TLC: A Retrospective

August 25, 2012 § Leave a comment

TLC you guys! From today’s Modern Primate post:

Recently I was asked to serve as Modern Primate’s chief enfreakment correspondent. I’ve always had a soft spot for terrible things, so of course I jumped at the chance! For my first post, I’ll be taking my readers on a trip down memory lane. You see, there wasn’t always such a smorgasbord of what in the holy fuck, on television. But as they say, Rome wasn’t built in a day – and neither did cable television open its farting vortex of wat in one fell swoop.

You know the drill, click the damn clicky!

[and/or full text after the jump]

Recently I was asked to serve as Modern Primate’s chief enfreakment correspondent. I’ve always had a soft spot for terrible things, so of course I jumped at the chance! For my first post, I’ll be taking my readers on a trip down memory lane. You see, there wasn’t always such a smorgasbord of what in the holy fuck, on television. But as they say, Rome wasn’t built in a day – and neither did cable television open its farting vortex of wat in one fell swoop. No, the nation’s love-affair with weird came in increments, bolstered by the ascendency of TLC. Did you know that TLC, or as it was once known, “The Learning Channel,” was founded in conjunction by NASA and the Department of Health, Education and Welfare? It was, because of all the learning! When you think about it, the network hasn’t changed much over the years. Well maybe a little. Let’s take a look, shall we?�

First programming phase: Give me your minds

At first, TLC was the kind of channel that could only be described as “Safe For Work,” in that it was so boring that viewers would rather continue working than actually watch. Its highest-rated programs included Captain’s Log with Captain Mark Gray, which was basically your drunk uncle sitting on a dock talking about his boat; HomeTime, a series that, if the promo is any indication, follows a pair of mimes who vandalize homes for laughs; Paleoworld, a long-running educational program that panned and zoomed its way through a series of state-of-the art cartoon sketches of dinosaurs; and Ready Set Learn, part of a children’s daytime programming block aka the part of the day when there weren’t any more shows to air.

I know, I know — none of those children are wearing lingerie. But I assure you, it’s the same network.

Second programming phase: Give me your housewives

Of course, everyone knows that learning is for assholes. So in the late 90s and early 2000s, the network dropped the “he earning hannel” and instead rebranded itself as “TLC.” This newer hipper iteration began courting the stay-at-home set, airing the kinds of human interest stories that boast a great deal of the former and only a smattering of the latter. This was the era of A Wedding Story (1996), A Baby Story (1998), A Makeover Story (2000), A Dating Story (2000), Trading Spaces (2000) and What Not To Wear (2003).

The more babies the merrier, you say? Ah yes, I see we’re getting warmer…

Third programming phase: Give me your empathy

Realizing that their white middle-class audience responded more favorably to white middle-class people who did more EXTREME versions of the same shit, i.e. have more kids, deal with more special needs, be less tall, and pick from a wider selection of wedding gowns, the producers began to pump up the rubbernecking volume. This programming phase saw the introduction of Little People Big World (2006); Say Yes to the Dress (2007); I Didn’t Know I was Pregnant (2007); documentary specials about the “littlest angel,” a six-year old with primordial dwarfism (2007) as well as a ten year-old with Mermaid Syndrome (which is exactly what it sounds like) (2007); Jon and Kate Plus 8 (2008); and 17 1819 Kids and Counting (2008).

Yup, toilet birth. I didn’t even know I was pooping!

Fourth programming phase: Give me your gawkers

Then in 2009, the people-like-us-only-different scale began to tip in favor of the DIFFERENT (though most subjects remained white and either middle or working class). You still had standard family-drama-screaming “make stuff” shows like Cake Boss (2009), but these shows were overshadowed by an increasing number of documentaries about various “medical oddities,” including Mermaid Girl: The Last 6 Months, literally the last six months of the aforementioned ten year-old’s life and 6 Going on 60, a documentary about several young people with Progeria. The final stake in the circus tent came in 2009, with the masterpiece exploitainment theatre known as Toddlers and Tiarras (2009). Sister Wives wasn’t far behind (2010), followed by Hoarding: Buried Alive (2010), Extreme Couponing (2010), My Strange Addiction (2010), Four Weddings (in which four brides attend and critique each other’s weddings) (2010), Growing Up Tiny (a follow-up to “Incredibly Small”) (2011), My Crazy Obsession (2011 special; series in 2012), The Virgin Diaries (2011 special, series in 2012), Here Comes Honey Boo Boo (of former Toddlers and Tiaras infamy) (2012), and of course TLC’s latest offering, Abby & Brittany (2012), a show about conjoined teenage twins attached at the torso.

In short, talking about the history of TLC is like watching a stop-motion video of a puppy who ages right before our very eyes. Except instead of getting older and cuter, this puppy’s shits just keep getting messier. Till next time, friends!

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