Every network is hit with controversy and scandal from time to time. Whenever some bad press comes along regarding the show or the cast, the networks work quickly perform damage control before it affects the entire network. For whatever reason, TLC has experienced more than its fair share of scandal. We’ve seen both viewers and cast members slam shows for being faked and orchestrated. We’ve witnessed organized efforts to shut down shows for content that is perceived to be dangerous. And we’ve seen an alarmingly high number of crimes committed by cast members.
The results are not always the same. While many of the shows below were shut down directly because of their scandals, TLC didn’t always cancel the shows in question. Some were killed off by bad ratings, while others aired in spite of the scandals. Regardless of what TLC did with the shows, it does seem strange that one network could be home to so many controversies, taboo crimes, and scandalous casts. Here are the biggest scandals to ever hit TLC.
Large questions for a TLC medium
Theresa Caputo from Long Island Medium has impressed many fans over the years with her alleged ability to communicate with the dead, but she’s also faced plenty of skepticism. She often invites skeptics to readings in the hopes that she’ll show them something they weren’t expecting. But some of the voices in the crowd are louder than others, and Caputo’s been criticized by some of the loudest voices in the industry.
Famed illusionist and magician Criss Angel, for example, tweeted out a public challenge to "stop exploiting the vulnerable." Angel offered $2 million to Caputo if she could prove to him that she was capable of speaking with the dead. This is similar to the standing offer issued by James Randi, "The Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge," which promised to reward anyone who could prove they possessed paranormal abilities. Since 1964, the reward amount changed but the results never did. No one ever won.
In 2012, the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) urged Caputo (and Priceline for which she was a spokesperson) to attempt their challenge. She didn’t take them up on the offer. Earlier that year, JREF awarded TLC the Pigasus Award for Media and Caputo the Performance Award. According to Wired, the awards are given to the "most egregious examples of flim-flammery — the most deserving charlatans, swindlers, psychics, pseudoscientists and faith healers, along with their corporate enablers."
TLC can’t count on Josh Duggar
Between 2008 and 2015, the Duggar family was one of TLC’s biggest cash cows, drawing in huge audiences for each incarnation of their show. It started with 17 Kids and Counting, grew to 18 Kids and Counting, and finished with 19 Kids and Counting. Despite having a newsworthy 20th child, the family never got to create another version of the show because it was pulled from the air in 2015 after controversy and scandal became too much to handle.
At the center of the scandal was Josh Duggar, the eldest child in the family. In May of 2015, In Touch Weekly published police reports which alleged that Josh had molested several young victims, including some of his sisters. According to Deadline, while the network pulled the show’s previous episodes from the air, it began considering what to do with the newest season that had just been shot. A couple months later, the announcement of a full-out cancellation was made.
Amazingly, that wasn’t the end of the Duggar scandal. Just one month after the show hit the skids, Josh was forced to address the public again (via People). This time, he was apologizing for infidelity and other transgressions after his name was one of the many exposed in the Ashley Madison information leak. Josh admitted that he cheated on his wife and became addicted to pornography.
My big fat offensive stereotype
Even before My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding (a spin-off of the British TV show) premiered, TLC was hit with criticism for its portrayal of what The New Republic more clearly defined as "the Roma and Irish Traveller communities." The outlet published a piece slamming the show for its voyeuristic and stereotypical presentation of "Gypsies" and their weddings.
Shortly into the first season, Slate published a piece from Oksana Marafioti, a Romani author who tried to help provide the show and its producers with accurate pictures of the Romani people. She reported that TLC producers were apparently more interested in showcasing caricatures of the Romani people than Marafioti’s realistic and modern appeal, so they apparently ignored on her input. Others accused the show of being racist and harmful, even stating that the term "Gypsy" is a racial slur.
The show was hit with controversy from inside its ranks as well. In 2014, Priscilla Kelly posted a Facebook rant, which accused the producers of sensationalizing the show, casting actors, and even fabricating the marriages. Despite appearing on the show herself, Kelly stated that most of the cast in the later seasons are "Gorjas," which means outsiders.
Breaking down Breaking Amish
Many of the TLC reality shows appear to sensationalize aspects and story lines to garner fan interest and better ratings, but Breaking Amish was a cut above the rest. The show claimed to follow Amish and Mennonite people as they left the faith and the lifestyle for the first time. Some of the cast members, however, were allegedly long-removed from the Amish faith.
