Perhaps no other network exemplifies the perils and profits of embracing reality-TV programming than TLC. Formerly known as The Learning Channel, TLC has, in recent years, gained huge audiences — and criticism — for reality shows, such as Here Comes Honey Boo Boo and 19 Kids and Counting.
But as TLC has been reeling from scandal, most notably the revelation that 19 Kids star Josh Duggar molested his sisters, which prompted advertisers to flee, the network is stressing a new message. “Our shows need to have an element of OMG, but have to deliver on the heart,” Nancy Daniels, general manager of the channel since 2013, told Fortune in a recent interview.
On Sunday evening, TLC is airing an hour-long, commercial-free documentary about child abuse, “Breaking the Silence.” “I think what became overwhelmingly clear to us is how prevalent [childhood sexual abuse] is, and how nobody talks about it, and how there’s an opportunity here to help educate people about this,” Daniels said. (Marjorie Kaplan, head of parent company Discovery Communications’ international content, made similar comments to the AP last month, saying she was “completely unaware” of how prevalent child abuse was until the Duggar scandal.)
TLC has been under fire for its handling of that scandal in part because it waited nearly two months before cancelling19 Kids, its most popular show with 3.2 million viewers. Whether the documentary will quell that criticism remains to be seen; it includes footage of two of Josh Duggar’s victims, his sister Jessa and Jill Duggar, attending a workshop on child sexual abuse.