Reality TV is not known for its nuanced or complex contribution to the tradition of storytelling—far and away, viewers tune into these so-called “reality” shows for the over-the-top and perhaps staged theatrics. But surely something on “The Learning Channel” would be more true to form, right? Wrong! TLC focused on educational and learning content early on when they were being run by the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare as well as NASA, but the network was privatized in 1980. The Learning Channel shifted hands several times before landing in the purview of the Discovery Channel.
By the late ‘90s, the channel had wandered far from educational entertainment and became advertised as simply “TLC” since “learning” was no longer on the schedule. That’s right, TLC has come a long, long way from the days when they were known for educational programming about science, and technology, history, and current events as a practical answer to PBS. With shows like Amish Mafia, Toddlers and Tiaras, and Sister Wives, scandals can't be too far behind... but just how far do those scandals go? From messy divorces to violence against animals and a litany of court cases, here are the Scandals That TLC Wants You to Forget About!
15 Little People, Big World — Divorce
<>Little People, Big World premiered on TLC as a heartwarming family reality show with a mission to de-stigmatize dwarfism to the American public. The program starred Matt and Amy Roloff, both of whom have dwarfism, as well as their kids (one with dwarfism, the rest regular height). Little People, Big World has been wracked with scandals over the years.
It’s hard to believe that lovable Matt would drive drunk, but the family patriarch got a DUI in 2007 for driving under the influence. Then, in 2014, Matt and Amy announced their separation after 26 years of marriage. It seems that the decision was not mutual, spurred on by Matt, and the couple filed for divorce in 2015. Soon after Matt began dating a close family friend and employee, Caryn Chandler, leaving Amy devastated.
14 Little People, Big World — problems with the kids
As for the kids, Jacob Roloff spent some time somewhat estranged from the family, claiming that his parents stole his child star earnings and scripted scenes in the series. Though they have since reconciled, Jacob details that period of his life in his new book, Verbing.
Son Jeremy and his wife Audrey have spoken out condemning gay marriage on their family blog, saying that same-sex marriage is something that they do not agree with. Meanwhile, Jeremy’s twin Zach has been battling debilitating headaches and nausea for months. While he doesn’t want to worry his wife after she recently gave birth to their son Jackson, Zach has stated that his symptoms are so bad that he feel like he is “on his deathbed.” His mother Amy, has concerns that it could be related to a shunt implanted in Zach’s head as a baby: “If the shunt fails, it can be life-threatening.”
13 Sister Wives — catfishing scandal threatens Meri and Kody’s marriage
Sister Wives is a TLC show all about life in a polygamist marriage. The premise alone is a scandalous one, but the goings-on of Kody Brown and his various wives have been relatively wholesome over their years on the air. The first “scandal” came about when Kody fell in love with another woman, Robyn. In a polygamist situation, this isn’t so much of a scandal, but Kody’s decision to divorce his first wife Meri in order to legally marry Robyn instead got some raised eyebrows. This legal divorce (though Meri and Kody remain “spiritually” married) led Meri into the arms of an online catfish going by the name of “Sam Cooper.”
For six months in 2016, Meri messaged someone who she believed to be a 40-something business tycoon who was secretly a woman named Jackie Overton. When the ruse was exposed, Mari and Kody had a much-needed candid conversation about the state of their relationship.
12 The Willis Family — patriarch jailed
The Willis Family first made their debut on Season 9 of America’s Got Talent — the family band made up of 12 brothers and sisters and their parents, Toby and Brenda Willis, singing Christian Appalachian-style music and wowing the nation with their unique sound as The Willis Clan. The modern-day Von Trapp Family got a reality show in 2015 to document the family recording an album, balancing their lives together in Tennessee and touring across the country. This idyllic illusion was shattered after only two seasons when the family patriarch, Toby Willis, was convicted of four counts of sexual assault against children in March of 2017.
According to court papers obtained from the Circuit Court For Cheatham County, Willis pled guilty to the charges and was sentenced to two 25-year sentences as well as two 40-year sentences, to be served concurrently for a total of 40 years.
