Years ago, toddlers (with or without a tiara) could plop down in front of the TV for several hours in the morning to enjoy “Ready, Set, Learn,” a block of programming on TLC aimed at entertaining and educating children. Now, there are only reruns of Little People, Big World and various shows starring the Duggar family. A lot has changed since the channel’s early days.
Launched in 1972 by the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare and NASA (yes, that NASA), The Learning Channel was still — according to The New York Times — an “educational cable network” when it was bought by The Discovery Channel in 1991. In 1994, viewers could watch Smithsonian’s Great Battles of the Civil War. If that sounds too grandfatherly, 1998 saw a documentary called Breaking News, which went behind the scenes at a news station pulling out all the stops to get higher ratings — even at the expense of a more important story.
“We do news, but we also have to be aware of something else going on, and that’s making a profit,” said news director Larry Perret in the movie. It sounds a lot like TLC’s story.
In the late ’90s and early 2000s, the network began shifting their lineup. They started small, with more reality programs such as Trading Spaces and A Baby Story. These shows were instructional if you wanted to redecorate your neighbor’s house or see the results of procreation. Around this time, the network changed its name to TLC and adopted the tagline “Life Unscripted.” Now Toddlers & Tiaras, My Strange Addiction, Say Yes to the Dress, and Hoarding: Buried Alive dominate the primetime block of programming.
But the channel is still teaching its viewers many valuable lessons. Here’s what we’ve learned in the last decade from the new TLC.
You Might Not Be a Redneck If…
You have all your teeth. Toddlers & Tiaras’ Honey Boo Boo Child and her family debate the logistics of redneckism in a preview for the new show Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.
2.5 Kids? So Passé
Bigger is better when it comes to family size. Starting modestly with Jon & Kate Plus 8, TLC quickly learned that viewers wanted more, more, more. 17 Kids and Counting became 18 then 19 Kids and Counting. If all that labor sounds too exhausting for one person, take a cue from Sister Wives and spread the love around. If possible, you should also involve your family members in whatever business you’re in (especially if you own a restaurant or bakery).
You May Have Won the Battle, But You Frost the War
Shows like Craft Wars, Extreme Couponing, and DC Cupcakes prove that everyday tasks like making memory boxes, grocery shopping, and frosting desserts are actually ways to prep for the apocalypse (or a surfeit of children) and shouldn’t be taken lightly. Bust out your coupon clippers and prepare for baking boot camp.
Turn That Frump Upside Down
Thanks to What Not to Wear, we know it’s okay to publicly humiliate your friend in a tea house, planetarium, or at the mall, as long as they get a makeover out of it.
Paranormal powers are real. The Long Island Medium never fails, and that means she really is psychic. Though you have to set up an appointment two years in an advance, if you just wander around her town, she’ll seek you out and give you a reading for free.
No one travels around with caravans of bearded ladies and fire eaters, but TLC lets you watch people guzzle gasoline, live in clutter-filled houses full of roaches, and subsist on cornstarch from the comfort of your home. BecauseMy Strange Addiction, Hoarding: Buried Alive, and Freaky Eaters emphasizes that these compulsion have a psychological basis, it’s basically like watching a medical documentary.
The Most Important Day of Your Life
If you aren’t watching TLC’s wedding content, there’s something wrong with you. With Say Yes to the Dress, Randy to the Rescue, and Four Weddings, you can fill your day with life-changing decisions, such as what to do when your bestie and your sister can’t agree on the perfect gown for your big day.
If you want to pitch a show for TLC, make sure the words “Big,” “Little,” or “Tiny” are in the title. If you can fit all three in, then you have unlocked a new level of programming.
Anything You Can Do…
TLC knows that not only can women be police officers, they can run pawn shops. Kat Von D tattooed with the best of them, proving ladies are no longer limited to just dreaming of their wedding day and baking cupcakes. But gender stereotypes go both ways, and “Rock ‘n’ Roll Florist” Jeff Leatham nipped them in the bud on Flowers Uncut.
Life Is Full of Surprises
If you’re going to give someone a makeover, redo their house, or update their car, never ever tell them about it ahead of time. Seeing them freak out is the best part. Also, if you’re going to get pregnant, wait until you go into labor to find out about it. Mistaking contractions for indigestion and giving birth on the toilet is so much more fun!