For four seasons, the TV show Jon & Kate Plus 8 was a cute story about a family with twins and sextuplets. It was a modest success for its cable channel, TLC. Now, allegations of marital infidelity have turned it into a tabloid train wreck — and a huge hit with ratings as high as a show on one of the big broadcast networks.
What comes next? For a cable network, it's Programming 101: First, get a hit show. Then, get all those fans hooked on other programs on the channel. That's always been the M.O. at TLC, where Jon & Kate has long served as anchor to a lineup of family-friendly fare, such as 18 Kids and Counting and Little People, Big World.
Jon & Kate is a very different program this season. Allegations of infidelity have brought in a whole new audience, but these new viewers aren't just interested in cute little kids. That leaves TLC in an awkward place: It has to create new shows that remind viewers of Jon & Kate, but these shows must be different enough to seem fresh.
Following The Model Of A Hit Show
That's where "reverse engineering" a TV show comes in. Consider A&E's top-rated show Intervention, which chronicles the troubles of addicts. Intervention has a lot in common with Obsessed, a new program the channel premiered recently that documents the travails of people with obsessive-compulsive disorder. A&E didn't just happen to find this subject interesting. The network is trying to tap the same themes that resonate with Intervention viewers: human dysfunction with a dash of redemption at the end.
Perhaps the best example of a network cracking the code is Bravo. Back in 2003, the channel put itself on the map with Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. Nine out of 10 network executives would look at a hit like that and populate new shows with gay people. And Bravo did its share of that. But Queer Eye also was about things like unbridled consumerism and fascination with fashion. Bravo started incorporating those themes into new shows, and today it has a well-stocked schedule from Top Chef to The Real Housewives of New Jersey.
So if you're TLC, what do you do for a Jon and Kate encore? A show featuring Nadya Suleman, known as "Octomom," is the obvious choice; a production company already is shopping her around. But the network may be better off expanding the notion of unusual modern families, big and small.
A show like Little People, Big World has the right idea, because it features a family that just happens to be short. Building on the TLC brand should mean finding people with other kinds of unusual circumstances.
There are signs TLC is sticking with the tried and true. Reportedly, the network already is auditioning for new families who are expecting more than one kid. Bad idea. Multiple shows about multiples is one show too many.