Jeremiah Raber, who the camera followed as he supposedly entered the non-Amish world for the first time, reportedly had a MySpace page. He had also been married and divorced, and even posted pictures in non-Amish clothing. Many of the other story lines were said to be fabricated as well, forcing TLC and the show’s producers to issue a statement (via Deadline). "There is a lot of information floating around about the group featured on Breaking Amish. Much of it is not true, but some of it is — and is addressed in upcoming episodes."
In a tell-all finale (via The Daily Mail), the cast addressed the controversies, but refused to explain why Rebecca and Abe said they hadn’t met before the show, in spite of photographs that suggested they not only knew each other, but possibly have a child together. It was also revealed that the whole cast actually left the Amish or Mennonite communities long before the show purported them to have done so, several had criminal records, and Kate apparently hid her previous professional modeling attempts while living in the Amish faith.
There goes Honey Boo Boo
TLC’s Toddlers & Tiaras faced several controversies, but it was popular enough to remain on the air for many years, and even spawn a few spin-offs. The most popular of those off-shoots was Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, a show focusing in on beauty pageant contestant Alana "Honey Boo Boo" Thompson, her mother "Mama June" Shannon, and their family.
Though Here Comes Honey Boo Boo was heavily criticized for being "exploitative" and a little "racist," as well as generally unappealing, it wasn’t until a major scandal was on TLC’s doorstep that it decided to shut the show down. After TMZ reported that Mama June was allegedly dating a convicted sex offender, TLC cancelled the show.
According to TMZ, Mama June denied the dating claims, but a photograph of the two of them together during a party in a hotel room suggested otherwise. TLC then issued the following statement regarding the cancellation of its popular and exploitative show: "Supporting the health and welfare of these remarkable children is our only priority. TLC is faithfully committed to the children’s ongoing comfort and well-being."
Secrets in The Willis Family
After appearing on America’s Got Talent in 2014 as The Willis Clan, the 12 talented and musical siblings and their parents signed on to make The Willis Family on TLC. For two seasons, the show highlighted the family’s day-to-day lives, but there was a dark secret hiding under the surface.
In 2016, police reports were released detailing the arrest of Toby Nathaniel Willis, the father in the family, on child rape charges resulting from a crime more than 10 years prior. Toby apparently fled his home to evade police and was arrested in Greenville, Kentucky. According to The Daily Mail, the subsequent investigation then revealed a history of abuse in the Willis home, as Toby had made several of his children victims over the years.
He pleaded guilty to four counts of child rape and received 40-years in prison. Though the show had already been canceled when Toby was arrested, this horrible crime ensured that no episodes would be aired again.
Big concerns about Little People Big World
Beginning in late 2015, Jacob Roloff (above), the youngest son on Little People Big World, started taking TLC and the show’s producers to task on social media. It started on Twitter with Jacob stating, "Man I wish it didn’t feel like I was getting f***ed out of the money from the show that was my childhood right now."
A few months later, his appearances on the show had all but stopped. He then explained on Instagram why he distanced himself from the show and the network. "For the sake of ‘the episode’ and ratings I’ve seen a lot of STORYLINES drawn up (loosely) about our lives," he wrote. "When I was standing here, behind the scenes and watching it from an outside perspective I just couldn’t stop laughing. Laughing at how hard the producers have to try to get us to follow the talking points, and at how ridiculous the talking points are."
The show then faced more controversy with some seemingly anti-LGBT stances held by Jeremy and Audrey Roloff. In one particularly striking example, their marriage advice blog, "Beating 50 Percent," was questioned for its lack of representation for same-sex couples. According to In Touch Weekly, Audrey stated that the blog doesn’t "claim to be a resource for same-sex marriages" because it is "not something [they] agree with."
The Cake Boss’ brother
In the first few seasons of Cake Boss, Buddy Valastro’s brother-in-law, Remy Gonzalez, appeared as the cake decorator. After that, the cake decorator changed and the news of Gonzalez’s departure was sidestepped, but there was a specific reason why he disappeared.
According to CBS News, Gonzalez was arrested in 2010 for sexually assaulting a 13-year-old girl. In 2011, Gonzalez pleaded guilty to two counts of aggravated sexual assault, but then later tried to withdraw those pleas, claiming "his former lawyer pressured him into admitting certain acts he didn’t do." The judge denied the request and sentenced Gonzalez to nine years in prison. Upon release, prosecutors suggest that the former Cake Boss cast member faces deportation.
