TLC Stars Who've Called Out The Network

The following article references sexual abuse and child abuse.

Once upon a time, TLC was known as The Learning Channel — a fitting name for a station that aired documentaries and other educational content. But in the late '90s, the network apparently recognized that reality television was about to have a big moment and ran with it. Thus came the modern-day TV titan known as TLC. Throughout the years, TLC continued to push the boundaries of reality television. From controversial series like "Toddlers and Tiaras" to downright weird TLC shows like "My Strange Addiction," the network knows how to captivate an audience. Despite having the word "learning" in its title, some critics believe that TLC has strayed from its original goal of educating the masses. Others have slammed the network for creating voyeuristic television that lacks nuance and for trivializing societal issues like mental health, body image, and poverty. 

Whether you love or hate TLC's reality shows, credit is due to the folks who sign up to be on them. After all, many TLC stars put their most vulnerable moments on camera — and open themselves up to enormous public scrutiny — all for our entertainment. While fame and money are great incentives to star in a reality show, there are plenty of potential downsides. That said, it's perhaps no surprise that some TLC personalities have walked away feeling scorned by the network. From exploitation to double-dealing, TLC has seen no shortage of call-outs from its former reality stars. 

Jon Gosselin of Jon & Kate Plus 8

Jon and Kate Gosselin starred in "Jon & Kate Plus 8," a reality series that documented the ups and downs of raising a large family. The Gosselins are parents to eight children, including a set of sextuplets who were toddlers when the show debuted in 2007. Their chaotic, kid-centric lives turned the couple into pop cultural sensations. "Jon & Kate Plus 8" arguably sparked America's obsession with reality shows about humongous families — and it paved the way for similar series, including "19 Kids and Counting," "Bringing up Bates," and more. The couple's divorce was documented on the show in 2009, but the drama didn't end there. In fact, Jon Gosselin's bitter relationship with his ex-wife — and with TLC — raged on. 

Following the divorce, Jon tried removing his children from reality TV altogether, citing that it was unhealthy for them. In 2019, he lashed out at TLC for filming the kids despite legal documents that forbade them from doing so. "The judge and the guardian ad litem both agreed that it wasn't in my children's best interests to be filmed, but my ex-wife and TLC had other ideas," Jon told the Daily Mail. "They put profits and ratings ahead of the well-being of my children and filmed illegally without work permits ... I'm furious. Absolutely furious."

Jill Duggar Dillard of 19 Kids and Counting

Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar's TLC reality series began in 2008. "19 Kids and Counting" chronicled the lives of the quirky, fundamentalist Christian couple and their massive brood. In 2015, the eldest child, Josh Duggar, admitted to molesting five young girls as a teenager. In light of the news, TLC axed "19 Kids and Counting." Since the show's cancellation, the Duggars have been rocked by multiple scandals, including Josh's 2021 conviction for child pornography. As the Duggar empire crumbled, family alliances broke apart, too. In 2023, Jim Bob and Michelle's daughter Jill Duggar Dillard appeared on the docuseries "Shiny Happy People: Duggar Family Secrets" — and she was more than ready to share her side of the story.

In her segment, Jill claimed her dad duped her into signing a contract the day before her wedding that, unbeknownst to her, would lock her into the show for the next several years. And evidently, she wasn't the only sibling who lacked agency. "My parents had signed for a bunch of the kids who were no longer minors, including myself," said the former reality star (via Entertainment Tonight). "As the kids aged into adulthood, they're still listed as minors, and nobody fixed that." Because of the contracts, Jill was obligated to give birth on camera against her own wishes. In another stunning revelation, Jill said she was never paid for participating in "19 Kids and Counting." Jill and her husband, Derick Dillard, eventually hired an attorney to help recover some compensation. 

If you or someone you know may be the victim of child abuse, please contact the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-Child (1-800-422-4453) or contact their live chat services.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

Jacob Roloff of Little People, Big World

When "Little People, Big World" first hit television screens in 2006, audiences met the husband and wife duo of Matt and Amy Roloff, both of whom have dwarfism. Fans watched the pair raise their four children and run their family farm business together for several seasons, but by 2016, Matt and Amy were divorced. However, the show must go on. For over 20 seasons, the family has seen plenty of drama, including legal troubles and backlash over social media posts. In 2020, a major revelation emerged: The couple's youngest son, Jacob Roloff, revealed that he was sexually abused by a member of the show's production team. 

