How a network started by NASA went super low-brow and became one of our most influential social voices



Last month, TLC, the American cable network responsible for reality TV reflects such together Here come Honey Boo Boo, My 600-lb. Life and 19 Kids and also Counting, aired a brand-new hour-long fact special called My Husband’s not Gay, around a team of married Mormon guys who are very gay indeed. The show’s stars, four Utah husbands who case to love their heterosexual wives deeply, room openly and exclusively attractive to various other men. Lock are additionally heavily steeped in the belief of “ex-gay” conversion therapy, a contradiction lock reconcile by treating their homosexuality—which they’ve labeling “SSA,” or “same sex attraction”—as an affliction rather than one identity. (On the show, we check out the men frequently checking out other males in the visibility of your wives, who space under the impression that gayness is a negative habit like any type of other, easy enough to kick v a tiny willpower and familial support).

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Needless to say, My Husband’s not Gay has enraged a backlash from GLAAD (the Gay and Lesbian Alliance against Defamation) and other activist groups that controversy it perpetuates the myth the a human being can adjust his or her sexual orientation through ongoing restraint. If TLC is going come portray the stays of guys with connections to “ex-gay” ministries, says Carlos Maza, LGBT routine director because that the watchdog team Media Matters for America, the network should respond to that portrayal v “a hill of empirical evidence around how this type of therapy deserve to be really harmful.”

Yet regardless of hundreds of hundreds of online petition signatures demanding TLC eliminate the display from the air, it’s difficult to imagine just how My Husband’s not Gay is harmful to many people other 보다 its own deluded subjects. The present is, like almost everything top top TLC, vapid and also sensational. But it additionally works together a surprisingly reliable warning about the miseries the befall those who aren’t true to themselves. ~ all, regardless of their consistent proclamations the they are indeed really happy, none of the men on the show, or their wives, show up to it is in anything other than profoundly unfulfilled and confused. There is a palpable pain in the characters’ eyes—most most likely the result of (by their own admission) years of awkward, passionless sex.

In fact, yes sir a type of anthropological value in city hall My Husband’s not Gay, argues Think progress writer Zack Ford: it uses a rarely glimpse into the stays of human being trying to negotiate sex roles and also romance in ultimately impossible relationships. “The spotlight of fact television have the right to be really bright,” write Ford, “and in this particular case, the negative arguably outshines any of the harmful surface-level messages.” In various other words, 5 minutes with TLC’s ex-gays in their very own habitat, unguarded, is proof enough that there room no “ex-gays” in this world: only struggling humans lying come themselves and to their partners. Which can mean the TLC has, with this show, unwittingly fulfilled its oldest mandate: to education the public.

Education might not it is in the first thing (or also the last) that pertains to mind as soon as one thinks of TLC—The discovering Channel—but the network us associate through the wildly exploitative (Toddlers in Tiaras) and the madness unobservant (I Didn’t recognize I was Pregnant) was, in its early days, an ext likely to boost a viewer’s IQ 보다 to diminish it. Initially titled the Appalachian Community service Network, TLC was created in 1972 by the United claims Department the Health, Education, and Welfare, and—believe it or not—NASA. That is mandate to be strictly educational: it had actually a roster the cerebral science, wildlife, and medical shows. Even when the network was privatized in 1980 (at which suggest it became known together The finding out Channel), this convention no change.

In fact, one of the network’s highest-rated programs to be Captain’s Log v Captain note Gray, a show around boating safety, i beg your pardon ran native 1987 to 1990. That is premise was the antithesis of modern-day TLC: mark Gray, a preternaturally polite sea captain, interviewed other boating enthusiasts about conducting oneself for sure on the water. Now in his mid-sixties, Gray says he filmed Captain’s Log while living on his an individual boat in Ventura, Calif. That remembers the TLC the the ’80s as having “a small-town feeling to it. Whatever we did was educational,” the says.

Once among the network’s most acquainted faces, Gray doesn’t clock TLC today (nor walk his 10-year-old, who is strictly forbidden from doing so). “It offered to be The discovering Channel,” the says. “Now castle might as well call that the National Enquirer channel. It’s heartbreaking.”



