Josh Duggar’s ultimate downfall: How many chances can you get on reality TV?
By Emily Yahr
August 28, 2015
Reality TV is a place for second chances.
It’s why you saw BET’s “The Michael Vick Project” after the quarterback served time in prison for his dogfighting ring. Or Lindsay Lohan on OWN’s “Lindsay,” which chronicled the life of the troubled actress. It’s the reason embattled TV chef Paula Deen is going on “Dancing With the Stars” this season.
But as quick as Hollywood is to spotlight someone who desperately needs image repair — hey, redemption and ratings can go hand in hand — there’s only so far that generosity will go. That’s a lesson that Josh “biggest hypocrite ever” Duggar, formerly star of TLC’s “19 Kids and Counting,” is likely to learn after the events of this week. The 27-year-old father of four checked himself into a treatment center after admitting that during his years in a job promoting family values, he cheated on his wife and has a pornography addiction. This came after a Gawker report that named Duggar as one of the people found in the Ashley Madison hack.
Duggar already made headlines earlier this summer after allegations that he molested his younger sisters when he was a teenager; his parents, Jim Bob and Michelle, told Fox News that Josh “improperly touched” four of his sisters and a babysitter. The backlash was severe, advertisers fled and TLC immediately pulled reruns off the air. Still, the network took two months to officially pull the plug on “19 Kids and Counting,” which chronicled the large, deeply religious Southern family centered on a wholesome Christian life.
The delay wasn’t surprising: The series was extremely successful for years and the network got tons of mileage out of many family members, from the marriage specials to cousin Amy’s fledgling country music career. Even with the show’s reputation in tatters, there was still talk of a (now-defunct) spin-off via People magazine, which is frequently in the business of Duggar exclusives. Jill and Jessa Duggar are scheduled to be on TV again on Sunday when TLC airs “Breaking the Silence,” a one-hour documentary about victims of child sexual abuse, which the network said will take “a difficult and painful experience” and turn the focus on raising awareness to protect kids.
Now, after the latest reveal of Josh’s “double life,” the tone has changed. Some are surprised the special is still airing, given the latest news. People magazine has done a 180-degree turn in its coverage on the family, quoting sources saying “there was always something a bit odd about Josh” and writing stories like “‘Duggarville’ Exposed: Jim Bob ‘Is like a Dictator'; How the Clan Uses a Code Word to Repress Lust.” A spin-off no longer seems like the logical next step.
So where does Josh Duggar go from here? (TLC did not comment on the latest news surrounding Josh, but did confirm the special is still airing Sunday.) While the idea for anyone to feature the Duggars on TV again could be tempting, look at history: while a few comebacks might make a splash at first — the Michael Vick premiere landed 2.8 million viewers for the premiere –the buzz generally fades pretty quickly. Given that the Duggars were already a polarizing group, even with their diehard fans, these back-to-back reveals about Josh’s personal life may prove too much for loyalists to handle.
“The Duggar family is done and finished and it is impossible for them to ever again get a career in reality TV,” public relations specialist Ronn Torossian told Fox News, which aired specials with the Duggars when the news of the molestation accusations broke. “I mean, what brand or network would want to be partnered with them?”
While it will be interesting to see which path the Duggars take, one thing is certain: If you really need reality TV for a second chance, that’s a sure sign you’re in a bad place. If that’s where you turn for a third shot? Then it’s truly, probably, already too late.