episode.  In comparison, at its peak ER was costing approximately $13 million per episode,  Friends cost about $10 million per program, and Deadwood cost about $4.5 million per episode. [Marketplace]  In short, hiring quality writers, producers, and developing an ensemble cast presenting multiple story lines isn’t anything close to cheap.  And, the bottom line is still the bottom line:

“TLC was even rebranded with “Life Unscripted” as its slogan in the mid-’90s, “Live and Learn” in the mid-2000s and “Life Surprises” in the late-2000s. Since undergoing this rebranding, the channel has shaken its poor ratings and has become one of the primary sources for reality shows. Undoubtedly, the success of shows like “Jon & Kate Plus 8” contributed to the recent surge in market price for TLC’s parent company, Discovery, in 2008-2009.” [Investopedia]

This is the point at which “audience comfort” clashes with “corporate earnings.”  The television audience wants to feel positively about the characters – real, cartoon, ‘reality,’ or actors – in their homes. Portrayals on the screen should be enough ‘like us’ to be sympathetic (or an obvious villain) but not so much ‘like us’ that they are as un-dramatic as our quotidian existences.  We still require the old standard elements — focus, tension, timing, rhythm, contrast, mood, space, language, sound, symbolism, conflict, climax, and resolution, in order to label a show as one of genuine quality.  This can get expensive.

When there is a plethora of small networks clamoring for our attention there may also be a temptation to broadcast the most contrasting, most dramatic, and most conflicted – i.e. most titillating  fare.  The marketplace enters the formula when the cost of production, the expense of broadcasting, and the willingness of advertisers to purchase air time are all taken into consideration.  We should also attend to the financial elements like syndication, after-run DVD sales, and other revenue factors.  However, we will still ultimately receive what the advertisers are willing to pay for.

When, for example, advertisers are unwilling to associate their brand with “a sour, dangerous world for women” then shows such as the Duggar’s will be terminated.

In the mean time, does Josh Duggar owe someone many shekels?

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