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What ‘Shiny Happy People’ reveals about the Duggars: ‘We were taken advantage of’

By Alexandra Del Rosario, Los Angeles Times
Published: June 4, 2023, 6:05am

Jim Bob Duggar, Michelle Duggar and their giant family were once the golden children of TLC, as their hit show “19 Kids and Counting” ushered in an obsession with Christian fundamentalist life.

The shine of reality TV fame and the family’s once-charming facade of purity and religious devotion quickly faded in 2015 when the firstborn Duggar child, Josh, was accused of molesting five younger girls — four of whom were his sisters — when he was 15. The series was canceled that year.

In a separate case, Josh was convicted on two counts of possessing and receiving child pornography in December 2021. He was sentenced to 12 ½ years in prison last May.

“Shiny Happy People: Duggar Family Secrets,” a new docuseries from Amazon Studios, hones in on how the Institute in Basic Life Principles (founded by disgraced minister Bill Gothard) was a breeding ground for abusive behavior — such as Josh’s — toward women and children. Jill Dillard, the second-eldest Duggar daughter and one of Josh’s victims, is among the interview subjects who break their silence on Jim Bob’s sketchy business acumen and the traumatizing lifestyle of the IBLP.

“I believe strongly that victims should always be protected. Victims should always be cared for,” Jill says. “You’re out there, your story’s out there. … I’d rather have some say in what that looks like.”

From secret contracts with TLC to the “suicide mission” that was Megyn Kelly’s infamous 2015 interview with the Duggars, here are six revelations from “Shiny Happy People,” streaming later this week on Prime Video.

  • Jim Bob wanted Josh to come clean about his abuse — after he got married

The docuseries’ first episode, “Meet the Duggars,” paints a picture of Jim Bob, Michelle and their family through clips from their reality shows and interviews with experts, Jill Dillard and family friends Jim and Bobye Holt.

Jim Holt, a GOP former state representative and state senator from Arkansas, said he found out about the molestation claims against Josh in 2003, when Josh was dating their eldest daughter, Kaeleigh. The couple were encouraged by Jim Bob and Michelle to keep their silence about the allegations.

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“He had apparently been doing it since he was 12, but we found out about it when he was 15,” Jim said, before recalling a conversation with the Duggar parents.

“‘So, when were you gonna tell us?’ And Michelle says, ‘We weren’t gonna have them tell you guys at all. We were gonna have Josh confess to Kaeleigh once they were married,’” Jim recalled.

Bobye Holt testified against Josh during his child pornography possession trial in December 2021. At the time of his son’s trial, Jim Bob announced his bid for Arkansas Senate. Later in the series, Jim Holt reveals the Duggar patriarch sent him a link to fund his campaign.

Duggar lost the GOP primary to former city council member Colby Fulfer by a landslide.

  • Why that Megyn Kelly interview was a ‘suicide mission’ for Jill

As news about Josh’s molestation allegations broke in 2015, Jill and sister Jessa were thrust into the spotlight to speak about their brother. Looking back on her interview with Kelly, Jill said that’s a moment she would have preferred to keep private.

“In hindsight, I wouldn’t have done the Megyn Kelly stuff. I felt like I was in a place again of like bearing the burden and the weight of just — even though you volunteer, it’s like you feel obligated to help,” she said in the second episode.

Derick Dillard, who had just welcomed a child with Jill at the time of the Kelly interview, said his wife was “basically being called on to carry out a suicide mission” for the TV future of the Duggar family.

Intent on minimizing the scandal surrounding Josh, the Duggar family agreed to an interview with the then-Fox News personality. The “Kelly File” chat was organized by Chad Gallagher, who represented Jim Bob and Michelle and served as an adviser to former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.

For the interview, Jill and Jessa recalled learning of Josh’s behavior and said news about the molestation was “lies.” The sisters downplayed their brother’s actions, with Jill calling the case “very mild.” In “Shiny Happy People,” she said, “it’s not something that I’m proud of.

“If I hadn’t felt obligated to like, one, do it for the sake of the show and, two, do it for the sake of my parents, I wouldn’t have done it,” she said in the third episode.

Jill, now 32, also said “there was an awareness” that her family assumed the series would continue to film despite the public allegations against Josh.

“Yes, we were taken advantage of,” she added.

  • Amid Bill Gothard’s resignation, Jim Bob was ready to lead the IBLP

Within the IBLP, allegations of sexual abuse and misconduct ran all the way to the top.

