Thursday, September 3, 2009

An Open Letter to The Learning Channel (TLC)

Dear TLC,

A few months ago, I had a hip replacement. There's a special boredom that occurs after you've had major surgery. You're too woozy with narcotics to do much serious reading, but you're feeling well enough to be bored, and you therefore spend innumerable hours either counting the glow-in-the-dark stars on your ceiling or turning to the kind of TV that does not require you to follow any sort of plot or even know the characters' names. "The Wire" with its complex characterization and thick Baltimore accents that require subtitles will not do. Neither will "Wheel of Fortune," since that involves spelling. No, you need the kind of TV where you can doze off for 15 minutes, wake up, and say, "Yup, ok, the Duggars still have a lot of kids. Oh, look! They're bowling!" In short, TLC, I turned to you.

But now, I'm sad to say that you have let me down. Some people have criticized you for stretching the whole concept of a "learning channel." Some people say, "How is showing six-year-olds strutting around in semi-pornographic attire learning? What am I supposed to be learning: how to use spray tanning to help my infant achieve that sun-kissed glow?" But I have always stood up for you. I have even contemplated writing academic papers on your clever use of old-school carnival freakshow tactics ("The Man Whose Arms Exploded!" "The World's Heaviest Toddler!" "The Man Who Turned Into a Tree!"). "Okay, so maybe it's not learning," I've said, "but look. That couple is very tiny and they have an equally tiny dog."

Besides, I've learned a lot from you, TLC. I used to watch "A Baby Story" during my spare block in high school in the cafeteria and you taught me what an episiotomy is, which terrified me into a very chaste adolescence. You also taught me that even the most mundane daily routines can be made interesting with the right voice-over. Sometimes, while going about my business, I've learned to jazz things up a little by muttering, "But Arley McNeney's bad luck didn't stop there. One Thursday morning, she made a terrifying discovery that would change the course of her entire day and throw her into a tailspin of self-doubt and regret: someone had put water in her non-fat, no-water, extra-hot chai latte. And that someone was going to pay."

But no more, TLC! I'm done! I stuck with you through endless freak shows, the explosion of Jon and Kate's marriage, and one entire series devoted to women who didn't know they were pregnant. Over the past few months, however, I have witnessed a rapid decline, one not seen since the fall of the Roman Empire, the kind of television that makes you think, "Wow, better stock up on canned food and bottled water, because this is obviously the End of Days."

Yes, TLC, you have gone too far even for my low-brow tastes. (And I watch "My Big Redneck Wedding," so this is saying something). You have a new series entitled "Truth Be Told" and here are some of your titles: "Truth Be Told I'm Obsessed With My Pet," "Truth Be Told I'm Addicted to Plastic Surgery" and, today, the final straw "Truth Be Told I Have an Embarrassing Medical Condition." I'm sorry. An embarrassing medical condition? You're devoting an entire hour to profiling the touching struggles of someone with chronic flatulence? Or incontinence?

It used to be that you had to do something remarkable to get on TV, like carry six babies to term inside your horrifically distended uterus or make six-foot-tall replicas of important landmarks out of cake. But now, it seems like everyone and their dog can have a TLC show. Can I be on your network starring in the hit series "Truth Be Told I'm a Cyborg?" Can the elderly lady who I see at physio have a show called "Truth Be Told My Sons Don't Call As Often As I Would Like and I Can't See Pictures of My Granddaughter Because I Don't Have That Facebook Thing And Last Night We Had Potroast For Dinner?"

Seriously, this has to stop! I remember when you used to have documentaries about neandertals narrated by that sexy beast Henry Rollins! If you're not going to be educational, can you at least bother to be mildly interesting? I will not sit idly by and watch Bravo kick your ass in the entertaining-but-mindless-reality-TV business. TLC: I'm putting you on notice. Stop being the low-budget sideshow of the entertainment world. Stop stealing other network's shows and making them suck more (I'm looking at you "Cake Boss"). I have a lot more recovering to do and I'm going to need to be entertained and I demand to hear stories I couldn't hear by riding the bus.

Sincerely yours,
- Arley


  1. What happened to the shows like Physiology of Sex and Human Puberty!!?? REAL EDUMACATION! I saw an MRI of people having intercourse on TLC. I want REAL THINGS they want to, but can not, teach me in college. GEEZ.

  2. Can I mention that police women show as a new low for TLC?
    What the hell is that about?
    - Steph

  3. No, folks, the new low is "My Baby Monkey." (I think Jon & Kate have competition now!) Anyway, the show is about hillbilly trailer trash from Tennessee who adopt baby monkeys from a breeder who gets $4,500 per monkey. The baby monkeys are tragically ripped from their mother's arms long before they would typically detach.

    Anyway, the show depicts people diapering, dressing, bottle feeding and sleeping with their substitute human babies. In a way, it's probably good these hillbillies didn't breed and got monkeys instead. They're definitely swimming in the low end of the gene pool.

    One guy had a vastecomy because he didn't want kids, but he gets a monkey! WTF? He's just signed on for a toddler for life! And what happens when these baby monkeys reach sexual maturity? Want a mate? Monkeys can be extremely sexually aggressive. Maybe this guy's monkey will take the rest of his balls off when it grows up.

    I joke, but his show is a very sad statement about the disintegration of human relationships . . . of the inability of people to have meaningful human relationships. So people substitute monkies, pets, food, they hoard shit . . . all those "symptom" shows on TLC are really about the disintegration of human relationships.

  4. Agreed! I heard about this "Monkey Baby" show on the radio today and figured I need to revamp this post and send it off to TLC. Any day, I expect to find a show entitled, "I Have Lost All Ability To Interact With Humans in A Meaningful Way and Now Network Television Is Taking Advantage of My Incredible Sad Life."

  5. i so agreee with this article. WTF happened to the learning channel. honestly they really need to change the name of the channel when all they do is show marathons of shows like cake bossl where i learned that cakes can come in many shapes and sizes.