As Little People, Big World Ends, So Does a Certain Type of Reality Show

The series finale of TLC’s Little People, Big World aired Monday; I suspect you either watched or you had no idea Little People, Big World was still on. The show was actually a solid and consistent docudrama, but it couldn’t even hope to compete with the tabloid fodder of Kate Gosselin and Sarah Palin. So while the Roloff family may have genuinely wanted to move on from a life in front of the camera, it didn't really matter, because there was no longer room for Little People, Big World on TLC.

It’s been a long time since anyone's thought of TLC as The Learning Channel, because when was the last time we learned anything from Cake Boss or Kate Plus 8? The network has consistently reinvented itself, moving from under-the-radar baby stories to headline-making shows. I can’t fault TLC for seeing a good thing and exploiting it, though I do wish I lived in a world minus Kate. At the same time, I can’t help but miss the modest charms of the Roloffs selling pumpkins and arguing over chores and, you know, not cheating on their significant others in a spectacularly public fashion. The stakes have been raised, and Matt Roloff wasn’t shooting caribou.

I enjoyed the Little People, Big World finale, but I’ll admit it was fairly underwhelming. I mean, nothing happened. The twins talked about moving out, made plans to do so, and then backed out at the last minute. Matt and Amy toyed with the idea of divorce, even hinting that they might be headed in that direction now that the show is over, but we didn’t get any Jon and Kate-style fireworks. That’s not the Roloff way. In fact, the “drama” felt more like TLC trying to force conflict into the series, so that the show might go out with a bang. It didn’t, but points for effort, I guess.

I’ve been watching Little People, Big World since it first aired in 2006. I’ve probably missed some of the 226 episodes (yes, really), but I’ve tuned in enough to keep up with what was going on. There’s a certain comfort to a reality show that focuses—no pun intended—on the small stuff. In fact, I watched Jon & Kate Plus 8 before the series devolved into an abhorrent mess. And sure, Jon and Kate were never ordinary, just as the Roloffs faced unusual challenges. But that was the point. These TLC series were once about people in extraordinary situations trying to carve out normal lives for themselves. That’s right, there was a time when Kate wasn’t trying to dance her way to stardom.

This isn’t a condemnation of reality TV in general—it’s an easy genre to criticize. I’m merely mourning the loss of a type of reality show. There isn’t a place for the Roloffs anymore; they never achieved the fame of their TLC contemporaries, and they certainly don’t have Sarah Palin’s notoriety. That’s fine. I’d like to think they’re glad to have been left relatively unchanged by their TLC experience. They could have made offensive comments in public, or written tell-all books, or released sex tapes. I’m not sure anyone would have cared, but that’s a moot point: The Roloffs seemed satisfied with their lot.

But that's just not enough anymore. Though The Little Couple remains on the air, I’m doubtful TLC can sustain that series for much longer. As the channel continues to plug its special Palin-Gosselin crossover—Sarah takes Kate and the brood camping this weekend—it’s clear where TLC’s priorities lie. Oh, well. I have fond memories of the Roloffs, and I’m sure those who stuck with the show throughout its unfabulous run can share that.

Follow writer Louis Peitzman on Twitter: @LouisAtTVDotCom

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