Before Josh Duggar’s molestation allegations went public, IBLP founder Bill Gothard stepped down from the ministry in 2014 over allegations of sexual harassment. Years later, more women spoke up about Gothard’s alleged abuse in a lawsuit filed in 2016.

As the face of the IBLP was embroiled in his own sexual abuse case, Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar became “his replacement,” Bobye Holt said.

“With him being on TLC’s show, I think it has definitely given them a platform to encourage people to come to IBLP,” she continued. “They’ve encouraged people to move to Arkansas, which is completely a cult move.”

Jim Bob secretly locked Jill into a long-term TLC contract a day before her wedding

In June 2014, Jim Bob walked Jill down the aisle to her soon-to-be husband, Derick Dillard. The pair finally shared their first kiss, and the super-sized Duggar wedding brought TLC record viewership.

Hours before Jill Duggar became Jill Dillard, though, she unknowingly signed a contract that would extend her time on “19 Kids and Counting.”

“I just saw the signature page. It was like on the end of the kitchen table — like, ‘Hey, I just needed you guys to sign these,’” Jill said. “We were literally running through the kitchen, and it was like whoever you could grab on the way through. I didn’t know what it was for.”

Derick explained that the contract Jim Bob presented to Jill “was a commitment of [our] life for the next five years to the show.”

The terms of the contract played out in full force when the couple was carrying out missionary duties in El Salvador. According to Jill, TLC pressed them to come back to the U.S. for a shoot. After initially rejecting the call, Jill and Derick ended up complying with the show’s orders.

“My dad sends us the signature page along with just the obligation of the contract. I was like, ‘Somebody forged my signature,’” Jill said. “That’s when we realized that I had signed this the day before we got married. … That’s not what I thought I was signing.”

  • How TLC got footage of Jill giving birth, even though she didn’t allow it

Weddings and births were the most popular episodes for “19 Kids and Counting.”

TLC documented Michelle Duggar giving birth to baby No. 19 in 2009. That same year, camera crews filmed Anna Duggar, wife of Josh, going into labor. Naturally, TLC wanted in on Jill’s first birth in April 2015 — a month before “19 Kids and Counting” was canceled.

“I didn’t want any of that,” Jill said.

Despite her initial objections to cameras being present for her giving birth, Jill ended up filming her time in the hospital per TLC’s and her father’s requests. Operating cameras and tripods on their own in the hospital room, Jill and Derick documented the birth of their first son, Israel.

“We basically lost, and they’re gonna get what they want,” Derick said.

Even after documenting her child’s birth and raking in millions of viewers, Jill said, TLC left her hanging. She said she asked the network to “pay us enough just to cover what our out-of-pocket costs were” for her son’s birth. Instead, TLC said it would pay the family, Derick said.

“‘Pay the family’ means we don’t get anything at that point,” he added.

  • Jim Bob was going to pay his older kids a lump sum — if they signed another contract

Since severing ties with TLC, Jill and Derick Dillard have been vocal about their compensation — or lack thereof — from “19 Kids and Counting” and the spinoff series “Counting On,” which ran from December 2015 to March 2021.

In the Amazon Studios series, Jill claimed she “never received any payout.”

She continued: “No check, no cash, no nothing. For 7 ½ years of my adult life, I was never paid.”

Even when Jim Bob put any payment on the table — as was the case to get Jill and Derick to come back from El Salvador — it was a measly sum: $10 an hour for shooting, Derick said.

The couple attempted to speak to TLC about their contract until Jim Bob’s manager, Gallagher, said it wasn’t their place to do so. At around the same time, Jim Bob was considering paying his older children a lump sum. The catch?

“In order to receive that, you had to sign another deal with my dad, his production company, Mad Family Inc.,” Jill said. “It would be like forever.

“We were automatically like, ‘We’re done,’” she said.

The Dillards exited “Counting On” in 2017 and opened up about their departure years later with a YouTube video shared in October 2020.

“Our family goals that we had for ourselves didn’t align with what we found out. … We ended up finding out we didn’t have as much control over our lives as it related to the show and stuff as we felt like we needed,” Jill said in the video. “We had to make a decision at that time to put the show aside just to pursue our own goals.”

She continued: “It was a really difficult decision but something we knew we really needed to do for our family.”

Jill, like other ex-IBLP members interviewed for “Shiny Happy People,” reflected on how she has taken back control of her life after years under a strict fundamentalist lifestyle.

“Eventually you start making your own decisions, like the nose ring that I got, and it’s piece by piece. Little by little till like [you] do what you need to survive,” she said.

(“Shiny Happy People: Duggar Family Secrets” is streaming on Prime Video.)