TLC’s latest show marks new low for the network

Written By Rachel Ross, Co Features/A&E Editor

Over the years, I’ve watched my fair share of TLC content – probably more than a fair share if I’m entirely honest. I’ve shared many nights with my mom watching “90 Day Fiance” and its hundreds of spin offs, “sMothered,” where a collection of women ruin their relationships due to an unhealthy attachment to their mothers, and even way back in the day, “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.” 

I’m well aware of how ridiculous and absurd the majority of their shows are; most really shouldn’t be regarded as anything other than an opportunity to turn your brain off and listen to people argue while you play Splatoon. But recently, TLC has managed to cross into a territory that is beyond watchability, or even background noise-ability. They are inching closer and closer to the grade Z trash you’d find on WeTV or MTV in the early 2000s (and MTV currently in some cases, i.e. Lindsey Lohan’s Beach Club).  

But it wasn’t always like this; TLC wasn’t even intended to be a reality network when it was established, as apparent from what it actually stands for: “The Learning Channel.” I don’t think anyone has learned much in recent years from TLC other than how the K1 Visa process works. 

TLC’s history starts all the way back in 1972. Before it was even given the name, “TLC.” It started as a part of the “Appalachian Educational Satellite Project,” a closed-circuit service that aimed to deliver educational programming to students of all ages in the Appalachian Region. In 1980, with the incorporation of the “Appalachian Community Service Network,” or ACSN, the network expanded its audience, bringing its content to cable as ACSN-The Learning Channel. In 1984, the network dropped the first part of its name, becoming just “The Learning Channel.” 

The beginning of the end came in 1991, when The Discovery Channel acquired the network. For the majority of the 90s, the network stayed true to its name, with its programming remaining mostly educational. It wasn’t until the late 90s and early 2000s that reality shows began flooding in. “Say Yes to the Dress,” “17 Kids and Counting,” and “Jon and Kate Plus 8,” to name a few, became giant successes for the network, cementing their new business model and encouraging them to continue making the content of this variety. 

As the years have gone on, the show concepts have become more and more outlandish; an unusually large family wasn’t enough anymore, it had to be an usually large family with four or five sets of twins or triplets born consecutively, or the nation’s only set of all girl quintuplets. And even after that, large families became boring; let’s get a bunch of mothers and daughters, mothers and sons, and sisters who are too freakishly close. In their search for the extreme, TLC’s content has become more and more exploitative; one entry in particular, titled “Hot and Heavy” about men in pursuit of women of a large build, was canceled after just three episodes: I wonder why.  

Shows such as these have overpowered the little content the network carries that is actually rooted in activism and acceptance of oneself; they’ve become less and less genuine, instead attempting to draw in viewers from the “wow” factor or shock value. 

Enter “MILF Manor,” which premiered on the network on January 15th. 

MILF Manor, an idea that was ripped from a joke made on the show “30 Rock,” is a series in which a group of moms is taken to a villa, where they are told they will have the opportunity to “find a connection” amongst a group of young men. The twist, which the network hyped tirelessly in their promotional material, is that the group of men they have to choose from are each other’s sons. Supposedly, neither party, the moms or the sons, were aware of this arrangement when they signed up for the show. However, they very quickly decide they’re all ok with it, and get to drinking and jet skiing together. 

I was only able to make it through the first episode of this egregious, disgusting show, and even that was a test of my will. This show is nothing more than a cheap attempt to reel people in with shock value. Of any TLC show I have seen, it is by far the most devoid of meaning and purpose. And what makes it all the more offensive is that they try to pose it as if it’s making some kind of impactful commentary about gender roles and expectations for women in modern society. There were multiple conversations throughout the episode where this was the subject. Believe it or not, whatever message you’re trying to pass to make people take your show seriously is canceled out when it’s followed by a game where the guys have to take their shirts off and the blindfolded mothers go down the line rubbing their chests to identify which is their son. 

This isn’t even throwing spaghetti at the wall and seeing what sticks anymore; it’s throwing hard, raw pasta and hoping people pay attention to the noise it makes. Just quick and lazy “entertainment.”There isn’t an ounce of quality or integrity in any of it. This is a new low for TLC; they’ve gone beyond absurd reality shows to just plain trash at this point.

As someone who has found enjoyment in a good number of TLC’s shows over the years, I don’t think “MILF Manor” is a good sign for the network’s future. I’m anticipating it’s just going to be more and more of this buzz-worthy, shock-value “entertainment” for a while to come. And it’s unfortunate, as a network that has the opportunity to spread awareness of various causes and positivity that this is the type of content they are green lighting. It’s even more unfortunate when considering the aims of the network at its inception, compared to what it’s become now.