'19 Kids' Producer in 2009: 'The Network Requires Us to Do a Background Check on Everybody'
By Josh Tager
As In Touch and other outlets report new details about the accusations against Josh Duggar, others in the media are now beginning to focus on the role played by the network.
"At some point, you have to wonder how much TLC knows," THR columnist Tim Goodman asked on Wednesday. "Since the channel profits on exploitation, how much of that has it let fester despite warning signs?"
In addition to one tipster who caused the Duggar family's 2006 appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show to be cancelled, Gawkerwrote last week that Internet rumors about the alleged molestation have long popped up online. "The Web Has Known About Josh Duggar for Years," Gawkersaid in a headline. "When Did TLC Find Out?"
TLC suspended the lucrative 19 Kids and Counting in the wake of reports that Duggar molested five underage girls – and after he admitted to the behavior, resigning his position as a lobbyist and saying "I acted inexcusably" in a statement posted to his family's Facebook page.
The network has not announced a decision, yet, on whether or not it will cancel the show. "We are deeply saddened and troubled by this heartbreaking situation, and our thoughts and prayers are with the family and victims at this difficult time," TLC said in a statement last week.
The network and Figure 8 Films, the North Carolina-based production company that makes 19 Kids, Sister Wives and other popular reality shows, have declined further comment, including questions about what steps either took to vet subjects before putting them on air.
But Bill Hayes, the founder and president of Figure 8 Films, boastfully described the screening process his company conducts on prospective reality show subjects to NPRin 2009.
In the interview, Hayes talked about "Balloon Boy," the story of a boy believed to have been carried away in his family's hot air balloon. The story had captured the nation's attention for a few days -- until the whole thing was exposed as a hoax, an ill-conceived attempt at getting the family a reality show. (The boy was never even on the balloon, just told by his parents to hide in his bedroom while rescuers chased it down.)
"We would never select somebody like that,” Hayes told NPR. "The network requires us to do a background check on everybody, and this family wouldn't have gotten very far in that process." At the time, Hayes was described by NPR as "the creative force behind TLC's Jon & Kate Plus 8 and 18 Kids and Counting," as the show was then titled.
On another occasion, speaking to the Los Angeles Times in 2010, Hayes emphasized the importance of his subjects' welfare. "We have always uncategorically put our subjects' needs above our own, because we're beholden to them for sharing their story with the world," he said.
"We are constantly looking at every state and doing due diligence and finding out what our requirements are and exceeding them."
The home page of Figure 8 Films' website also says, "Accuracy is very important, as is sensitivity and respect for our subjects and our audience. We consider ourselves 'caretakers' of these people's stories."
Hayes was the executive producer of 14 Children and Pregnant Again!, the 2004 precursor to the current 19 Kids and Counting. The initial show featured Josh Duggar and answered questions like, "Where does everybody sleep," according to Figure 8 Film's website.
If Balloon Boy would have been screened out, how did the Duggars make it on air?
"I'm sorry, we're not allowed to comment at this time. Any questions must be submitted through TLC," said the person who answered Figure 8 Films' phone on Tuesday.
On at least one of TLC's other shows, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, the network may have known more about its subjects' backgrounds. (Honey Boo Boo was produced by California-based Authentic Entertainment, not Figure 8 Films.)
"Mama June" Shannon recently told ET that not only did TLC know about her family's history -- including the fact that Shannon's ex-boyfriend, Mark McDaniel, had molested her oldest daughter, Anna "Chickadee" Cardwell-- but that at her request the network helped seal relevant court records after the show had premiered, in order to protect her daughter's privacy.
"I was honest with [TLC]," Shannon told ET. "I told them about everything from the get go. They knew the story. They sealed Anna's records because she was under 18." Cardwell also told ET in October that TLC had helped to get the court records sealed.
Shannon also claimed that TLC knew about the accusations against Duggar for years. "[TLC] knew about [Josh Duggar] since 2006 and didn't do anything. They kept filming the show, but as soon as rumors started they canceled Honey Boo Boo quick."
Shannon added, "I think TLC kept it quiet. That happened with Anna and me. TLC covered it up."
Jon Gosselin, the reality TV star and father from Jon & Kate Plus 8, spoke to ETonline last year about the pressures he faced, especially as a reality show parent.
"I think parents let the production companies and the network supersede what they think is best for their children," Gosselin said then. "The networks say, 'It would be more interesting if your kids did this.' Or, 'Your ratings will go if you get them to do that.' They will pressure you to ignore the welfare of your own children."
In this 19 Kids clip, Michelle Duggar is spoon-fed lines by a producer and does multiple takes with two moody kids:
While questions about background checks and the policy of Figure 8 Films and TLC remain, new episodes of Sister Wives are airing now, and they just launched The Willis Family, a show about a musical family with 14 children.