TLC Aims For ‘Shark Week’-Like Franchise with ‘Mother of All Weeks’ Stunt (EXCLUSIVE)

TLC is looking to create its version of “Shark Week” with the launch of a heavily promoted themed week of programming and digital activity tied to Mother’s Day.

“The Mother of All Weeks” stunt running May 3-10 has been built around the May 5 two-hour episode of TLC stalwart “19 Kids and Counting.” The episode revolves around the birth of the first child of series star Jill Dillard, the second-oldest daughter of the expansive Duggar clan.

The idea for “Mother of All Weeks” was born about six months ago as TLC execs brainstormed ways to turn the Dillard birth into a bigger event for the Discovery Communications cabler. That led them to focus on packaging new and existing series and specials under a “Shark Week”-esque umbrella brand. Also during the week, TLC will launch the “TLCme” online destination that will encourage viewers to share stories of motherhood and engage with a range of targeted content.

The programs set for the week range from mom-focused episodes of “Long Island Medium,” “My Big Fat Fabulous Life” and “Kate Plus Eight” to two new “I Still Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant” specials featuring women who were surprised a second time to find a bun in the oven. And it will include two series launches: “The Willis Family,” a docu look at the touring adventures of the musical family that bows after the “19 Kids” special; and “What She Said,” a motherhood-centric comedy showcase premiering May 8. There will also be a sneak preview on May 9 of “Labor Games,” a quiz show that takes the “Cash Cab” formula to new heights by surprising couples in a hospital delivery room with the chance to win prizes for their baby-to-be.

“Mother of All Weeks” marks TLC’s first stab at an all-encompassing themed week stunt. Previously the cabler has done some themed promotion around the holidays and summer. But the plan for May is much more focused on grabbing viewers’ attention with a branding effort to turn the week into a can’t-miss event for fans of the various shows. To accomplish that, TLC g.m. Nancy Daniels said she knew there had to be some sizzle to the channel’s perspective on motherhood.

“My point of view was — moms come to watch us all the time. We can’t be a soft Hallmark card all week long,” Daniels said. “We still have to deliver on what they want when they come to TLC. But we can put these shows under one umbrella and really make this something big, and something that could be a yearly event like ‘Shark Week.’ “

A successful themed week would also allow TLC to command a premium for advertising during the frame. The cabler has lined up Johnson & Johnson and cheese maker Bel Kaukana as top sponsors for the “19 Kids” special. But as this is the maiden voyage for the “Mother of All Weeks” concept, TLC didn’t pitch it as a premium option. The hope is that success this year will translate into a strong advertising play for next year and beyond.

TLC’s on-air promotion will be largely focused on driving tune-in for individual shows, but the “Mother of All Weeks” logo will be ubiquitous on the cabler by the time May arrives. The campaign kicks off April 19 and includes custom spots featuring various TLC stars. There will also be a big on-air push for TLCme, driven by a sweepstakes contest offering a trip for two to New York City and a walk-on role in the Broadway musical “Mamma Mia!”

The most attention-getting new entry of the week is sure to be “Labor Games,” produced by Lighthearted Entertainment. Daniels said producers worked with doctors and nurses at a hospital in Pomona, Calif., to target couples who could roll with the surprise of having a female host and a small camera crew burst into the delivery room.

Daniels noted that she was a producer on “A Baby Story” back in the late 1990s when that docu series premiered on TLC. At the time, there were doubts that many couples would allow TLC cameras to chronicle their birth experience, but in fact they never had a shortage of participants, she said.

“I think the biggest issue for ‘Labor Games’ is going to be tone,” Daniels said. “The show needs to feel fun and kind of absurd but at the same time totally respectful of this couple, if they want us there. We’re having fun with a huge moment in their lives.”

Here’s a glimpse of “Labor Games.”

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