What If Putting Your Kids on Reality TV Is Good for Your Career?


Let’s say you’re the owner of a small but popular bakery and a gifted cake decorator with aspirations to be, say, the next Colette Peters. But how do you get there? Baking celebrity cakes would help. Writing a book, ditto. But somehow you’ve got to get the attention of the celebrities, and publishers insist that a book needs a “platform.” “Who’s going to buy a book by an unknown baker,” they demand, while you’re left moaning “but how do I become a known baker without a book?” Meanwhile, you’re juggling triplets, running the bakery and soothing a husband who’s one–tenth occasional (and subversive) bakery staff and nine-tenths Mr. Mom. You’re at a standstill.

Enter TLC.

Jennifer and Dirk Williams own Beverly’s Best Bakery in Fullerton, CA. They bought the bakery from Jennifer’s parents two years ago. It’s been in Martha Stewart Living and airline magazines, and you have to imagine that the Williams’ would like to achieve the  astonishing success of Magnolia Bakery (of Sex and the City fame) or Charm City Cakes (as in Ace of Cakes on the Food Network). That kind of success could change their lives, and the lives of their 4-year-old triplets, and a hit TV show could get them there.

It’s pretty easy to imagine the elevator pitch for The Bakery Bunch. It’s Jon and Kate Plus Eight meets Ace of Cakes (which has run very successfully for eight seasons). TLC broadcast a pilot episode earlier this week (watch it again on July 20), but it’s too soon to tell if the show will be picked up by the network.

Watching it, though, it was impossible not to imagine the thought process the Williams’ must have gone through in deciding to let a film crew into their lives. If The Bakery Bunch is a success, the bakery–and Jennifer, the driving force behind the cakes and the business–reach a whole new level. And her ambition comes through loud and clear during the hour-long pilot episode. She’s got her staff taking risks and trying new things, and she herself puts in long days and equally long nights. But on the flip side, there are all the obvious pitfalls of putting your kids on camera. As Caroline wrote recently, many experts argue that filming your kid’s childhood invades his privacy, and may confuse his sense of identity. Both Paula and Helaine have written about the concerns of child labor experts and lawmakers. There are risks–but there are rewards, too. Embracing publicity of nearly any kind is part of the territory for a small business owner, and the kids would obviously benefit from a successful family business.

I have to admit to rooting for the Williams’–but then, I think kids generally manage to cope with any kind of a reasonable childhood, and as a serious hobby baker and an ambitious woman myself, I enjoyed watching a show that revolved around a mother’s career. But some would argue that any childhood that’s even partly televised isn’t reasonable, and that Jennifer and Dirk Williams shouldn’t put their kids at risk in the name of success. I’m completely  projecting here, but you have to imagine that they would have preferred a show focused more on the bakery and less on their family, but this is what they were offered.

Thus, the possible million-dollar question. Is this a case where letting the film crew into the playroom is is worth it?