In a heartbreaking Instagram post, Jacob wrote, "As a child, after what I realize now was a long grooming process, I was molested by an executive field producer for 'Little People, Big World,' Chris Cardamone." Jacob, who left the show in 2016, called out the voyeurism of reality television and questioned the long-term consequences of allowing children to participate. "We are still sprinting ahead with the enterprise [of reality television] ... asking for forgiveness later, instead of asking harder preliminary questions of ourselves," remarked the former reality star. Cardamone has not addressed Jacob's allegations; According to The Sun, he was arrested in 2008 for sexually abusing a child.

If you or someone you know may be the victim of child abuse, please contact the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-Child (1-800-422-4453) or contact their live chat services.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

Blake Abelard and Jasmin Lahtinen of 90 Day Fiancé

Season 7 of "90 Day Fiancé" featured American Blake Abelard and his Finnish fiancée, Jasmin Lahtinen. The pair fell in love on a dating site and moved swiftly to obtain the K-1 visa. However, things got complicated once Lahtinen arrived in the United States. For one thing, the aspiring model seemed unsupportive of Abelard's music career. To make matters worse, they constantly quarreled over their clashing interests, lifestyles, and values. Despite their differences, the couple said "I do" in 2019. 

In 2020, Abelard appeared on the "Domenick Nati Show" to set the record straight about his relationship with Lahtinen. "There are things that have been exaggerated to make it seem like they're ... worse than it is," the reality star explained. Abelard also blamed deceptive editing for portraying the pair as incompatible.

The couple's relationship drama didn't go unnoticed by fans, and they became a mark for social media trolls. Lahtinen responded to some critics on her Instagram account, claiming that the show was "fake" and a product of "acting" (via Showbiz CheatSheet). It might be tough to prove Lahtinen's claims — but as we know, anything is possible in the world of reality television. As of July 2023, the lovebirds are reportedly still together. 

Mama June Shannon of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo

June Shannon became famous in 2012 when her daughter Alana "Honey Boo-Boo" Thompson appeared on "Toddlers and Tiaras." The boisterous tot stole the show and became an instant meme. Later that year, TLC onboarded the Shannon family for their own reality show, "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo." In 2014, Shannon, who goes by Mama June, was accused of dating a convicted child sex offender. Although Shannon denied the allegations, TLC canceled "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo." In a statement obtained by Today, the network said, "Supporting the health and welfare of these remarkable children is our only priority." However, Shannon believed that the network had other motives.

In an interview with TMZ, the reality star blasted TLC for creating a double standard. She pointed out that TLC continued to platform the Duggar family even after Josh Duggar's child molestation scandal (the network canceled "19 Kids and Counting" but quickly replaced it with "Counting On," a show that focused on Jill and Jessa Duggar). Ultimately, Shannon believed her family didn't deserve the backlash from TLC — and she vowed to take legal action against the network.

Despite the drama with TLC, Mama June didn't stay out of the spotlight for long. In 2017, "Mama June: From Not to Hot" premiered on We TV. As of this writing, the series is in its sixth season. 

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

Jay Smith of 90 Day Fiancé

Viewers were introduced to Jay Smith during Season 6 of "90 Day Fiancé." The Jamaican tattoo artist and his American sweetheart, Ashley Martson, met while she was vacationing in his home country. A romance blossomed, and Smith soon followed Martson to the United States. Signs of trouble quickly crept in — and just days after their wedding, Smith got caught chatting with other women on a dating app. Although their storyline centered around Smith's unfaithfulness, the reality star insisted it was all a web of lies. In an interview with In Touch, Smith stated, "I feel like the show portrayed my relationship as a very toxic relationship, like I'm the bad person but [no] it wasn't [accurate]."

The couple reached a breaking point when Martson found out that Smith cheated on her in the bathroom of a barber shop. As documented by TLC, the barber shop's owner was the one who spilled the beans. While Smith admitted to the liaison, he claimed that TLC bribed the shop owner and his friend to film the dramatic moment. "To my knowledge, they got paid to do that," the reality star said. "They got paid $500 each to do that." Ultimately, the problematic pair divorced in 2021. As for Smith, the reality star told In Touch that he regrets participating in the show.

