Will TLC’s ‘Red State’ Strategy – And Sarah Palin – Play Across America?

During a recent week, Kourtney Kardashian gave her sister, Khloe, a bikini wax, and Khloe in turn gave her sister breast-feeding tips. Over on MTV, ‘The Hard Times of R.J. Berger’ chronicled a high schooler’s infamy after his classmates discover his giant anatomical gift. And Bravo’s ‘Work of Art’ had to bleep out F-bombs participating artists dropped as casually as they splattered paint.

These are popular shows, buzzed about in the firmament of pop culture, and not extraordinarily offensive as shows go these days.

But you won’t find anything like them on TLC.

TLC has a different standard. As recently pointed out by the Los Angeles Times, the network, with shows like ‘Cake Boss,’ ’19 Kids And Counting,’ and anything Kate Gosselin, has taken a stand by programming for America – the America between NY and LA. The question is – will their emphasis on “heartland values” work and grow the ratings? Is it what the country wants as some say, or is it pandering to special interests? Or are they ignoring a craving for more Kardashians, who showcase their own brand of family values? (The latter question is more rhetorical than real, but worth noting if only to wounder outloud about the direction of the country’s taste.)

Coming this fall is another star vehicle that further defines their ‘red state’ entertainment strategy, ‘Sarah Palin’s Alaska,’ an adventure-oriented travelogue around the rugged state featuring the former Vice Presidential candidate-turned-Tea Party superstar and her husband, Todd.

“Whether the show will connect with its target audience is anyone’s guess,” wrote Collins. “Palin is already a contributor and show host for Fox News, another network self-consciously aimed at non-elites. But it’s the strongest proof yet that TLC, a unit of Discovery Communications, which also operates Discovery, Animal Planet and other networks, is determined to become the antidote to Bravo, a rival cable network that has perfected the fine art of chasing upscale viewers with wry, trendy, often-sensational fare.”

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The sound is loud and clear to anyone who grew up in the Reagan era.

“Heartland values,” continued Collins, “are indeed what TLC pushes, carving out a profitable niche in a reality TV marketplace otherwise filled with sex-drenched youth soaps ( MTV’s “Jersey Shore”) or aspirational voyeurism (HGTV’s entire programming block).”

Reaction to Collins’ story on the Huffington Post website was, as expected on a left-leaning site, derisive of the channel and critical of Palin, but one reader wrote, “We really are becoming a politically polarized and obsessed nation when people think that Bravo is “blue.” Why? Because they show gay people? … It’s a pretty sad day when everything in our country becomes an issues of politics.”

Good point. The TLC programs are strong, solid, entertaining fare with a different kind of edginess. They do well on Fancast.

Maybe TLC is tapping into larger issues about choice and standards (or as many of our users have noted, the decline or lack of them on television). Maybe it’s about networks becoming more niche – some where you can watch a bikini wax and others where you watch with the whole family? Is TV too vulgar, too low-brow? Is TLC’s programming the answer? What do you think?

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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