This was originally posted by Rodney Hofirstname.lastname@example.org on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog
Little people are now a reality show staple, especially on TLC. "Little People, Big World" was TLC's ground breaker 11 years ago and returning next week for a 15th season. In 2009, it added "The Little Couple," which has now aired eight seasons.
In 2015, Forsyth's "7 Little Johnstons" joined the line up, focused on a couple with dwarfism and five kids with the same medical condition - three adopted. That show's second season begins Tuesday for the first new episodes in 16 months.
The docuseries feels far less contrived than past reality series such as "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo" or 'Duck Dynasty." The first episode of this new season focuses on Anna trying to pass her learner's permit exam while Jonah takes his driver's license test. And 10-year-old Alex is facing some serious brain compression issues that may require surgery.
This general tenor of the show is positive and the production company treats the family with the utmost respect.
"It's been excellent," said Amber Johnston, the mother, in a recent phone interview. "When we were given the opportunity to have a television show, Trent and I went at this like a family job. We talked to everyone in the family and agreed together this was a journey we wanted to take."
She said she has wanted to use this platform to educate and spread awareness about achondroplasia dwarfism. "This is a show the entire family can watch and have a good time," she said. "You see throughout the season there are emotional times, there are funny times. We have celebrations and sad times we share. The kids get in trouble. We want to keep the show well and true to who we are good and bad. There's no hiding things. There's no making everything look perfect."
They feel their family is strong enough to endure the strains of being in the public eye.
"We've seen reality shows take off and seen families crash and burn," Trent said. "Amber and I made it clear. We have 18 years of hard work in our marriage. Everything we have done has worked. We're going to put 100 percent into our TV show. We are advocates for the show."
He said the family can live with or without the show. "When this fun ride is over, it's just back to the Johnstons. We'll be the same folks," Trent said. "There has been benefits. We've gotten to travel to a few places, go on a few talk shows. I think every season when the network calls and gives us a green light, we'll see if we want to go again. We all have to be on board."
Trent said they were always outliers in Forsyth, a small town 70 miles southeast of Atlanta, but instead of finger pointing and stares, they are now known as that family that's on TV. "People can't believe we're shopping at Wal-Mart but we shop just like everybody else," Amber said. "What you see is what you get."
Occasionally, the kids grouse about doing a shoot instead of, say, visiting friends on a weekend. But the parents emphasize that this is a job. "You can't call in sick," Trent said. "You can't take a day off. They get some real life experience about work."
Among other plot points this season: Amber suffers a medical emergency. Trent approaches his 40th birthday and hopes to lose some weight and Amber sets to plan a surprise party. Their oldest daughter Anna isn’t allowed to attend prom since she is not yet a senior in high school, but the family bands together to throw her a sweet 16 birthday party.
Alex is going to go through some challenging times but Trent calls him a "trooper."
"He's the jokester in the family," Amber added. "He's had a lot to deal with but he amazes me so much every day." But he isn't big on exercise. "You buy him a bike and he'll hang his coat from it," she said. And while he likes food, he's more talk than action, his mom said.
Jonah, the oldest son, is gaining more responsibility but has to be reminded of that at times. Anna, after some rebellious issues in school season one, is doing better, Amber said. "She's maturing," she said.
Elizabeth, Trent said, is most like him: "She's the social butterfly. She doesn't meet a stranger and likes to talk to everyone." She, Amber added, "is the creative one, always drawing, painting, doing clay work. She's always doing something that involves a mess and ruining the shirt she's wearing."
Emma is the "free spirit," Amber said. "She can't walk anywhere without doing cartwheels. Cheerleading is her thing. She loves to cheer. She's very very active. The only time she's still is when she's asleep." She also is the most "intuitive" of the bunch and tends to know what all the other kids are doing at any time.
Amber is well aware of the "Little Women" franchise on Lifetime, which is modeled more on the "Real Housewives" shows. "I find it a little distasteful," she said. At the same time, "These shows show little people don't look the same, don't think the same, don't act the same."
"7 Little Johnstons," returns Tuesday, May 2 at 10 p.m. on TLC