Jessica Willis Fisher of The Willis Family

In 2015, TLC added "The Willis Family" to their roster of shows about large, conservative Christian families. The series starred Brenda and Toby Fisher, along with their brood of 12 children who performed in a traveling band called The Willis Clan. TLC portrayed the Willis family as a quirky yet wholesome bunch. However, the reality was far more sinister. Behind the scenes, Toby Willis was a sadistic man who tormented his family. In 2017, the disgraced reality star pleaded guilty to four counts of child rape. One of the victims was his own daughter, Jessica Willis. In her 2022 memoir, Jessica revealed that Toby molested her repeatedly throughout childhood.

In a conversation with the Los Angeles Times, Jessica Willis noted the contradiction between TLC's polished storylines and the horrific truth about her family. She also criticized the network for exploiting the Willis kids. "It's really disturbing to see what we sometimes platform," Willis told the publication. "We need to ask, what is the level of responsibility that we all have? Am I doing anything to support what I see happening here, whether it's just clicking on the TV? My dad was making money off of us. There were children involved who did not have a choice. And I don't think that's OK."

If you or someone you know may be the victim of child abuse, please contact the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-Child (1-800-422-4453) or contact their live chat services.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

Michael Jessen of 90 Day Fiancé

Season 7 of "90 Day Fiancé" featured Michael Jessen and his Brazilian flame, Juliana Custodio. It was love at first sight when the pair met on a yacht in Croatia. TLC chronicled their journey, from securing the K-1 visa to walking down the aisle. Like many couples on the show, Jessen and Custodio sparked plenty of controversy. In particular, fans scrutinized their large age gap and Jessen's desire to have Custodio sign a prenuptial agreement. The couple ultimately divorced in 2022, and Custodio moved on to a new relationship.

Jessen's storyline began airing in 2019 — and he wasn't pleased with what he saw. In a since-deleted Instagram post, the reality star slammed TLC for shady editing, which he called "the biggest bunch of manufactured bulls**t" (via In Touch). He acknowledged the non-disclosure agreement between himself and the network but stated, "To be honest, I don't really care. I have a lot of lawyers." In an Instagram Live, Jessen questioned his decision to appear on the television show. The reality star concluded that TLC's editing unfairly demonized his family. "We're all upset about the harshness for which we were portrayed," Jessen stated. "It hurts our feelings."

Gwendlyn Brown of Sister Wives

It's no secret that reality television is chock-full of sensationalized material. Even in the case of "unscripted" shows, producers often try to steer conversations where they want them to go — it's all part of the package when you're filming a reality show. However, "Sister Wives" star Gwendlyn Brown felt TLC crossed a line regarding her personal life. In an episode that aired in 2017, producers asked Gwendlyn to discuss her sexual orientation. The footage shows Brown opening up about her bisexuality — but on her YouTube channel, Gwendlyn said the questions seemingly came out of nowhere. "I was a little disappointed," the reality star recalled, "I thought we were going to talk about the divorce [between Christine and Kody Brown], and then all of a sudden they're like, 'We're going to talk about your sexuality Gwendlyn.'"

Although Gwendlyn has been open about her bisexuality, she was suspicious of TLC's motives for raising the topic. She speculated, "They're like, 'Oh, we have another queer. We're gonna exploit that. We're gonna make ourselves famous." According to Gwendlyn, producers also asked intrusive questions about her autism while filming the scene. Looking back on the situation, Gwendlyn stated, "It did feel weird." 

Cortney Reardanz of Before the 90 Days

Season 1 of "Before the 90 Days" introduced us to Cortney Reardanz, the globetrotting American who traveled to Spain to meet her online beau, Antonio Millón. Their relationship was stormy from the outset, and the pair eventually parted ways. However, Reardanz has remained in the public eye. An avid Instagrammer, Reardanz uses the platform to share updates about her life and travels.

In 2018, the reality star took to social media to dish about her experience on "Before the 90 Days." In an Instagram Q&A, Reardanz shaded the show for its dubious editing. "[The show] doesn't show my wit, humor, or depth," she wrote in a now-expired Instagram Story (via In Touch). Reardanz also criticized the show for portraying her as "dumb and desperate."

The reality star called out TLC again in 2020. During an interview with radio show host Dominick Nadi, Reardanz said that producers forced her and Millón to discuss the same issues repeatedly, which ultimately caused more drama between the pair. "I don't think things are scripted," Reardanz explained, "but I think the producers know how to play on your emotions." She also decried the show's filming schedule, which consisted of grueling 13-hour days.