After removing his bio from the website, TLC issued a statement. "We support Buddy and the Valastro family during this very difficult and challenging time," it said (via NBC Philadelphia). "The network respects the family’s wish for as much privacy as possible, and as this doesn’t involve us, we will not be commenting any further."
Tragedy behind the scenes of Gypsy Sisters
When Gypsy Sisters was canceled, TLC stated the reason was dwindling ratings and nothing else. The show, which was a spin-off of My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding, aired for four seasons before getting the axe. But, even if the show’s ratings didn’t end it when it did, the terrible press surrounding the show probably would (or should) have.
About a week before the news of the cancellation dropped, police reports of a tragic domestic abuse call surfaced. According to TMZ, police responded to the call and found Mellie Stanley, one of the stars of the show, "beat up in the street." Stanley allegedly accused her husband, who was "not under contract with TLC" or featured on the show, of throwing their puppy across the room during the fight. Inside the house, police found the deceased puppy.
A couple years later, Stanley and her husband were arrested for using $18,000 in counterfeit coupons to pick up toys at Toys "R" Us and Babies "R" Us. According to the report, this isn’t the first time Stanley tried a coupon scam either, as she had been arrested for a similar scheme in North Carolina in 2014.
The ugly side of Cheer Perfection
With the success of Toddlers and Tiaras, TLC decided to get into the world of competitive cheerleading with the spin-off, Cheer Perfection. For two seasons, fans watched the families of these cheerleaders until it was revealed that one of the mothers on the show had committed a terrible crime.
According to TMZ, Andrea Clevenger was arrested and sentenced to 10-years in prison for the sexual assault of a young boy. The illicit relationship between Clevenger and the 13-year-old boy was discovered when his parents found explicit photos and texts from the reality star. While this type of scandal would have ruined even the strongest of shows, this TLC spin-off was already long gone.
After having completed the second season, it appears that TLC was just going to let Cheer Perfection die without any fanfare. As for Clevenger’s crimes, the network issued the following statement: "TLC doesn’t have a comment; Regarding the series, the network made the decision a few months ago not to order more episodes, and we do not air the show in repeats."
Boycotting All American Muslim
Reality TV often creates reality shows that highlight niche or misunderstood populations. While the networks may sensationalize the lives of their subjects to make for better television, viewers often tune in to see America’s many different fabrics. So, when TLC announced a new series, All American Muslim, that would look at the lives of Muslim Americans in Dearborn, Michigan, it made sense. Yet, the show would only run for one season because of controversy.
According to some of the reviews, the show portrayed the lives of its Muslim subjects honestly and authentically. But not everyone was convinced that show didn’t have a more malicious purpose. The Florida Family Association, for example, slammed the show as "propaganda that riskily hides the Islamic agenda’s clear and present danger to American liberties and traditional values" (via The Hollywood Reporter).
The association then asked the network’s advertisers to boycott the All American Muslim, a request that Lowe’s seemed happy to follow. Despite telling the THR that the retailer did not simply listen to one group’s requests, Lowe’s pulled its ads from the TLC show, stating, "We understand the program raised concerns, complaints or issues from multiple sides of the viewer spectrum, which we found after doing research of news articles and blogs covering the show."
My Husband’s Not Gay is dangerous
Even before TLC aired its one-hour special, My Husband’s Not Gay, it was embroiled in controversy. The show, which followed a group of men who are married to women but are attracted to men, stood out because the men claim they aren’t gay. They just experience what they call "Same Sex Attraction" and work together to stifle those feelings.
When the series was announced, a Change.Org petition was created to stop the special from airing. The petition, which got more than 130,000 signatures, stated that the show presented the dangerous and harmful message that "being gay is something that can and ought to be changed, or that you should reject your sexual orientation by marrying someone of the opposite sex."
GLAAD President Sarah Kate Ellis spoke out against the show as well. "This show is downright irresponsible," she said. "No one can change who they love, and, more importantly, no one should have to. By investing in this dangerous programming, TLC is putting countless young LGBT people in harm’s way."
But the network didn’t back down and decided to go through with the special, releasing the following statement (via THR): "TLC has long shared compelling stories about real people and different ways of life, without judgment. The individuals featured in this one-hour special reveal the decisions they have made, and speak only for themselves."