11 Jon & Kate Plus 8 — divorce and ensuing legal battles
Where to even start with Jon & Kate Plus 8? While the TLC show started out as a way to document navigating life amid the adorable antics of a household of eight children, the disintegration of Jon and Kate Gosselin’s marriage took over the tabloids in 2009. What followed was a maelstrom of court cases: Jon sued TLC for improper treatment, Jon sued Kate for her primary custody, Jon was sued by his former company for stealing, Kate sued Jon over a hacked computer, and TLC sued Jon for breach of contract.
As recently as August, the Gosselin parents had a verbal domestic argument over custody in an orthodontist office that got so vicious the police were called. "No one was arrested and the daughter did go home with the father after she expressed that was her desire to do,” a spokesperson for the Wyomissing Police Department revealed.
10 Gypsy Sisters — animal abuse arrest
Gypsy Sisters is a TLC show that was born because of controversy — several sisters’ provocative performance on My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding went viral and they were given their own spinoff show — but some scandals simply cross a line from day-to-day drama and into intolerable abuse.
This line was crossed when Mellie Stanley, a former stripper wild child turned single mother, got in a fight with her husband that resulted in him murdering her pet dog in anger. The couple had been arguing over the rent when husband Randall Scott Vuncannon lost his temper and the violence ensued. The cameras weren’t rolling when the incident occurred, but the news outlets sure caught the backlash.
9 Here Comes Honey Boo Boo — Mama June gets back together with a pedophile who abused her daughter
Adorable and precocious Alana “Honey Boo Boo” Thompson rose to fame after a cameo on Toddlers and Tiaras, where her hilarious antics won the hearts of Americans. TLC was quick to offer Thompson and her family their own show, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, in which the family’s life as redneck pageant circuit participants amused and enthralled audiences.
In 2014, however, the illusion of familial bliss was cracked when a series of photos emerged showing Mama June spending time with Marc McDaniel, a convicted sex offender who had hurt Shannon’s older daughter when she was a child.
8 19 Kids and Counting — Josh Duggar cover-up
19 Kids and Counting is a show about a couple who refuse to stop having children until they are literally unable to do so. What some have deemed as a “cultish” religious convictions has brought much criticism of the family. The Duggars seemed to be squeaky clean for years, however: they all dressed conservatively, acted with respect and politeness, and did wholesome activities together as a family (all of the children being home-schooled.)
That made it even more of a bombshell when InTouch broke the story that the oldest Duggar son, Josh, had sexually assaulted sisters Jessa, Jill, two of their other sisters, and a babysitter years earlier. To make matters worse, his parents kept the abuse a secret and sent him to live at a Christian treatment center for therapy at the time. 19 Kids and Counting was cancelled as a result of Josh’s actions.
7 19 Kids and Counting — Ashley Madison leak wreaks more havoc
After the backlash from our last point, Josh Duggar caught even more heat when the father of five was outed as having cheated on his wife, Anna. When adultery dating site Ashley Madison’s data became public in 2015, Josh Duggar was on the list of those people whose private business was made public. Josh subsequently admitted to cheating on his wife and having an addiction to adult entertainment.
Soon after this he checked into a Christian rehab center for therapy — when he left the program in March of 2016, the couple began marriage counseling. On the couple’s personal website, they made a statement: “It isn’t easy and some days are very difficult. It is a long road to rebuild trust and a truly healthy relationship. We are very thankful for God’s forgiveness, grace and help, as it is our strength and guide to rebuilding our lives.”
6 19 Kids and Counting — homophobic and transphobic remarks
After everything that went down with Josh Duggar, the family were no strangers to scandal. But Josh always seemed to be the problem while the rest of the family remained more or less blameless in the eyes of the public (his parents cover-up notwithstanding.)
Sadly, other members of the Duggar family have shown their own colors with various inflammatory homophobic and transphobic statements. Derick Dillard, husband to Jill Duggar, tweeted a cruel condemnation of 16-year-old transgender teen and fellow reality star Jazz Jennings and Michelle Duggar has not been shy about her negative views of gay people and gay marriage.
