Rules You’ll Have To Live By To Become A TLC Star

TLC was originally branded as ‘The Learning Channel’, but it’s really made a name for itself thanks to reality TV. It’s no secret that the reality aspect of reality TV might be more acting than you think, but exactly how much of it is fake?

TLC is notorious for creating shows that fit in with their carefully curated wholesome family values image, and they’ll nix both you and your show if you no longer fit into their mold. So what does TLC actually require of their stars? Let’s find out.

They Have Control Of Your Social Media

Adam Busby TLC Outdaughtered
Photo Credit: Instagram / @adambuzz
Photo Credit: Instagram / @adambuzz

Social media plays a huge role in a star’s image, and TLC has control over that. At this point, we should all understand that if you post something on social media, or anywhere on the internet, it’s going to stay there. And once it’s out there, anyone can find it.

TLC cannot afford any slip-ups on social media, whether it’s posting something that isn’t appropriate, or even just liking another person’s post. If it can be twisted by someone else in any way, it shouldn’t be able to be connected to your social media.

You Might Be Given A Script

90 day fiance couple pedro and chantel
Photo Credit: Instagram / @enews
Photo Credit: Instagram / @enews

Yes, it’s very shocking and unexpected, but TLC shows are scripted, and the stars of these shows are expected to stick to that script. Sometimes it’s more obvious when moments of a show are scripted, whereas other shows can make it more subtle. It all depends on the “actors.”

90 Day Fiance, in particular, has been criticized for coming across as “too scripted.” The problem with reality TV is that the stars are not traditional actors themselves, so if given a script, it can come across fairly forced.

Be Careful Who You Date

GettyImages-903109164 - june shannon and honeybooboo
Photo Credit: Paras Griffin/Getty Images for WEtv
Photo Credit: Paras Griffin/Getty Images for WEtv

Regardless of if your significant other is featured on your show, TLC monitors who you date. It is especially important though if your relationship is a storyline on the show because of TLC’s image.

Mama June’s boyfriend was the reason behind Here Comes Honey Boo Boo getting abruptly canceled after rumors started circulating that June was knowingly dating a registered sex offender. TLC canceled the show immediately, with a whole season’s worth of episodes reportedly left unaired. They weren’t taking any chances.

Couples Have To Stay Together

GettyImages-85782678 - jon and kate gosselin from TLC
Photo Credit: Amy Sussman/WireImage for Discovery Communications
Photo Credit: Amy Sussman/WireImage for Discovery Communications

On top of who you can’t date, TLC may require you to stay in a relationship because a breakup or divorce could negatively affect the ratings.

Jon and Kate Gosselin are an example of this. Kate filed for divorce from Jon in June 2009, but for years prior to that fans had speculated there was an evident dislike between the TV parents. The couple went through a bitter divorce, and have said in interviews that producers encouraged them to stay together because of how it would reflect on the show.

Anything Is Fair Game

jazz jennings from TLC show I Am Jazz
Photo Credit: Instagram / @jazzjennings_
Photo Credit: Instagram / @jazzjennings_

Any sort of sound byte or film clip is fair game for producers to use to create an episode. Even if they promise it won’t be used, or maybe you didn’t realize you were being recorded, it doesn’t matter. That’s the reality behind “reality TV.”

Many former TLC stars and reality TV stars have recommended getting an entertainment attorney to review all contracts before you sign them. Those attorneys could potentially negotiate a certain level of privacy for stars, though you’ll likely still end up with a few things you’d rather have been left unaired.

No Tunes On TLC

the little couple instagram photo of family
Photo Credit: Instagram / @sebochnak
Photo Credit: Instagram / @sebochnak

This one actually makes sense if you think about it. TLC stars cannot play any music or break into song spontaneously because of copyright issues. So any sort of musical-based show is out of the question for them.

TLC would have to pay some serious money if they used any songs that they did not have the proper rights to. Due to these strict laws, even humming and whistling on the show could lead to issues.

Unseen Talents

The Duggar family in New York at Extra
Photo Credit: D Dipasupil/Getty Images for Extra
Photo Credit: D Dipasupil/Getty Images for Extra

The musical rule is particularly prevalent on TLC’s 19 Kids and Counting, or rather, music is particularly lacking.