Priscilla Kelly of My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding

While several TLC stars have accused the network of tricky edits and exaggerated storylines, others have alleged that the shows are straight-up fake. That's what happened in 2014 when Priscilla Kelly spoke out about her experience. Kelly appeared in Season 1 of "My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding," a series that explored Romani and Irish Traveler communities in the United States. In Kelly's episode, the then-fourteen-year-old throws a lavish party in the hopes of meeting her future husband. But according to Kelly, things were not what they seemed in the series.

In a since-deleted Facebook post, Kelly said that most of the show was fabricated — including the weddings themselves. "[Producers are] offering people to get married but without even paperwork, just to have something to put on the show," Kelly wrote. "Basically fake marriages fake engagements" (via In Touch). Kelly also stated that the network created phony traditions and customs — such as "g**sy balls" — which shined an unflattering light on the Romani community. "No g**sy I have ever known knows of any annual g**sy ball," she stated. "It's all made up for TLC TV ratings." Despite her shady interaction with TLC, Kelly continued pursuing an entertainment career. These days, she's a pro wrestler who goes by the ring name of Gigi Dolin.

Eric and Leida Rosenbrook of 90 Day Fiancé

Season 6 of "90 Day Fiancé" featured one of the show's most notorious couples, Eric Rosenbrook and Leida Margaretha. Eric, an American man, connected with Leida, an Indonesian woman, through a personal ad. After meeting face to face, the pair moved quickly to establish their life together in America — but things got messy when Leida arrived in the U.S. and seemed displeased with Eric's home and lifestyle. Viewers slammed the couple online, especially for Leida's contempt toward Eric's daughters from a previous relationship 

In 2018, the couple spoke out about the hate they'd received online. According to Leida, some disgruntled fans went as far as sending them death threats. "We put our lives in danger. We put our lives on the frontline. This is not fair," Leida sobbed in the since-deleted video (via People). "This is not worth it at all. We are never going to do this again." The reality star vowed to share her side of the story when her contract with TLC expired. "I'm a human, too," she stated. "I didn't sign up for this. We didn't know they're going to portray us that bad." The couple concluded by saying that they didn't expect TLC to help or intervene in the situation at all. 

Lisa Ebberson of My 600-lb Life

"My 600-lb Life" is one of the most controversial series ever to grace the TLC network. Touted as a show about life-changing weight loss, "My 600-lb Life" has been railed for promoting voyeurism while downplaying the psychological and societal implications of its subject matter. Critics have also accused the show of exploiting participants, and these grievances were echoed by numerous cast members who sued TLC's production company for negligence and other misconduct. Lisa Ebberson is one of the cast members to speak out against "My 600-lb Life."

Ebberson suffered a tragic string of events during her 2022 episode. After being hospitalized and losing her boyfriend, Randy, to COVID-19, she ultimately quit the weight loss program. In a 2022 interview with Soap Dirt, Ebberson claimed that producers ordered her to eat large, unhealthy meals in front of the cameras. "Before they came along, me and Randy were on a diet," she said. "We cut out all pasta, potatoes, chips, and anything fattening. And then when they came, they brought that food [seen on the show] — cheese, bacon, eggs ... They stuck this plate in front of me and I broke down crying. I've never seen so much food in front of me in my life."

Ebberson also alleged that producers refused to leave her house after filming concluded. "I literally had to call the police to get them out of here," she told the publication.

Larissa Dos Santos Lima of 90 Day Fiancé

Season 6 of "90 Day Fiancé" brought us Larissa Dos Santos Lima and Colt Johnson. After falling in love online, Dos Santos Lima traveled from her home country of Brazil to marry Johnson. However, the relationship began crumbling soon after she arrived in America. TLC documented their troubled marriage, which ended after just seven months. Divorce couldn't keep Dos Santos Lima down, and the reality star decided to cash in on her fame by performing for an adult webcam service. When TLC caught wind of her NSFW activities, they fired her from the "90 Day Fiancé" franchise.

Never one to leave a juicy storyline (or a potential heap of cash) on the cutting room floor, TLC aired their footage of Dos Santos Lima even though she'd already been fired. Understandably upset over the situation, Dos Santos Lima did what most angry people do in the digital age: she took to social media. "Excuse me, TLC, I do not understand why you would want [to] air my storyline," she wrote in a series of now-expired Instagram stories (via Pop Culture). "I accepted this from the same network that has aired some felons and adult entertainers. The hypocrisy is mind-blowing ... Shame on you, TLC and Sharp Entertainment."