Surprise, surprise. Like the prodigal child, the Duggars are returning to TLC—and neither the family nor the network appears to be hanging their heads in shame.
It was revealed Thursday that two to three new specials focusing on Duggar sisters Jessa Seewald and Jill Dillard are in production for TLC, with the first expected to air by the end of this year.
Perversely, both were victims of their brother Josh’s teenage molestation, as were multiple other girls not related to the Duggars.
Yet, like a televangelist who continues to preach the Holy Bible while he’s indicted for fraud, TLC smugly breezed over the Duggar’s cover-up of son Josh’s molestation and incest history.
Instead, TLC Executive Vice President and General Manager Nancy Daniels framed the return of the Duggars as an act of benevolence, a long-craved gift to viewers, if you will.
“We know that our audience is really excited about what’s been going on with Jill and Jessa as they move into young adulthood. And now they’re both at the precipice of big changes. With what was happening in their lives in the next few months, it felt like now is the time,” Daniels told the Associated Press.
In July, the cable network pulled the plug on America’s favorite fecund family, two months after In Touch had exposed that eldest son, Josh Duggar, had molested his sisters and other young women as a teenager.
TLC canceled 19 Kids and Counting and partnered with two victims rights advocacy groups, RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network) and Darkness to Light.
The network released a statement at the time that it “has been especially concerned for the victims in this situation, including the Duggar family, and it is our hope that this effort will help those in need learn where to turn for information and help.”
As it turns out, that TLC’s break-up with the Duggars was about as fleeting and insubstantial as Ross and Rachel’s many splits on Friends. Deep down, we always knew they didn’t really mean it when they said they were calling it quits.
Yes, TLC is confident that two months without fresh footage of the Duggars’ wholesome madcap adventures—of course, omitting any references to their transphobic crusades—was just too much for the general public to bear.
When the Daily Beast reached out to TLC for comment on the new Duggar specials, a representative responded by email to confirm the AP story, but had nothing “additional to share” at this time.
TLC’s rep did not respond to specific questions about whether the Duggars specials would be in isolation or part of the return of a regular series.
Some of the headlines announcing TLC’s renewed embrace of the Duggars have pinned the blame, or at least the stain, of this blessed union on the family.
“The Duggars Are Rising From The Ashes And Crawling Back to TLC” Uproxx declared.
While the Duggars hardly come out of this new television deal smelling like a bouquet of roses, TLC is the one that has brokered this Faustian bargain.
It’s no secret that the Duggars have been clawing for donations, especially since their show—which reportedly netted the family $25,000-$40,000 an episode—was axed.
As Samantha Allen detailed a few month ago for the Daily Beast, Duggar kin have been passing around the collection plate, from making pleas for ostensible support for their evangelical missionary work in Central America to hawking t-shirts for their Duggar Studios YouTube Channel (which also used to have a donate button).
TLC made the mistake of keeping the Duggars on too long after the family’s abuse cover-up history was revealed.
In doing so, the network tacitly supported the family’s willingness to hide their son’s molestation while parading out the daughters that had been his victims.
TLC has the power of the purse strings, and—with these ‘specials’—it has decided to fuel the fame and fortune of the Duggar family.
It will also likely to benefit handsomely from the specials. The family’s show reportedly generated around $25 million in ads in $2015 alone, according to iSpot.tv ad metrics.
TLC has all the power to send the Duggars out to pasture, or put them back on in primetime. While all reality TV shows have varying elements of selling a fantasy or construction of real-life, to continue to glorify a family that has covered up molestation and forced the victims to pretend all was normal on national TV is a completely different low.
It glosses over the pain and horrors of sexual abuse, telling victims that they, too, can and should grin and bear it like the Duggar girls.
Not only that, TLC continuing to broadcast the Duggars is a tacit endorsement of their trumpeting of so-called family values and judging others, LGBT people included, while covering up abuse, adultery, and porn addiction.
Now, it seems out the network’s attempts to make amends with canceling 19 Kids and Counting—which came only after several sponsors pulled their advertisements during the timeslot—and airing a special on child abuse, which never directly referenced Josh Duggar, was a sham.
So why on earth TLC reheat the Duggars? This once-merely guilty pleasure is now actually toxic. We’d gladly take another spin-off of Say Yes to the Dress or more episodes of Sex Sent Me to the ER.
More time with the Duggars is far more cringe-inducing and disheartening than 30 minutes of television about accidentally setting a loved one’s genitals on fire with a cigarette lighter.