The Duggars frequently talk about how important music is in their lives, for their family, and for their worship. All 21 members of the – immediate – Duggar family supposedly play instruments, but viewers were rarely treated to their musical talents when the show was on the air because of those copyright laws.

Producers Order The Cake Boss Cakes

buddy cake boss with small cake
Photo Credit: Instagram / @carlosbakery
Photo Credit: Instagram / @carlosbakery

It turns out that cakes aren’t even the best-selling item at Carlo’s Bakery in New Jersey, where TLC’s popular Cake Boss is filmed. Cake Boss is centered around the elaborate and outrageous cakes created by Buddy and his family, but there have been rumors for years that some of the cakes are ordered for fake events orchestrated by producers to show off.

It’s also been reported that the majority of the cakes are inedible because of all the elaborate decorative aspects. So have a backup birthday cake to actually feed your guests with!

Watch What You Spend

What not to wear Stacey and Clinton with contestant
Photo Credit: YouTube
Photo Credit: YouTube

TLC will monitor your spending when you’re a participant to make sure the stars of the shows are portrayed the way the network wants. They don’t ever want anybody featured to be perceived as potentially doing too well or possibly benefitting from being on TV.

They don’t always monitor the spending of its subjects, but it’s common for the families that are more prominent in the public eye such as the Duggars or the Gosselins when their shows were airing.

They Might Pay For Vacations…Or They Might Not

gosselin family vacation in Hawaii
Photo Credit: Courtesy of TLC
Photo Credit: Courtesy of TLC

A bit of a grey area in terms of spending is family vacations. During the years that 19 Kids and Counting or Jon & Kate Plus 8 were on air, we saw the families take multiple vacations. Well, taking a vacation to Disney World with 8 kids or taking 19 kids on a ski trip is not easy, and definitely not cheap.

In cases like this, TLC would be the ones footing the bill, and they would have full say over the trip location, length, etc. And of course, they would film all of it for the benefit of the show.

Economics Vs. Ethics

toddlers and tiaras Alana Thompson/Honeybooboo
Photo Credit: Instagram / @honeybooboo
Photo Credit: Instagram / @honeybooboo

It’s been reported that the majority of child actors on TLC shows are unpaid, and if you start as a child actor and grow up within the network, it can be difficult to negotiate pay later on.

It’s surprising when you think of how many TLC shows are based around children, but it’s certainly an economically-conscious choice on the part of the network. There’s also a number of shows featuring adults that work for little to no pay.

Basically Unpaid Volunteers

90 day fiance couple Fernanda and jonathan
Photo Credit: Instagram / @enews
Photo Credit: Instagram / @enews

There was a minor controversy surrounding Ben Seewald, husband of Jessa Seewald (formerly Duggar) when he stated that he hadn’t received any sort of compensation for a number of his appearances on the TLC show Counting On. Derick Dillard, husband of Jill Dillard (formerly Duggar) said he and his wife were basically considered to be unpaid volunteers.

Stars of another popular TLC show, 90 Day Fiance, reportedly make as little as $1000 an episode. Many, however, have managed to make money in the 15 minutes of fame that evidently follows their time on the dating show.

Say Yes To The Dress Is A Whole Different Ballgame

SYTTD Canada bridal consultant
Photo Credit: Anne-Marie Jackson/Toronto Star via Getty Images
Photo Credit: Anne-Marie Jackson/Toronto Star via Getty Images

Going on Say Yes To The Dress is no joke, and contestants have a lot of restrictions placed on them. One major restriction is that when it comes to choosing what dresses to try on, the bridge isn’t given as much choice as it seems.

Often, the clients are only given a handful of dresses to try on (we’re talking three to five) even though the store has thousands to “choose” from. You also may not have that much say in which dress you pick…

Yes To The Dress The Network Likes

GettyImages-490365695 - Kleinfeld Canada location at Queen and Yonge
Photo Credit: Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images
Photo Credit: Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images

It’s been reported that in some episodes, brides have been shown dresses they had no interest in buying, or that were completely different from the styles they liked because it would make for better TV. They’re also often pushed to buy dresses from designers the store has deals with.

The reason it seems like every other bride ends up with a Pnina Tornai gown is because she’s one of Kleinfeld’s top designers. Consultants will often choose at least one of her gowns to show brides, regardless of budget or the style they wanted.

