TLC | Media Matters for America


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  • TLC: When Ratings Come At The Expense Of Vulnerable LGBT People

    Blog ››› ››› CARLOS MAZA

    TLC has created an arsenal of wildly successful reality television shows by sensationalizing the stories of unusual people.  But what happens when the network's search for ratings gold comes at the expense of vulnerable LGBT people?

    On January 11, TLC aired its controversial one-hour special, My Husband's Not Gay. The show followed the stories of four men who admit to being attracted to other men but choose - primarily for religious reasons - to pursue heterosexual relationships. LGBT groups like GLAAD called the show "downright irresponsible" for its promotion of the widely discredited idea that people can choose to not be gay. By the time the program aired, over 100,000 people had signed a petition calling for it to be cancelled.

    TLC dismissed criticism of the program, stating that the network "has long shared compelling stories about real people and different ways of life, without judgment."

    And it's not wrong. As The Atlantic's Emma Green notes, TLC has developed a reality TV line-up that revolves around sensationalizing unusual stories:

    Inevitably, this controversy will win the show more viewers. Because this is what TLC does: It finds people living atypical lives - usually ones in tension with "progressive" cultural norms - and turns them into spectacle... This approach to programming succeeds, wildly, because it's a pure distillation of the appeal of reality television: self-righteous voyeurism.

    The same can be said for TLC's obsession with the Duggar family - the extreme conservative stars of the network's wildly successful 19 Kids and Counting. The show's novelty comes from the Duggar's unusually "traditional" and religious values - especially with regards to sex.

    But what happens when the desire to highlight "different ways of life" ends up mainstreaming virulent anti-LGBT ideologies?

  • TLC's "My Husband's Not Gay" Stars A Prominent "Ex-Gay" Activist

    Blog ››› ››› CARLOS MAZA

    TLC denies claims that its newest show, "My Husband's Not Gay," helps promote the discredited notion that gay men can choose to be heterosexual. But one of the show's stars has a history of promoting "ex-gay" therapy, even acting as a spokesman for a major "ex-gay" organization.

    TLC's new show, which follows a group of men who admit to being attracted to other men but have chosen to date and marry women, has been widely criticized by members of the LGBT community for promoting the widely discredited practice of "ex-gay" or "reparative" therapy.

    GLAAD has condemned the program, calling it "downright irresponsible" and warning that it puts "countless young LGBT people in harm's way." Truth Wins Out, a group dedicated to stopping "ex-gay" therapy, has pointed out that many of the shows stars are closely affiliated with North Star, a fringe Mormon "ex-gay" group. So far, a petition calling for the show's cancellation has gathered nearly 100,000 signatures.

    TLC has thus far shrugged off the criticism.  "TLC has long shared compelling stories about real people and different ways of life, without judgment," the network said in a statement. "The individuals featured in this one-hour special reveal the decisions they have made, and speak only for themselves."

    But one of the stars of TLC's show - Preston "Pret" Dahlgren - has a history of speaking on behalf of "ex-gay" ministries, repeatedly using his testimony to promote organizations that promote reparative therapy.

  • The Duggars Just Made It Easier To Discriminate Against LGBT People. Will TLC React?

    Blog ››› ››› CARLOS MAZA

    The Duggar family - made famous by TLC's popular reality television show - just helped repeal an ordinance protecting LGBT people from discrimination. What responsibility does TLC have for the work being carried out by its reality TV superstars?

    Since the debut of their TLC reality show 19 Kids and Counting in 2008, the Duggar family has slowly evolved from a television novelty to a prominent icon in Republican politics. Their religious fervor, opposition to abortion, and emphasis on conservative "family values" have helped transform them into champions for social conservatives who now make frequent appearances on the campaign trail for GOP candidates. Many have noted the disturbing and ultra-conservative radicalism that lies beneath the Duggar's "family values" - namely the family's extreme views on women's and LGBT rights.

    But the Duggar family has maintained a largely symbolic role in right-wing politics - acting more as champions of a socially conservative ideal than as actual players in the fight against social progress.

    Until this week.

    On December 9, the city of Fayetteville, Arkansas, voted 52 to 48 percent to repeal its recently-enacted Ordinance 119, a measure that would have prohibited discrimination in housing, employment, and public accommodations on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, and several other categories. 

