June 3, 2015 / 9:05 PM / in 2 years

TLC could test waters for Duggars' future with Fox News interview

Jim Bob Duggar (L) and his wife Michelle Duggar (R) in Columbia, South Carolina, on the steps of the State House in this file photo from January 14, 2012.Chris Keane/Files

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - As Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, the parents on the TLC reality show "19 Kids and Counting," prepare on Wednesday to address allegations that their oldest son molested girls, critics question the possible impact of the Fox News interview on the family's future on television.

TLC, which is owned by Discovery Communications, pulled all episodes of "19 Kids," its top-rated show, last month after reports surfaced that Josh Duggar, now 27, had molested underage girls when he was a teenager. He has never been arrested or charged by police.

Experts said the Duggars' interview with Fox News host Megyn Kelly could offer TLC the chance to test the waters for future programming, gauging viewer interest in watching the Duggars publicly apologize.

"The network is waiting to see whether Jim Bob and Michelle can dig their family out of this substantial hole that they've created," said Craig Detweiler, a communications professor at Pepperdine University in California.

At least a dozen advertisers, including food company General Mills Inc and retailer Walgreen Co, pulled out of the show.

As of Wednesday, TLC had no comment on the show.

Josh Duggar has not directly addressed the allegations but released a statement last month apologizing for acting "inexcusably" 12 years ago. He also resigned from his job at the Christian lobbying group Family Research Council.

The conservative Arkansas-based Duggars have chronicled their struggles and triumphs since 2008 in "19 Kids," and are known for their Christian family values.

The Duggars have earned the support of conservative politicians such as former Arkansas governor and now Republican presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee, who said Josh Duggar's actions were "inexcusable" but not "unforgivable."

For some "19 Kids" viewers, the "creepiness factor" of the allegations could be a turn-off, said Jeff McCall, a media studies professor at DePauw University in Indiana.

He said the Duggars should directly address their actions to attempt to remedy the situation. 

Even if TLC views a redemption storyline as a solution to restoring the show, the network may not be able to win back advertisers.

"They would probably get a spike in viewership from the curiosity seekers," said McCall. "But that can't last for very long. You need advertisers."

Editing by Patricia Reaney and Steve Orlofsky

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