5 The Little Couple — suing TLC’s parent company for $7 million
The Little Couple is a show about the daily lives of a loving married couple with dwarfism. The series spans 9 seasons so far and has followed Bill Klein and Jen Arnold as they've adopted two children, battled Jen’s cancer, balanced their careers with their family life, and more. The popular show hit a snag when they went into hiatus because of a lawsuit the show’s production company, LMNO, filed against Discovery (TLC’s parent company) on behalf of Jen and Bill among others.
Jen and Bill’s attorneys commented that “Intervenors have now learned that LMNO engaged in systematic fraud against them [Bill and Jen] and Discovery by grossly inflating purported expenses, falsifying accounting documents, and falsely contending that no contingent compensation was due.” In the way of an update, Jen told fans last December that the show was being filmed and that they hoped to be back on the air soon.
4 Cake Boss — Buddy Valastro’s drunk driving spree
The premise for Cake Boss is a simple one: Buddy Valastro and his family have a bakery where they design and decorate spectacularly offbeat confections for a variety of interesting clientele. The family banters and lives their day-to-day lives while the cameras roll, and the ratings go through the roof! However, when Buddy was pulled over for driving drunk in Hell’s Kitchen in 2014, he tried to use the reputation of his show as a “get out of jail free” card. “You can’t arrest me!” a prosecutor revealed that Valastro told cops. “I’m the Cake Boss!”
They took Valastro anyway and he spent the night in jail. He was released without bail the next day, rejecting the standard offer to plead guilty. After the events became public, Valastro refused comment. TLC made a statement that they “are thankful no one was harmed. This is a personal matter for Buddy and his family.”
3 Amish Mafia — the show is faked
Amish Mafia is an odd enough premise to swallow: Amish men keeping the peace in their Lancaster Country Amish community with baseball bats, shotguns, and assault rifles. While TLC’s parent company, Discovery, insists that the stars of the show are genuine, the things portrayed on the show are not accurate with the beliefs or even clothing of the Amish and Mennonite faiths.
The long and short answer is that Amish Mafia is considered to be fake by many. With such off-color depictions of the Amish people — one episode involved drug-carrying pigeons and another had a cow-fart explosion — this news comes as no surprise. According to multiple sources, the main cast of characters are paid a per episode salary. The Respect Amish movement fought to get the show off of the air with a petition that was even signed by current governor Tom Corbett.
2 Toddlers and Tiaras — wildly inappropriate costume scandals
Children’s beauty pageants have always been rife with scandal — kids in makeup is touchy as it is, let alone the implications of objectifying children in such a way. TLC capitalized off of this controversial buzz with their popular show Toddlers and Tiaras where very young pageant contestants and their fame-hungry parents are represented on stage and behind-the-scenes for cameras.
Troublingly, there have been some pretty off-color costume choices by these girls’ parents. Lisa Christian sent her 4-year-old daughter onstage in a racy Grease-themed costume with a candy cigarette as a prop. 5-year-old Lindsay Jackson’s mom outfitted her child with fake breasts and huge rear-end for a Dolly Parton number. Worst of all, perhaps, was Wendy Dickey dressing 3-year-old Paisley as Julia Roberts’ prostitute character in Pretty Woman. Dickey refuted the scorn of conservative Parents Television Council by countering that Paisley’s outfit was “less revealing than gymnastics wear and swimsuits.”
1 Too Close to Home — Tyler Perry’s calls criticism of his all white TLC show “reverse racism”
Tyler Perry is a comedy giant and a role model to many. He is best known for his popular TV shows and movies focused on the lives and experiences of black characters. In 2016, however, the filmmaker debuted Too Close To Home on TLC, a show which featured a mostly white cast. The TLC drama series was met with backlash by black social media users who felt betrayed by Perry’s white leads, who they felt stood in contrast to his previous work for black representation in the film community.
For his part, Perry dismissed the criticism as racist. “[It’s] totally reverse racism, because [the criticism] was coming from African-American people,” Perry told the Associated Press. This stance hit a nerve with many fans, most taking issue with Perry’s use of the phrase “reverse racism”, words often used in white nationalist rhetoric.
Which crazy TLC secret surprised you most? Let us know in the comments!