    National news outlets correctly credited the Duggar family for helping repeal the measure. Michelle Duggar, the matriarch of the Duggar family, recorded a robocall earlier this year urging voters to oppose the ordinance, falsely claiming that it would allow male sexual predators to enter women's restrooms. The family donated $10,000 to the campaigns of three vocal opponents of the ordinance. Josh Duggar, who is Executive Director of FRC Action - the political arm of the anti-gay hate group Family Research Council - used his position to urge voters to repeal of the ordinance.

    The margin for repeal was less than 500 votes. Given the amount of even local media coverage the Duggars' involvement received, it's not a stretch to suggest that the family played a significant role in helping repeal the ordinance.

  • Fox's Failed Attempt To Bash Clinton And Other Honey Boo Boos

    Blog ››› ››› MELODY JOHNSON

    Fox falsely claimed that as many people watched an episode of TLC's reality show Here Comes Honey Boo Boo as viewed former President Bill Clinton's September 5 Democratic Convention speech. In reality, more than 10 times as many people watched the Clinton speech.

    Fox, in their haste to make President Clinton look less influential than a former Toddlers and Tiaras contestant, got the story completely wrong. In fact, Clinton's convention speech drew 25.1 million viewers across the seven networks that carried his speech. By contrast, Honey Boo Boo drew 2.4 million viewers. Only if you compare Honey Boo Boo's ratings with Clinton's ratings among the 18-49 demographic on one cable news network, CNN, did the two tie each other.

    The total numbers for the evening as provided by Nielsen showed that not only did total coverage on all networks for Clinton far surpass the ratings for Honey Boo Boo as well as the ratings for Paul Ryan's speech from the same night of the week during the Republican National Convention, they also beat the ratings for the second half of the opening game in the NFL regular season.

    But you'd never know that at Fox. Fox & Friends co-host Gretchen Carlson declared that Honey Boo Boo "one-upped" Clinton and that the two "tied in viewers with 2.4 million." 

  • Sarah Palin's Alaska: A political TV show that really wants you to think it isn't political

    Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

    With Sarah Palin's Alaska set to premiere on TLC next week, the show's PR machine has kicked into overdrive in an attempt to convince viewers it isn't "political," an effort that is undermined by the fact that the show, you know, stars Sarah Palin. Oh, and the fact that its website features a "Politics Blog" edited by a Republican political operative. And the overtly political content doesn't help, either.

    The front page of the show's website sets the bizarre, hyper-defensive tone:

    NOT TAKING SIDES (POLITICS BLOG): The Not Taking Sides blog will contribute to the overall conversation around Sarah Palin's Alaska, through a non-partisan political lens. While the blog will not address political issues or promote positions, consistent with the show's non-political nature, it will do what it can to support the political discussion that already exists.

    Got that? The "politics blog" on the website for Sarah Palin's Alaska "will not address political issues," but will "support the political discussion that already exists." Do you have any idea what that means?

    If you head over to the "politics blog" for the show that isn't about politics, you'll quickly -- and frequently -- be reminded that this is one of those "politics blogs" that isn't about politics. All three posts currently on the page assert that the show isn't about politics -- including the post announcing that a digital strategist for the National Republican Senatorial Committee will serve as the site's "politics editor."

    What better way to show people that a politician's television show isn't about politics than to hire a political strategist to run a "politics blog" for the show?

    The show's "culture" blog offers another insistence that this isn't a political show. The "media" blog engages in some Palinesque media criticism and asserts "Sarah Palin's Alaska seems to be a pretty apolitical program." But Sarah Palin's Alaska is a television show (and web site) featuring Sarah Palin, and it has a "politics blog" run by a Republican political strategist, so it's more than a little absurd to keep insisting it doesn't have anything to do with politics.

    Now, I doubt Sarah Palin's Alaska will feature the former VP candidate holding forth on monetary policy, amusing as that might be. But Palin has indicated she's thinking about running for president, and carefully choreographed footage of rugged outdoor activity and loving families is a time-honored tactic of politicians trying to get elected to office. Basically, Sarah Palin got TLC to pay her $1 million an episode for the right to help her promote her brand, as Time's James Poniewozik explains:

    Is Sarah Palin's Alaska a political statement? Come on! It's just a little reality show. A little reality show about the former vice-presidential candidate raising her family and shooting guns and celebrating "hardworking Alaskans" and encountering fierce mama bears and exploring the rugged wonders and boundless adventure of the largest state in this, the greatest country on earth! Who could possibly see that as a political statement?