Family Values

my big fat american gypsy wedding TLC show
Photo Credit: Courtesy of TLC
Photo Credit: Courtesy of TLC

Keeping in line with TLC’s image as a carefully cultivated wholesome network, show participants have to be cautious of what they say and do whether the cameras are running or not. This is the exact reason we don’t see Josh Duggar on TLC anymore (more on that later.)

As long as their show is airing, participants are expected to act (and react) a certain way. It’s also likely that they’re under contract to do so, and could face legal consequences if TLC deems their behavior unfit.

No One Is Allowed To See Josh Duggard

josh duggar at conference in Maryland
Photo Credit: Kris Connor/Getty Images
Photo Credit: Kris Connor/Getty Images

After 19 Kids and Counting was canceled in 2015 thanks to Josh Duggars “inexcusable actions,” TLC went on to produce a number of TV specials as well as a new 2019 spin-off series Counting On that continues to follow the lives of the majority of the oldest Duggar siblings.

Josh, however, is not allowed to appear on any of these TV specials or spin-off episodes, not even in the background. He was in attendance at many of his sibling’s weddings and reportedly had to go to great lengths to avoid the television cameras at all costs.

The Villain Edit

Matt and Amy Roloff Little People Big World Stars
Photo Credit: Amy Sussman/Getty Images for Discovery
Photo Credit: Amy Sussman/Getty Images for Discovery

As if the case with most reality TV, participants have no say in how they’re portrayed on a show. If TLC wants to give you the “villain edit” that’s up to their discretion.

Orchestrating Bridezillas and seemingly spoiled children creates drama for the shows, which brings in the ratings they want. It doesn’t matter to them if your comment was taken completely out of context. If it works for the storyline they’re trying to create, they’ll use it.

They Need To Know About Your Skeletons

here comes honey boo boo star Alana Thompson
Photo Credit: Instagram
Photo Credit: Instagram

TLC reportedly does extensive background checks on the stars of their shows (though they’ve definitely had some red flags over the years.)

Stars are subject to drug testing, criminal background checks, psychological testing, the whole nine yards. They call your friends and family, former employers, anyone who could potentially share information that you’re withholding, or that they could spin into a story. How they choose to proceed once they have that information is entirely up to them.

Their Dramatic Weightloss Probably Didn’t Happen

my 600 lb life contestants Brandi and Kandi Dreier
Photo Credit: Courtesy of TLC
Photo Credit: Courtesy of TLC

It is very common for participants on TLC weigh loss shows like My 600LB Life to… fudge the numbers while on the show.

Whether it’s changing the number of pounds a contestant lost or blurring the actual timeline a bit, TLC wants the show to seem like a success. Former contestants on My 600LB Life have reported that they actually gained weigh in the long run, because the unhealthy ways you lose weight while on the show aren’t maintainable afterward.

The Reality Behind The TV

Theresa Caputo TLC's Long Island Medium
Photo Credit: Bennett Raglin/Getty Images for Extra
Photo Credit: Bennett Raglin/Getty Images for Extra

In case you haven’t picked up on it by now, a lot of the drama and scenarios are created by producers, and contestants just have to go along with it. You supposedly have the right to refuse to participate in orchestrated drama, but if you want your show to stay on the air, it’s not recommended.

From fake readings on Long Island Medium to completely made up “rituals” on My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, it’s all up to producers.

Be Prepared To Come To Every Reunion

jersey shore reunion show with the entire case
Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images
Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images

It might seem like a tiny detail in your contract at the start, but most reality shows require that you take part in every reunion show. Clauses will often go on long past when the final episode airs.

Coming back for a reunion isn’t that big of a deal if you’re on good terms with everyone. But if you had the “villain” edit or have a grudge with a former cast member, it can get really awkward, really quickly.

Get On Reality TV While You’re Still Young

season sixteen cast of so you think you can dance
FOX via Getty Images
FOX via Getty Images

It’s not exactly shocking to hear that there’s an unwritten age limit on most reality shows. While some reality shows like Survivor and Big Brother will stretch their age limits, that’s not the case for most competition shows.

So You Think You Can Dance has even made it an actual rule that no one over 30 is allowed on the show. That rule makes a little more sense when you’re talking about a dance show that requires a lot of strenuous activity.

