Brought to you by the Parents Television
TLC = TabLoid
In the first
its launch into
widespread expanded basic cable in November of 1980, The Learning Channel was
true to its mission of promoting learning. Focusing on subjects such as science,
nature, history and technology, the network provided a notable bright spot
amongst the networks on cable, and proved true to the early cable industry’s
boast of broadening the content television could offer to viewers and of
providing content for every niche interest. Even after the network’s purchase by
its then-rival the Discovery Channel, The Learning Channel continued to focus
primarily on educational content.
The last decade
has been a different story.
In recent years, the network which
was once such a boon to children, parents and teachers, and which realized the
promise which cable held as a haven for those tired of commercial television,
has become inundated by content with a crassly sexualized and violent tint. If
such programming is not as extreme as that found on cable dramas or sitcoms,
neither can it be considered educational, edifying or at all related to the
mission of a network supposedly devoted to learning.
By 2006, The Learning Channel was
devoting more and more space to programming obsessed with physical abnormalities
-- what in less enlightened times would
have been called “freak shows.” Programs like 99
Most Bizarre, which featured "mistakes by doctors," "botched surgeries," and
"medical mistakes," Untold Stories of the ER, and Half Man, Full Life,
about "a man born with half a body,” filled TLC’s schedule. TLC has continued
this theme: during Christmas week 2008 TLC ran two entire nights of My
Shocking Story, featuring themes like “an extraordinary skin condition,” “a
man with a parasitic twin,” “primordial dwarfism” and “a 31-inch tall woman” –
in addition to the unforgettably-titled program Woman with Giant Legs.
Today, TLC’s programming is a mixture
of crime shows like Extreme Forensics, Solved, Personal Justice, Dr. G:
Medical Examiner, and 48 Hours Mystery; fashion-and-beauty programs
like What Not to Wear, Pre-Teen Beauty Queen, Say Yes to the Dress and
Baby Ballroom; and the innocuous mega-hits Little People, Big World
and John & Kate Plus 8 which, though family-friendly and even
occasionally uplifting, nevertheless continue in a milder form the network’s
focus on the unusual, both physical and familial.
In early March 2008, TLC began using
its new slogan "Life surprises". Certainly the network’s most recent
announcement of upcoming programming is a surprise; an
article from the Associated Press notes that on
Super Bowl Sunday TLC will offer viewers
Mother Knows Sex,
a program about a woman whose company sells sex toys through home parties, ala
Tupperware or Amway.
At a time when, as the Federal
Communications Commission recently announced, the cost of cable TV has gone up
122 percent since 1995, cable and satellite subscribers must ask themselves
whether they should be forced to pay for this tawdry content every month with
their subscription fee.
Since 1998, The Learning Channel has
identified itself exclusively with the saccharine acronym "TLC" – as if being a
channel devoted to learning is somehow something to be ashamed of.
Considering the network’s newfound obsession with
sex, sleazy crime, fashion, and bizarre family and medical conditions, it might
be best asked if “TLC” now stands for the TabLoid Channel.
For more information about the PTC’s Cable Choice campaign,
This column was compiled from reports by the Parents
Television Council’s Analysis staff.