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’19 Kids and Counting’: How the Duggar Family Landed Their Original Show

By the time TLC canceled the Duggar family amid mounting pressure, they had worked with them for 17 years. The Duggars spent so much time on TV that it's hard to remember how it all began. To hear some tell it, it started with a magazine photo. If you believe the rumors, Grandma Mary Duggar orchestrated the entire media empire.

TLC’s cameras captured the life of the Duggar family for more than a decade, first with 19 Kids and Counting and then Counting On. The television network, best known for producing reality TV content, was pretty committed to the Duggars until they absolutely had to cut ties after Josh Duggar’s April 2021 arrest on two child pornography charges. While the Duggar family has amassed both fans and critics over the years, it’s hard to remember how it all started. We remember how the family rose to fame, though. 

TLC aired specials focusing on the Duggar family five times before producing ’19 Kids and Counting’ 

The Duggar family is best known for their reality TV shows 19 Kids and Counting and Counting On. The latter was created after back-to-back family scandals threatened the family’s television career. 19 Kids and Counting wasn’t the first time the family appeared on television, though. TLC produced five specials before finally adding the Duggar family to their regular lineup. 

Jim Bob Duggar speaks with Megyn Kelly for 'Fox News' in his home in Springdale, Arkansas
Jim Bob Duggar and Megyn Kelly | FOX News Channel via Getty Images

The first special, 14 Kids and Pregnant Again, aired in 2004 and featured the birth of Jackson Duggar. Jackson turned 17 in May. Raising 16 Children, the family’s second special, and 16 Children and Moving In, the third special, focused on the family’s living situation. The same year, a travel special aired. The family’s September 2007 special, Duggars’ Big Family Album, walked viewers into 19 Kids and Counting. The show premiered three months later. 

TLC reportedly discovered the Duggar family through a photograph that ran in a magazine

Before the aviation business, the television specials, and eventual television show, Jim Bob Duggar wanted a career in politics. His unsuccessful run for a seat in the Senate reportedly led to his family’s media career. Jim Bob ran for the United States Senate in 2002. During the campaign process, photographers captured images of Jim Bob with his family several times. A picture of Jim Bob, Michelle Duggar, and their children heading to the polls is what caught the attention of television producers, though. 

Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar with several of their children in a store in New YorK City in 2014. They were promoting their series '19 Kids and Counting'
The Duggar family | D Dipasupil/Getty Images for Extra

As the story goes, a magazine published a snapshot of the family’s 13 children walking to the polls with their parents. A TLC producer happened upon the picture and contacted the family about producing a special. That special, 14 Children and Pregnant Again, aired in 2004. In 2006, TLC filmed three more specials with the family. A fourth followed in 2007 before the network offered the Duggar family their first show, 19 Kids and Counting

A 2007 blog comment suggested Mary’ Grandma Mary’ Duggar was the brains behind the operation

While the official story is that a producer for TLC saw a photo of the family and contacted them, not everyone in believes that. A commenter who went by the moniker ‘Alice’ once claimed that Jim Bob’s mother, Mary Duggar, was the brains behind the operation. According to the alleged insider, she spent her days trying to help the Duggar family find fame. Mary Duggar died in 2020. Alice shared her information on a blog in 2007, just before the Duggars became truly famous.


‘Counting On’: A Duggar Family Whistleblower Spilled All The Dirt Years Before Critics Started Snarking On the Family

According to the comment, which appeared on a now-defunct blog, Grandma Mary spent her days calling up television stations to share the family’s story. The commenter claimed that the family matriarch wanted fame for herself but saw an opportunity with her supersized family. While the blog no longer exists, Reddit users have shared the comment multiple times over the years.