Friday, August 14, 2009

Soccer Moms Have Taken over My TV

I'm not sure when it happened but slowly the target demographic for television producers has become soccer moms. It started subtly in the early 2000's with my favorite channels, Discovery Health Channel (DHC) and TLC, dumping a lot of their original content for new, mom friendly, TV. Traditionally these channels had great real-life stories without the crap and created drama that you often find on reality shows on network TV and basic cable channels.

DHC had Adoption Stories, A Reunion Story, Plastic Surgery Before and After, I Lost It and countless other shows that were as interesting as they were educational.
Slowly, the quality shows stopped being produced and baby-related shows took over the line up. Shows about high risk pregnancies, then shows that follow the mom's home from the hospital, shows about the obstetricians that work at the hospitals, shows about women who are models and have babies, etc, etc. I get it. Soccer moms are home all day and apparently all they want to do is watch other moms on TV. So to hell with the rest of us. I thought the original shows on DHC appealed to a wide audience but I guess that was the problem. DHC decided to put all their eggs in one basket and go for the soccer mom market. Adoption Stories and I Lost It stopped making new episodes years ago but they still come on every day. I still tune in every now and again hoping to catch an episode that is new to me but am usually disappointed by the same episodes that I've seen over and over again. Other shows like A Reunion Story will show up in reruns late at night every once in a while but its all old shows. One of the gems, Buff Brides, has been copied by new shows like Bulging Brides but they definitely don't have the same depth as the original show.

This is also the channel that introduced us to Dr. Oz and Dr. Roisen, the ground breaking diet and lifestyle doctors who have since sold their souls to Oprah and ABC. It started with special appearances on Oprah a few days before a new special would air. They would show a condensed version of the specials on Oprah. Skipping a lot of the content in the middle due to time constraints but giving away the back story and the ending and interviewing the success story live on the show. When you watched the actual special you enjoyed it because there was so much content that Oprah had skipped but by the end you were bored because you knew the ending. Now you'll see the doctor's all over network TV showing bits of the special to everyone from Diane Sawyer to Rachel Ray not to mention the weekly appearance of Dr. Oz on Oprah. I think the purpose of this excessive promotion was to get more people to watch but I think it had the opposite effect; less people watching Discovery Channel Health and more people watching Oprah. So of course, Discovery Health Channel's ratings are sagging so who swoops in to save it? Oprah of course. She bought the station but apparently won't take over until 2010. I'm sure by then the station will be known as Oprah TV or some other self-serving title and the line up will be unbearable. DHC used to be my go to channel but now I don't even recognize it most of the time.

TLC is part of the Discovery Channel family, like DHC, but had more of a mainstream appeal. My college roommates and I would come home from class and watch A Makeover Story, A Dating Story and A Wedding Story back to back to back when we got home from class. A Baby Story also came on in the middle somewhere but that was usually a great time for us to get up and make a snack or respond to e-mails. And of course, Trading Spaces, the cultural phenomenon of my generation, was born here. I think that it was funny that at a time when none of us had any space of our own, we were obsessed with a home makeover show. It was the great personalities among the designers and the carpenters and the quirky, albeit at times annoying, host. By the time I was a homeowner, Trading Spaces had hit the big time; everyone watched it and talked about it. So of course, as the show becomes more popular, designers and carpenters leave the show to try to make a name for themselves on their own shows. You will find Trading Spaces alumni all over your TV schedule but none of them have created shows of the same quality as those early seasons of Trading Spaces. When ratings started to plummet, Trading Spaces experimented with contests and new designers and even brought Paige back to try and revitalize the show but it fizzled out and was cancelled with minimal fanfare.

I remember watching The Duggar Family- 12 Kids and Pregnant Again or some similar title years ago. I was obsessed with this family from the first special on TLC. Not only did they have 12 kids but they had a great attitude and great family unity. I am not a religious person but I didn't find their strong faith to be a distracting factor, like it is in a lot of other shows. It was just great to see a family that was living within their means. They had no debt but they managed to run a household with 6 times the kids of the average household. They even home school their children in addition to running the most efficient household that I've ever seen. It feels like I am often surrounded by incompetent parents and their maladjusted children throwing tantrums in Target or making a scene at a restaurant. While a large number of parents that I encounter don't seem to want to be accountable for or just aren't capable of adequately providing a healthy upbringing for their one or two children, the Duggar's were flourishing with their 12, 14, 16 kids and raising well adjusted children that will grow up to be productive adults. Every year, TLC would have a new Duggar Special and I loved watching it. Of course now you can find the Duggars on 18 Kids and Counting. I still watch every episode but the show has definitely lost some of its specialness. The once a year 1-2 hour specials went a lot deeper into the family and their adventures than the 30 minute weekly shows that often contain some very obviously staged parts. Before it seemed like TLC was content to provide the Duggar's story documentary style, recording the events of their lives with minimal intrusion. Now there are staged events, like a trip to Dollywood, that come across very awkward and un-Duggar. The Duggar's watch 4 hours of TV a month and didn't even know who Dolly Parton was but of course there were two episodes dedicated to them going to Dollywood and meeting her. It was an hour long commercial for Dollywoood and very un-Duggar.

