Calum Henderson previews some of the strange new shows screening on Sky TV's new channel, TLC.

For years Sky channel 17 was where TVNZ Heartland lived, incongruously nestled between 'The Zone' and 'The Shopping Channel' like a rustic Kiwi villa in the middle of a strip mall.

When Heartland's old weatherboard was finally hauled away on the back of a truck on the last day of May - taking with it the ghosts of Suzanne Paul and Dexter from Tux Wonder Dogs - it left a huge gap in Sky's lifestyle programming, not to mention my sentimental heart.

Last week the vacant section at channel 17 showed its first signs of new life, with an anxiety-inducing loop of previews for shows with unwieldy, awful titles like My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding and My Big Fat Fabulous Life.

TLC - weirdly, short for The Learning Channel - launches tomorrow (on channel 16, after Sky's big reshuffle), and will pump unprecedented quantities of US reality and lifestyle television onto our screens.


If the previews are any indication it's set to be a vast circus of big people, little people, pregnant people, tattooists, bridezillas and celebrities, with Oprah Winfrey as the ringmaster.

Here are five potential highlights.

Oprah's Master Class

The channel's major drawcard is undoubtedly its exclusive content from OWN, the Oprah Winfrey Network. The talk show titan's instantly recognisable booming cadences will ring through the schedule - revisiting her previous famous guests on Oprah: Where Are They Now, and on Oprah's Master Class.

Every week Oprah will delve into the brain of a different 'Modern Master' - subjects include Jane Fonda, Morgan Freeman and Jon Bon Jovi - sucking out all the secrets of their success and regurgitating them into the waiting mouths of her inspiration-hungry viewers like a dutiful mother bird.

Say Yes To The Dress

Oprah aside, this is probably TLC's single hottest property. Set within the hermetic confines of a fancy New York bridal fitting room, Say Yes To The Dress is basically Grand Designs but instead of building their dream house our subjects are choosing their perfect wedding gown.

This is one of those shows that manages to strike some secret chord of humanity to make it far more engrossing than it has any right to be - one of those shows you're destined to binge watch for six hours straight one Sunday in a deep chasm of self-pity. Perfect reality television, then.

Extreme Couponing

I saw a couple of extreme couponers on Rachel Ray once and it remains one of the most unrelenting displays of competitiveness I've ever seen. These women had been given a list of items to buy to see who could get the biggest savings - Lady A would proudly explain how she managed to save $50 on a colour printer, and every time Lady B would swiftly counter with how she actually saved $100 and got an free extended warranty to boot.

It was brutal. She was the Kobe Bryant of couponing. "You really are the best," Lady A quietly conceded from beneath a mask of pure humiliation. If the show captures even a fraction of this psychotic drive to save money on things you neither want nor need, it will be tremendous viewing.

Sister Wives

This sounds more like a trendy band name than a reality TV show, but rest assured Sister Wives will NOT be appearing at Laneway next year. The show follows the sprawling family (4 wives, 17 kids) of fundamentalist Mormon polygamist Kody Brown, who with his mess of blond hair, little goatee and unfashionable assortment of dress shirts looks like he could be a long lost member of the 1998 Otago Highlanders.

Some of the stars of Sister Wives, one of the new shows screening as part of Sky TV's new channel TLC.
Some of the stars of Sister Wives, one of the new shows screening as part of Sky TV's new channel TLC.

Sister Wives

offers a fairly unjudgemental and low-key look at the rhythms of daily life in a polygamist household, although the first episode does sometimes play disconcertingly like an instructional video.

Breaking Amish

One of the year's most popular new Netflix comedies, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, followed the irrepressible young woman making a go of it in the alien cultural landscape of New York City after being rescued from an isolated doomsday cult.

While it's probably a stretch to call them a 'cult', Breaking Amish is essentially the reality version of Kimmy Schmidt - a group of five young (ex-)Amish folk who probably don't own a Jay Z CD between them move to the big city and try to assimilate into the Empire State of Mind. If Julie Christie sees this we could have our own Gloriavale version on air as early as next year.

* Will you be watching? Post your comments below!