    [I]f Palin does have plans for 2012, one could well see this show, which often plays as if Reagan admaker Hal "Morning in America" Riney had gone into reality TV, as an attempt to broaden her appeal. If Palin's red-meat Fox News commentary is the sort of media you do to position yourself for a primary, then Sarah Palin's Alaska, full of folksy moments and free-range metaphors, is a general-election play.

    But Poniewozik also reveals that there's straightforward politics present in Sarah Palin's Alaska as well:

    Eventually, the Palins erect a 14-ft. privacy fence, which Palin, just as any other concerned parent would, analogizes to securing the U.S.-Mexico border. "I thought that was a good example, what we just did," she says. "Others could look at it and say, 'This is what we need to do to secure our nation's border.'"

    The idea that there's no political motivation behind Sarah Palin's Alaska is hopelessly naive. Or it would be, if anyone really believed it.

  • VIDEO: Palin greeted by local protester during taping of "reality" show

    Blog ››› ››› KARL FRISCH

    It seems Fox News contributor Sarah Palin was in Homer, Alaska for several days taping Sarah Palin's Alaska, her TLC "reality" show.

    In a moment of true "reality" the former half-term Governor of the state was greeted at the boat harbor by a 30' x 3' foot banner posted on the shop of a local businessman at the top of the boat ramp which read "Worst Governor Ever."

    As Shannyn Moore writes on Huffington Post, the large sign was made by Kathleen Gustafson "a teacher married to a local commercial fisherman" who felt Palin "had let the state down by becoming a dollar-chasing celebrity and ignoring the oath of office she'd sworn."

    Palin wound up approaching Gustafson to chat about the banner in a short exchange captured on camera:

    Moore continues:

    In what has become typical tragic irony, Sarah initially claimed to support Kathleen's First Amendment Rights. But as soon as Billy Sullivan walked toward the dock, one of Palin's entourage tore down the sign to great applause from her group.


  • Palin "reality" show to premier in November

    Blog ››› ››› KARL FRISCH

    No, not the reality show gossiped about by the tabloids that was purportedly shopped by Bristol Palin and Levi Johnston before their latest breakup

    It's the Sarah Palin's "reality" show I wrote back in March:

    Sarah Palin, the former half-term Governor of Alaska, has inked a deal with Discovery Communications' The Learning Channel (TLC) for her very own reality show - one that will apparently spotlight the natural wonders of her beautiful home state.

    Perhaps all of the irony is lost on Palin and the folks at TLC.

    I find it hilarious that Palin, who couldn't complete a full term as Alaska Governor, will be headlining a reality show produced by Mark Burnett, the creator of CBS's Survivor?

    The half-term Governor's show is set to premier in November. As Huffington Post notes:

    TLC President Eileen O'Neill told reporters at the annual Television Correspondents Association press tour that "Sarah Palin's Alaska," the TLC series that was announced in March, will debut on November 14 at 9 PM.

    So far, not much is known about the series, except that the initial run will last eight episodes and that it is being produced by Mark Burnett, creator of "Survivor" and "The Apprentice." The announcement of the series in March had created a stir, since TLC is owned by the Discovery Network, which is known for its nature shows, and Palin is no friend of the environmental movement.

    To say that the Fox News contributor is "no friend" of the environment is the helicopter-hunting understatement of the year. Her record on the issue speaks for itself.

    I should note that this "reality" show will likely be decidedly different from her Fox News appearances which are based in a world free of reality.

  • The Real Housewives of Wasilla, Alaska?

    Blog ››› ››› KARL FRISCH

    Sarah Palin, the former half-term Governor of Alaska, has inked a deal with Discovery Communications' The Learning Channel (TLC) for her very own reality show - one that will apparently spotlight the natural wonders of her beautiful home state.

    Perhaps all of the irony is lost on Palin and the folks at TLC.

    I find it hilarious that Palin, who couldn't complete a full term as Alaska Governor, will be headlining a reality show produced by Mark Burnett, the creator of CBS's Survivor?

    The entire concept is just as funny, perhaps unintentionally. Palin, a contributor for the climate science denying Fox News Channel, someone with an appalling record when it comes to nature and the environment in her own right... hosting a show like this? It's almost too much.

    What's next for TLC? A spin-off of NBC's The Marriage Ref hosted by Tiger Woods? Jon & Kate get back together in a touching reunion show live from a Tea Party protest?

    As for Palin, her record on the environment speaks for itself and it doesn't have much that's nice to say.