Now you will find at least 4 other shows on TLC that focus on families with a lot of kids. Jon and Kate Plus 8, of course, has become the face of TLC. I cannot grasp the appeal of this train wreck of a family and couldn't believe that anyone was surprised when the couple announced they were splitting up this year. I have watching no more than a few minutes of this show at a time but every time I watched it I felt like this was a very unhappy couple who should tell the cameras to get out of their lives and focus on building their relationship and raising their children. When Kate started appearing on Dr. Phil and other shows as a guest I couldn't help but wonder what was going on with her husband and kids at home and how did a women with 8 kids have time to do the talk show circuit regularly. The existence of this show and the cult like following that it has makes me sad for the hundreds of thousands of children that sit around waiting to be adopted. Apparently having twins and sextuplets is okay because you'll get a reality show and that will help you provide for your family.

I think that being a parent is a wonderful thing but that if you are not physically able to have children naturally then maybe that has happened to you for a reason. Maybe there is a child out there waiting for you to raise it. I have had the pleasure of having many adopted friends throughout my life and always felt that if I were to have children, that I would adopt. Human beings are not dogs and were not meant to have litters of children. The possibility of health problems for both the mother and the children grows dramatically as the number of children increases. There are the rare cases where people naturally have 4+ children but they do not receive nearly the attention of the Jon & Kate's and the Octomom's (who will surely be on TLC soon).

You have to go through a rigorous screening process to become an adopted parent. You have to prove to a number of qualified, state appointed individuals that you are capable of providing for a child. I wish that fertility doctor's would put their patients through half the screening that adoptive parents go through and that, just like adoption, under qualified candidates would be turned away if they didn't pass the minimum requirements. In-Vitro Fertilization (IVF) and other doctor-assisted means of becoming pregnant are very planned situations. This gives the medical professionals plenty of time to thoroughly screen every patient before determining that they are ready to become a parent and that their relationship is strong enough to survive the difficult, and often disappointing, road of fertility treatments.

Sadly, it seems that a willing insurance company or an empty credit card are the only prerequisites for these procedures. I have a niece/nephew on the way by IVF and am very happy for the expectant couple. I hope she carries the baby to term without any complications. But I can't help but think of the reservations that the husband expressed in confidence about not being ready to be a parent when they started this journey two years ago. He never shared these feelings with his wife and just attended all the appointments and went through all the procedures that she had scheduled. While he seems genuinely ecstatic that he is having a child, I worry that he will not feel this way later. Some pre-pregnancy counseling to ensure that the relationship was stable before adding a child to it wouldn't have detracted from this experience at all and would have made them a stronger couple. Both future parents have a history of difficult pregnancies and miscarriages on both sides of the families so we are all holding out breath until she gets deeper into the pregnancy.

I think that there is a place for all of these shows on television, I just don't think they should be all that is on. I would like to see a variety of different shows on television that appeal to a broader audience. How about instead of 10 shows about people who have a dozen children, let's just have 4 and then have 6 other real life shows about people who aren't pregnant. I love my DVR and wish that it was around years ago when TV was better and there was a lot more to record. Now I use my DVR to record the few gems that still come on TV and to sift through the crap. Us non-moms watch a lot of TV and buy products too. How about throwing us a bone every now and again.


  1. I'm a mom, often don't have cable, have it @ one house but not at "home", though but I can hear what you are saying.
    My beef is with the reality shows though. Too many and they are all staged, if they are going to be staged lets have some real actors up there, and not people who you can tell in an instant whether what they are saying is their thought or something someone told them to say.
    I'm not totally against the reality shows, they are just boring as a rule. I like House, Grays Anatomy, and Lie to Me. On cable, I watch Animal Planet and the History channel. Sad but true.

  2. I agree, they never seem to know when to stop. It makes me laugh sometimes the ideas they come up with.

    Anne and Sasha