You Have To Pay Hefty Fines If You Reveal Spoilers

top chef winner cant reveal spoilers
Jason Kempin/Getty Images
Jason Kempin/Getty Images

One of the biggest rules any reality star has to follow is no spoilers. You’d think this was obvious but the reality shows make sure to write in hefty fines to the contracts to make sure they aren’t enticed to reveal secrets.

Believe it or not, the standard fine in reality television is $100,000 fine for breaking the confidentiality agreement. In the case of Top Chef, you can be fined $1 million for revealing the winner before the finale.

Expect To Go Into Solitary Confinement Each Night

project runway no sewing after noon
Cindy Ord/Getty Images
Cindy Ord/Getty Images

For competition shows that are filmed over the course of weeks, don’t expect to do any work for the show when you leave the set. Project Runway, for example, basically just sends you back to a hotel room with no sewing or drawing tools. If you’re going to do any designing or creating it has to be while the cameras are rolling.

One season 16 contestant was kicked off the show after another contestant saw her with a tape measurer in her hotel room.

Worry About Getting On The Producer’s Good Side

worry about the producers not the judges
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Most people in show-business know that at the end of the day, it’s the producers who have the final say on absolutely everything. Hosts and judges are simply there to move the narrative along.

If you want to get anything done on a reality show then you should cozy up and get on the good side of the producers. That includes if you want to break any of these major rules and get away with it.

Some People Compare Reality Shows To Prisons

lauren-crying-on the hills reality prison
@cosmopolitan/Twitter
@cosmopolitan/Twitter

If all of these crazy rules haven’t already convinced you of it, many people compare reality shows to prisons. People have shared some shocking stories of people being unable to leave the show.

One person who worked on a dating show said that a production assistant had to tackle a guy and drag him back to the house because he tried to escape in the middle of the night. Basically, only sign up for a reality show if you’re willing to be told what to do at every moment.

You Might Be Forced To Stay Awake

late nights on reality shows for drama
@theodyssey/Twitter
@theodyssey/Twitter

One common trick with reality shows will use to keep the drama rolling is making you stay up late. They usually only resort to it if alcohol isn’t doing its job. Basically, producers pair the alcohol with isolation from the outside world and long “working” hours. I

f that doesn’t work, they’ll push the lunch break until later in the day, so people get hangry. It sounds like torture but it works to get the right fight to break out.

You Have To Make Certain Stops On Hunted

hunted reality tv show have to use atm
@channel4/Twitter
@channel4/Twitter

The reality show Hunted follows a pair of contestants who go on the run for a group of investigators. If you can evade them for an entire month, you’ll end up winning the cash prize. The smart thing would be to become a month-long hermit but the show has strict rules that forbids it.

In fact, the contestants are required to make at least two ATM stops, use cell phones, and star in busy locations.

You Can Only Use Specific Products And Services

the amazing race have to use specific products
@mattschmidtLA/Twitter
@mattschmidtLA/Twitter

Reality shows are all about making money and producers will find every way possible to do that, including making deals with certain companies. Often, that means you’re only allowed to use specific products that have a partnership deal with the show.

For example, on The Amazing Race, the teams can only use show-sanctioned cab companies. On the History Channel’s Alone, they require you to bring on a pair of Crocs to wear.

Get Ready For Psychotherapy On Hell’s Kitchen

hells kitchen gordon ramsay go to therapy
@familyhomecook/Twitter
@familyhomecook/Twitter

If you sign up to go on Hell’s Kitchen and be called a panini head by Gordon Ramsay, then you’re also signing up for mandatory therapy. Since you’re basically going through an aggressive boot camp on the show, you’re required to go to a studio-controlled therapist afterward for “testing and relaxation.”

At least the network knows that normal humans can’t take that much yelling from Ramsay. That’s just what happens when you’re called a “muppet” over and over.

The “Final” Reveal Isn’t Very Final

what not to wear final reveal taped multiple times
@keribo1/Twitter
@keribo1/Twitter

Any “reveal” show like What Not To Wear or Say Yes To The Dress will often reveal the winning look multiple times. Producers do it so they can get the reaction they want from the audience or family.

One Reddit user who had a family friend got on What Not The Wear said they had to do more than ten takes for the “final reveal” because the audience was never enthusiastic. It can be pretty exhausting at the end of it all.

