Once upon a time (by which we mean 1972), TLC, then known as The Appalachian Community Service Network, was a free educational television network focused on informing for free, a collaboration of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare and NASA. NASA. And that’s not to say that TLC’s current crop of programming is completely devoid of educational value, but even the serviceable stuff like What Not To Wear seems to be showing up even less and less in reruns and that.
Anyway, the new TLC crop seems to be heading more in the uncomfortable, kind of exploitative and can’t-look-away sort of programming block for which it has become notorious. Here are four of the new freshly ordered shows, in ascending order of how cringe-worthy their premises are.
Pete Rose: Hits and Mrs.: ESPN’s 30 for 30 recently ran a short documentary about former baseball legend Pete Rose, where the man known as ‘Charlie Hustle’ signed autographed balls for fans in Vegas and reflected on his life and career. It was surprisingly fascinating, and Rose is certainly a captivating personality. TLC’s new show will focus on Rose and his new fiancée, former Playboy model Kiana Kim, as they try to navigate the long-distance relationship thing, not to mention dating with kids from previous relationships. These are actually real situations people face and from which they could learn, not to mention Rose does make good TV, so of all the newcomers, and as Americans, I think we’re all desensitized to the notion of celebrities launching reality shows to get back into the spotlight, so who really cares? This one is probably the least appalling.
Jersey On Ice: Jersey On Ice premiered this week, and includes the three formulaic elements that, in the wake of other successful reality programming, most reality TV networks and producers are seeking: New Jersey, the dynamic between stage mothers and overambitious coaches and some ultra-competitive youth activity. Andrea, Deana and Michele are three Little Falls, N.J.-based figure skating coaches, and they’re all about building winners. That’s with a “W.” That they make with their hands. Not losers, with an “L,” that they place upon their foreheads in the preview clip for the show. If they’re still making those gestures when talking about victory and defeat, you know the rest that follows can’t be good.
Wives With Beehives: TLC hasn’t shied away from spotlighting families with warped ideas about “traditional family values” talking about what “family values” mean—they’ve given plenty of airtime to the Duggar clan, and the ultimate Perfect American Family, the Palins. Wives With Beehives, a one-off series premiering on Dec. 27th that could turn into a show, maybe, follows four women trying to lead the ultimate ’50s housewife life, from the home furnishings and vintage coifs to the attitudes and moral values. Dollie, interviewed in the preview clip below, says she likes the stability of the ’50s and expresses some genuine fears about The Way We Live Now.
The show should paint some interesting portraits and representing another view is all well and good, but after a bitter election with lots of discussion of legitimate people with power trying to go back to the values of the ’50s, there are some larger, more uncomfortable things (and things certainly worth discussing) under the surface. I mean, the ‘50s had cool fashion and music and adorable, Pinterest-worthy décor. And progress is all about respecting choices, and wanting to be a homemaker isn’t something for which anyone should be judged. I just think it’s a weird decade for people to look back on so fondly, considering it was kind of a terrible time to be a woman. Or a non-white person. Or gay. Or generally living outside of a certain ideology, lest you become part of an anti-Communist witch hunt. THE GOLDEN AGE, AMIRITE GUYZ?
Best Funeral Ever: For real though, putting the “fun” back in “funeral” should never be an actual promotional point (and I’m sure we’re not the only ones to make that joke). Considering TLC has tons of shows relating to weddings, births and all the couponing done in between, it only makes sense they would tackle the afterlife too. Like Wives With Beehives, Best Funeral Ever is a one-off special, this time about the Golden Gate Funeral Home in Dallas, where John Beckwith Jr. and his team help honor the dead with extravagant send-offs, including "a Christmas-themed funeral with reindeer, elves and snow," a boxing ring for a boxer, a disco-themed funeral with leisure-suit wearing dancers, and, for a singer whose most famous work was a BBQ sauce jingle, an affair with live hogs and a sauce fountain with dip-able ribs.
The cringe-worthiness in this case comes not in people wanting to celebrate their loved ones with a BBQ sauce fountain (thanks for the idea, TLC!); and any enterprise that takes great care in honoring the deceased in a manner they would have enjoyed is great. But it’s not going to not be super uncomfortable seeing cameras pointed at a grieving family and friends at what is usually a very intimate and vulnerable time (not to mention there are probably some cultural elements to said funerals extrapolated for TLC’s audience to gawk at, but it’s not like TLC has never done that before).
The special will air on December 26th, so after a day of joy and celebration with your loved ones, you can watch this and think about their eventual mortality!