This Is How The Duggar Family Really Ended Up On Television

The Duggar family's reality television career began in 2004, three years before "Keeping Up with the Kardashians" premiered. But while camera crews have continued documenting the everyday lives of Kim K. & Co., the Duggars' TV dynasty came crumbling down when TLC announced the cancellation of their series "Counting On" in June 2021.

The network explained that Josh Duggar's arrest for downloading and possessing child sexual abuse material was tied to its decision. "TLC feels it is important to give the Duggar family the opportunity to address their situation privately," read its statement to People. Josh, the oldest of Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar's 19 children, was later found guilty and sentenced to more than 12 years in prison, per USA Today.

Before Josh's crimes brought about his family's downfall, the Duggars had weathered other controversies, some of which were tied to him. In 2015, TLC announced that it was canceling the family's reality series "19 Kids and Counting" after In Touch obtained police reports detailing how Josh had molested four of his younger sisters when he was a teenager. However, the network wasn't done with the Duggars; Josh was simply removed from the cast and the series was retitled "Counting On." His wife, Anna Duggar, continued to appear on the show, where she tearfully addressed another Josh scandal: his infidelity confession. But how did the Duggars' controversial run as reality show stars begin, anyway? Well, one person has stepped forward to shoulder some of the blame for their fame.

The Duggars' documentary demand

Before the Duggars landed their long-running reality series, which premiered in 2008, they appeared in a series of documentary specials for Discovery Health. The first, "14 Children and Pregnant Again!," followed the family as they prepared for the birth of Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar's 15th child, Jackson, in 2004. It also gave viewers a look inside how the conservative Christian fundamentalist couple ran their supersized household by doling out housework and having their older kids look after the younger children.

In a May 2022 HuffPost article, writer Andrea Cooper admitted that she was inadvertently (and regretfully) responsible for the Duggars getting those early specials. She recalled how she penned a puff piece about the family for Parents magazine in 2003 — the same year Josh Duggar molested one of his victims, per In Touch. According to Cooper, the article caught the attention of a Discovery Health Channel employee who was high up enough to orchestrate the first documentary's production.

Michelle confirmed this on the Duggar family's website. "We prayed about it and felt this would be an opportunity to share with the world that children are a blessing from God," she wrote. "We said the only way we would do the documentary is if they did not edit out our faith, because that is the core of our lives." In their book, "The Duggars: 20 and Counting!," the family shared the production company's alleged response: "It's your story. Share it the way you want to."

Why the Duggars ditched their TV

Reality TV proved to be lucrative for the Duggars; according to Celebrity Net Worth, Jim Bob Duggar is worth around $3.5 million. However, before he and Michelle Duggar made bank by inviting cameras into their family's lives for well over a decade, the parents decided that they didn't want their kids to grow up enjoying the medium that would make them famous.

In a 2011 interview with HuffPost, Jim Bob revealed that he and Michelle had followed a friend's recommendation by experimenting with a TV-free lifestyle for one year after their wedding, but when they were gifted a free TV, the thrifty couple couldn't resist the temptation to use it. "Communications dropped off, we weren't talking as much and we couldn't believe the content on TV we didn't think was appropriate," Jim Bob recalled. "This is detrimental to our marriage. We prayed about it and felt we had to pull it out of our house." Their children, however, did get to watch Kirk Cameron movies on DVD.

So, did growing up without cable and cartoons financially benefit the kids who helped make Jim Bob so much money? While they enjoyed some perks of being reality TV stars, including a filmed family trip to China, Jill Duggar told People that her father always maintained full control over the family's purse strings, meaning that she was not getting paid. "We got an attorney involved and finally recovered some of the money," she said. "It was a process."