That transformation can it is in tracked come the early on 1990s, when the discovery Channel, lengthy seen together a rival, purchased TLC and readjusted its modus operandi. Slowly but surely, TLC’s roster that TV reflects shifted to entice a broader viewership. Shows about home décor, genuine estate and fashion began to outnumber the drier educational content of Gray’s day—until the 2000s, when human-interest programming favor A infant Story and Jon and also Kate add to 8 began come dominate.

Finally, in 2014, TLC rebranded, changing its main slogan to “Everybody needs a little TLC.” The new slogan, basic manager Nancy Daniels stated in a press statement last year, offers viewers “a opportunity to meet their fascination through the unknown and understand the larger world approximately them.” (No one indigenous TLC nor exploration Channel i agree to be interviewed because that this story).

Instead of comprehensive explorations that science and also nature, in various other words, TLC now provides you in-depth explorations of human beings. When a dull, fact-laden network, it has actually morphed into a modern-day freak show: an enormously lucrative one with ratings high enough to turn everyday eccentrics into global superstars. Emma Ashton, writer of the well-known Australian reality TV blog Reality Ravings, is a fan. “When I’m emotion voyeuristic I desire to view someone whose family members and cultural life completely different from mine own,” she says. “Shows favor the Duggars <19 Kids and Counting>, Breaking Amish, and Sister Wives are like modern soap operas.”

TLC’s brand-new mandate, zeroing in on human being who room either cursed with unfortunate circumstances or make terrible life choices, has led to part unique and also disturbing crises for the network. Critical year, news damaged alleging the Mama June, the mommy of TLC’s most famous beauty pageant contestant, Alana “Honey Boo Boo” Thompson, had started dating her ex-boyfriend—a guy who offered 10 year in prison for molesting one of her daughters. TLC cancelled Here comes Honey Boo Boo when the allegations surfaced (although it must be provided that the show was additionally suffering in the ratings in ~ the time).

By the very same token, states Carlos Maza, 19 Kids and Counting—one that the network’s most successful shows, around the Duggars, a hyper-religious Christian family—isn’t harmless funny either. TLC “has contributed to the mainstreaming that this family that ascribes to a an extremely fringe ideology, and thanks mostly in part to their truth TV fame, castle have come to be a conservative political powerhouse,” the says.


David Welker/AP

Maza is referring particularly to the Duggar matriarch, Michelle, that draws lineups in ~ Conservative Political activity Conference events and also last summer battled the passage of an Arkansas invoice that would certainly prohibit distinguish by landlords and businesses ~ above grounds of sex-related orientation and also gender identity. She even recorded her own robocall, urging occupants to vote versus the bill due to the fact that it would allow “males with predator convictions” to impersonate women and also enter women’s bathrooms. After ~ the bill passed, she lobbied for months to have it repealed, increasing thousands the dollars and collecting hundreds of thousands that petition signatures. In December, it was. She’s not the only Duggar into politics: many of the kids are energetic in anti-abortion campaigns, and the totality family wore anti-abortion T-shirts in one episode (though TLC blurred the end the slogan).

TLC is emerging as an prominent political force, whether it wants to or not. However it is likewise quite probably the most diverse network ~ above TV today. Camille Paglia, the dissident literary critic, called Maclean’s last year she listens to American sports radio because “it is the only ar in the world where you deserve to hear working-class voices.” In the exact same vein, TLC may be among the only areas on tendency TV one can hear working-class voices, religious voices, and also rural voices. “ Sister Wives made me an ext open-minded about the Mormon way of life,” says Emma Ashton.

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As lengthy as the ratings come in, it will surely proceed to be. Discovery, the parent firm largely responsible for TLC’s outlandish evolution, has actually made plans freshly to clean increase its very own act. Criticized for developing “docufiction” about mermaids and imaginary “monster sharks,” discovery last month announced plans to change its tone next year. CEO rich Ross said the kind of sensational pseudo-science the channel has developed a call for has actually “run its course.” exploration plans come pursue an ext traditional, fact-based programming next year. TLC’s penchant for the unusual, meanwhile, looks like it is right here to stay. The nerdy, respectable parental whose trashy daughter is tarted up to entice maximum attention—it can be the plot the a highly addictive TLC show.