Nearly two weeks since the Josh Duggar molestation scandal broke and days after Megyn Kelly’s interview with Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar about the controversy, TLC has yet to decide the fate of its top-rated reality series “19 Kids and Counting.”
“It will be really hard for TLC to bring this show back, and it will have to be more than this interview,” NPR TV critic Eric Deggans told TheWrap.
In fact, many media experts say the embattled clan’s Fox News appearance last week only complicated any potential move to return the show to the cable network’s schedule in the near future.
Kelly interviewed Jim Bob and Michelle, parents of Josh Duggar, who has confessed to molesting underage girls when he was a teenager. (That sit-down, which aired Wednesday, drew 3.1 million viewers, the host’s highest-rated show of the year.) She also spoke to Jill Dillard and Jessa Seewald, two of Josh’s sisters and admitted victims.
But if people were looking for a mea culpa moment that could have humbled the Duggars before their audience and opened the doors for an imminent return to TV, the Kelly interview may have fallen short.
“They’ll have to sit down with someone who is really independent and answer some really tough questions about what happened,” Deggans said. “If they do that, maybe they can salvage it. But now, I don’t see how TLC brings it back.”
But many found that the Duggar parents failed to win over viewers skeptical of their handling of Josh’s misconduct in the Kelly interview.
“They played to their base and it may give them some sort of career in the evangelical community, and people who liked them before probably left the interview still liking them, but I don’t think it converted anybody,” Howard Bragman, chairman and founder of Fifteen Minutes Public Relations, told TheWrap.
“They keep talking about ‘Josh’s mistake,’” Bragman added, “but the reality is the way it was handled was a mistake.”
TLC pulled “19 Kids and Counting” from its schedule on May 22 after reports of the molestation scandal first surfaced. Days later, key advertisers including General Mills, Walgreens and Choice Hotels jumped ship.
TLC is taking its time to determine how to proceed. “The network is having a lot of conversations around all possible options and taking very seriously all concerns associated with the series,” a network insider told TheWrap about its top-rated reality hit. “It’s a sensitive topic, and we want to make sure we’re being thorough and thoughtful of how we move forward.”
While there has been speculation that the network could pursue a spinoff series featuring Jill and Jessa, newlyweds who weddings last year each generated a top-rated special, TLC sources say that no decision has been reached. “As far as I’m aware, there’s nothing there,” the individual told TheWrap
Bragman concedes that a spinoff focusing on the Jill and Jessa could succeed, particularly since they are less tainted by the handling of the scandal than their parents. “But the freak show of the 19 kids is part of the appeal,” he said.
“I mean, they may try it, because it’s not a particularly expensive show to produce, but at the same time, it’s hard to imagine it will have the same appeal.”