If The Show Doesn’t Air, You Don’t Get Paid

jersey-shore girls shopping not paid unless it airs
MTV/MovieStillsDB
MTV/MovieStillsDB

Before you sign up for any sort of reality show, make sure the operation is legitimate. Tons of reality shows are filmed each year that never get produced and aired on television.

If you’re banking on the show paying off student debts, then check out where the filming takes place. If it’s outside in public places, then the show is low on cash, and you will probably never see a cent for your hard work.

People Make Decisions Long Before Going On HGTV Shows

love it or list it decision already made
@DiscoveryIncTV/Twitter
@DiscoveryIncTV/Twitter

When you see people on House Hunters or Love It Or List It, they’ve made their decision long before the show even started filming. Sometimes people already bought a house, and they go “hunting” just for the show.

On Love It Or List It, both outcomes are recorded just to be safe. Then the producers choose the ending they want, regardless of what the couple actually decided on. All that matters is that you’re a half-decent actor.

Reactions Are Usually Entirely Unrelated

unrealated reaction on reality show
@celebbb/Twitter
@celebbb/Twitter

All those perfectly shocked, angry, and sad faces are rarely in reaction to the actual situation. They are filmed before or after and are entirely unrelated.

Producers will ask the reality show contestants to make certain faces then splice them in later on. So they’ll tell someone to “look shocked” so that the clip can be used if something shocking happens. Often, they’ll even make you change back into the clothes you were wearing for the scene to keep up continuity.

You Can’t Be A Model And Audition On American Idol

american idol audition cant be a model
@_ennjay8/Twitter
@_ennjay8/Twitter

Don’t even think about auditioning for American Idol if you make any extra money doing modeling. The show strictly prohibits anyone from coming on the show who has an existing “entertainment” contract.

Since the winner will be required to sign a contract with the show, they have to make sure there is no competing contracts. It’s not exactly shocking that a network would require you to come onto the show without any legal strings attached.

Volunteers Probably Won’t Be Reimbursed On Ink Master

ink master doesn't pay human canvases
@inkmaster/Twitter
@inkmaster/Twitter

Most people would be over-the-moon to hear that they’re getting a full sleeve tattoo free of charge. That’s what happens if you decide to volunteer your body and become a “human canvas” for the reality show Ink Master.

Of course, it isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. Even though the human canvases get their tattoos for free, they have to pay for their flight and hotel entirely out of pocket. If the ink is good enough, it’s probably worth it.

Think Before You Drink (Or Don’t)

jersey shore tv show forced to drink
@THR/Twitter
@THR/Twitter

It’s not very surprising to hear that reality shows love to stock the set with alcohol to keep the action moving. Producers will even call it their “secret ingredient.” Just look at how successful Jersey Shore was all thanks to the fact that they got drunk every single night.

That being said, it can also be a bad thing. If you want to avoid embarrassment then be extra careful when you drink. Just remember, the cameras will catch everything.

You Barely See Any Of The Action

shark tank barely see any auditions
@ABCSharkTank/Twitter
@ABCSharkTank/Twitter

Reality shows often film 24/7 hours a day, but we only see 30-60 minutes of that action a week. Obviously, that means a lot of stuff is edited out. Two shows that edit like crazy is Big Brother and Shark Tank.

On Big Brother, there’s only so much footage they can choose from. On Shark Tank, there are thousands of auditions but the show only airs 3 or 4 pitches. It’s a good reminder that reality shows aren’t what they seem.

Dishes Are Almost Always Served Cold On The Food Network

food-network dishes served cold because of timing
FOX/Getty Images
FOX/Getty Images

After the first episode of Top Chef, Tom Colicchio freaked out because the dishes were served cold because the film crew had to take “food porn” shots first. From then on, all the contestants have to prepare two dishes.

But making them serve two dishes didn’t change anything. Judges for multiple Food Network shows have said they don’t take temperature into account when judging because the food almost always ends up cold.

The Judges On Cooking Shows Have To Give Two Reviews

judging on food shows have to give good and bad review
@duffgoldman/Twitter
@duffgoldman/Twitter

After being served cold food or stale cake, the judges have to give their opinion, and they always have to provide more than one. Everything judged has to receive both a super negative and super positive review.

By having the judges play both sides of the coin, the producers can cut the show whichever way they want afterward. The obvious downside of that is the contestants never really know if they’re getting the correct feedback.