Amid Outcry, Cable Channel Cancels ‘Bad Teachers’ Documentary Series

By Mark Walsh — May 02, 2014 4 min read
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One of the Discovery cable TV channels this week canceled “Bad Teachers,” a documentary series highlighting educators who had illicit sexual relationships with their students, after just one episode had aired.

The cancellation was welcomed by the national teachers’ unions and may have come about in part from pressure from teachers.

Investigation Discovery, which describes itself as airing “compelling true stories of mystery and suspense,” is one of many offshoots of the Discovery Channel, based in Silver Spring, Md. Among its shows are “A Stranger in My Home,” “Beauty Queen Murders,” and “Momsters: When Moms Go Bad.”

“Bad Teachers” was meant to be only a three-episode series featuring real-life teachers involved in sex crimes. It should not be confused with “Bad Teacher,” the CBS situation comedy that debuted in April based on the raunchy movie of the same name. (Although, as I will get to in a minute, the similar titles seem to have confused some Web commentators and at least one Discovery executive.)

I didn’t see the episode that did air, and Investigation Discovery unceremoniously canceled the show earlier this week and has removed virtually all traces of it from its Web site.

However, the show’s press release is available at the site of Atlas Media Corp., the show’s production company, and at The Futon Critic, a Web site devoted to TV criticism.

“There are some teachers who don’t play by the rules, who ruin lives instead of changing them for the better,” the press release said. “They’ll go dangerously beyond the lesson plan to fulfill their youthful fantasies and selfish desires, often dragging students down with them into a world of deceit and danger.”

The episode of “Bad Teachers” that aired, on April 22, was titled “Teacher’s Pet.” It featured an Alabama high school teacher who underwent gastric-bypass surgery and “experienced a renewed self-confidence,” the release says. “Not long after the procedure, she seduced a 17-year-old student, and they soon engaged in a dangerous and illicit sexual affair. As the romance intensified, [the teacher] became obsessed with her student lover and took drastic measures to ensure the taboo affair didn’t end, even crashing his prom to check on him.”

The other episodes, which didn’t air, were titled “Repeat Offender,” and “Hot for Teacher,” and were also about teachers accused of sex crimes with students.

After the first episode aired, complaints from teachers rolled in on Twitter and elsewhere.

“Just cancelled both my .@Discovery and .@DiscoveryID channels! I am beyond disgusted w/ #badteachers program!” said one tweet.

“Stop bashing teachers, 99.99% are good!” said another.

But it seems apparent that executives of Discovery Communications Inc. also heard from the company’s own education unit, Discovery Education, which provides curricular materials to schools based on the cable company’s many lines of programming.

On Tuesday, April 29, the company allowed Steve Dembo, the director of online community and social media strategy for Discovery Education, to announce the “Good News” that “Bad Teachers” was being canceled.

“Discovery Education’s mission is to celebrate and support the millions of dedicated professionals around the world who have made teaching their life’s work,” Dembo wrote on his blog. “As such, we share your concerns with the ID program ‘Bad Teacher.’”

He noted that the show was not affiliated with, “nor does it reflect the beliefs of,” Discovery Education. (Also note that he used the singular, “Bad Teacher.”)

“We appreciate the support of the educational community for bringing this to our attention, and we are pleased to share that Discovery Communications has decided to immediately cancel this program, removing it from ID’s on-air and online schedule,” Dembo added.

The teachers’ unions and teacher bloggers immediately rejoiced.

Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, issued a statement praising the decision (and also using the singular title).

“I was surprised to learn, through a barrage of tweets Sunday night after ‘Bad Teacher’ aired, that Discovery would use its brand to promote such an offensive program,” she said. “Every day, educators go into the classroom to make a difference in the lives of our children. Their work should be honored and valued, not bashed, and we hope to work with Discovery to showcase the real work teachers do every day to help kids achieve their dreams.”

The National Education Association applauded the move on its NEA Today web site.

Diane Ravitch blogged that “obnoxious TV program - ‘Bad Teacher'-/slandering an entire profession was canceled. One reader described it as the TV equivalent of ‘Waiting for Superman.’”

There were some dissenting views, though. On Investigation Discovery’s Facebook page, one viewer wrote, “what happened 2 bad teachers tonight?”

A response came from another: “They cancelled it! I guess there were educators who were not happy with it.....ugh, I really liked it!”

A spokeswoman for the Investigation Discovery network said Steve Dembo’s statement on the Discovery Education blog would be all that the company had to say about the cancellation.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Education and the Media blog.