Discovery Communications’ TLC will cancel the controversial “19 Kids and Counting,” the popular program about the large Duggar clan that became a hot potato for the network once a member of the family disclosed he had sexually molested teenage girls — including two of his sisters — several years ago.
TLC will not produce any more episodes of the series, according to a person familiar with the situation, which has been off the air since mid-May. The network intends to air a commercial-free one-hour special on child abuse in the fall, and has consulted with advocacy organizations like the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network in the production of the show. The special program will feature the Duggar daughters who have acknowledged being victimized by their brother, this person said.
“We are pleased to be partnering with TLC to fight child sexual abuse, and appreciate its efforts to spur a national dialogue about this issue,” RAINN said in a prepared statement. “Child sexual abuse affects millions of families across the nation, and we all have a responsibility to work together to end it.”
Discovery Communications tried to work methodically once Josh Duggar, the oldest child in the devout Baptist family and one of the central figures in the show, admitted recently to molesting girls 12 years ago. “19 Kids” has since 2008 chronicled life in the family of Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar and their 19 children, all of whom have names that start with the letter ‘J.’ Discovery worked with the family, which wanted to have time to tell its own account of events to the public, this person said. The Duggars eventually gave an interview to Megyn Kelly of Fox News Channel.
While TLC will no longer produce “19 Kids,” the network is open to the idea of launching a new program that could focus on some of the Duggar daughters and their families, this person said.
The show is the latest in a string of controversial programs to surface on TLC. In 2014, TLC had to grapple with reports that June Shannon, one of the central figures in the popular reality series “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo,” was dating a man convicted of child molestation. The program was taken off the air.
In 2011, TLC launched “All-American Muslim,” a reality program that followed Muslim families in Dearborn, Mich. Lowe’s, the large home-improvement retailer, pulled its support of the show within weeks, after being contacted by an advocacy group known as the Florida Family Association. TLC did not cancel the first season of the show but declined to produce another, citing low ratings.
Discovery had little choice in the current matter. Once the molestation details began to surface, advertiser support for the program immediately wavered. General Mills, Choice Hotels Intl. and Payless Shoe Source all indicated they were working to keep their ads separate from “19,” even though none of the advertisers said they were puling ads from TLC or Discovery in general.
The controversy broke just weeks after Discovery Communications executives made it seem as if they wanted to tweak TLC’s image as a breeding ground for reality programming that sheds a light on dysfunctional people and families.
“We throw our arms open to everyone, without judgment,” said Marjorie Kaplan, a group president at Discovery who oversees TLC, during a recent presentation on Discovery’s new programming to the media. She professed a desire to dial back the network’s sensational elements and play up a feeling of inclusiveness, likening the outlet to “a big warm hug.”
While TLC may no longer give a TV platform to all the Duggars, it is continuing to burnish programming with a strong faith-based elements. “Answered Prayers,” a program hosted by actress and producer Roma Downey, will explore modern-day miracles and people who profess to have experienced divine intervention after finding themselves placed in life-threatening situations. The series, which is also produced by Mark Burnett, Downey’s husband, is slated to debut later this month.