It took TLC just a few days to cancel Here Comes Honey Boo in October after discovering that family matriarch June Shannon was linked to a convicted sex offender. So when 19 Kids and Counting star Josh Duggar admitted to acting “inexcusably” after a report recently surfaced that he molested five underage girls when he was 14, the show’s harshest critics—and most of America—expected TLC would torpedo that show, too.
They’re still waiting. Though TLC initially yanked reruns of the seven-year-old show while stating “we are deeply saddened and troubled by this heartbreaking situation,” the cable network has remained noticeably silent about the series’ future, all while advertisers, including Ace Hardware and Walgreens, bolted.
“The season just ended,” says one insider of the show that chronicles evangelical parents Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar of Arkansas and their 19 children. “So I guess they’ll just ride it out and see.”
When it comes to cash cows like the Duggars, TV nets can have a pretty high threshhold for what it will and won’t tolerate. It was easy for The Food Network to drop Paula Deen and her Paula’s Favorite Dishes in 2013: her ratings had sunk to 835,000 viewers—down 25 percent versus the previous year—when the controversy broke about her use of racial epithets. The situation was similar for Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, a divisive show about a self-indulgent redneck clan that failed to crack 2 million viewers in its fourth and final season.
But after 10 seasons, 19 Kids remains TLC’s most popular show, if not it’s most lucrative: it earned a reported $25 million in ad revenue this year, a massive profit margin considering TLC only pays the Duggars up to $40,000 per episode, according to PEOPLE. And the scandal has actually increased awareness of the family on social media, though not all of the chatter has been positive. (Campaigns like #canceltheduggars continue on Twitter).
The public’s fascination with the family is sure to boost ratings for Wednesday’s The Megyn File on Fox News, during which anchor Megyn Kelly will interview Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar in Arkansas. TLC signed off on the appearance, a source told EW.
Even A&E stuck with Duck Dynasty after patriarch Phil Robertson made controversial statements about gays that resulted in the show’s suspension. That show, which at the time had generated a reported $80 million in advertising sales, ultimately returned to air without him. More original episodes will debut starting June 24.
TLC seems determined to keep the family in the fold even if they decide not to renew 19 Kids for an 11th season. PEOPLE reported that the network could decide to turn the focus away from Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar and onto popular newlyweds Jill and Derick Dillard, and Jessa and Ben Seewald. That way, TLC can keep its golden goose and the public could get its sacrificial lamb.
“The show was probably on its last legs anyway,” reasons New York-based brand strategist Rachel Weingarten. “It’s a way for the crowd to give them (Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar) the proverbial thumbs down and everyone can feel superior to them.”