The wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle was a massive, international media event that garnered top-tier news coverage from around the world. It was a story presumed to be of general interest. The wedding of Harry’s cousin, Princess Eugenie, is a little different.
If the BBC wasn’t motivated to carry her wedding, leaving the rights for ITV to snatch up, then the American networks definitely weren’t going to dedicate any valuable morning show airtime. Eugenie is known primarily to Americans as one of the silly hat wearers from Will and Kate’s wedding and, maybe, as the famously brash Fergie’s daughter. She isn’t a working royal, which means that she even doesn’t do routine engagements on behalf of her grandmother, like opening children’s centers and visiting refurbished heritage sites. There’s really just not much of a hook for stateside audiences.
But there was an American channel that saw potential: TLC, with its deep investment in wedding shows and its familiar formula that’s simultaneously dramatic, entertaining to critique, and always gets you emotionally at least a tiny bit. And really, it’s a perfect fit! Consider Sarah Ferguson’s post-divorce endorsement career, in which she promoted Ocean Spray and Weight Watchers alike. Of course her daughter’s wedding would find its way onto the network whose roster of shows includes Four Weddings and Say Yes to the Dress, seamlessly integrated into one of the loopier corners of the wedding industrial complex. Take THAT, WeTV, with your David Tutera and your Bridezillas.
There are really five basic parameters to a TLC wedding show: Drama; judgability of wedding details; packaging, by which I mean a patented combination of manipulative music, snarky narrator, and shady edits; syndication friendliness; and, finally, tears. How well does this wedding fit within the larger canon of TLC wedding shows? Borrowing a scoring system from Four Weddings, I will score this latest royal wedding on each of these criteria and then average the results for a final reckoning to determine how it stacks up.
There were two potential sources of drama. First: The proximity of this wedding to the global media sensation that was Harry and Meghan’s; maybe you heard about it? And this wedding bore a number of similarities, down to the carriage ride through Windsor, prompting lots of discussion about whether the Yorks were trying to pull off some copycat move. But while there were some brief frissons on the broadcast—for instance, a shot of the comparatively empty Long Walk and an anchor saying, “I don’t want to get into the business of comparing with May,” before talking about how glorious the spring weather had been—mostly, this plot line failed to materialize on the broadcast. The senior Windsors (i.e., Harry and Meghan and William and Kate) ducked quickly into a side door rather than overshadow the bride, and the anchors noted that Harry and Eugenie are very close.
Family drama, however, was more fruitful. This is because the Yorks have more than their fair share of it. For instance, Prince Andrew is said to resent that his daughters aren’t officially working royals and don’t get all the attendant benefits and, you know, they have to get proper jobs—as much as any socialite has to get a proper job. Which perhaps sheds some light on this wedding’s public elements, presenting them as proper royals even if the Firm won’t make it official. Camilla skipped, staying in Scotland for other engagements, specifically “visiting two schools and enjoying a cooking class,” which really is a detail right out of an episode of a reality TV show.
Also, Fergie is reportedly still on Prince Philip’s shit list for her antics in the 1990s and will stay there until the day he dies, probably, and there was some speculation about whether he’d even show knowing he might have to interact with his former daughter-in-law. He did, and I caught this moment, in which I am pretty sure he is looking straight at her.
Nevertheless, I must subtract numerous points for the fact that here, TLC can only show us the arrivals and ceremony, and not the reception or the second-day events. That’s when everyone will be tired, liquored up, and ready to revisit grudges from two decades ago, and we won’t see any of it. Also, it’s too bad they didn’t actually catch footage of Prince Andrew delivering this quote, a perfect illustration of his ongoing saltiness about the relative position of his kids in the hierarchy.
For this category, the wedding gets a 7.
Why even watch a wedding on television if you aren’t going to armchair quarterback every detail and talk about how you’d do things if you had the money and the ability to get Queen Elizabeth II to attend, with a frankness you’d never apply to events thrown by people you actually know? It’s a delicate balance, though—it can’t be so awful that you want to call some of slaughter rule.
And here, this wedding really delivered. The tiara was stunning and the dress was perfect for fall, with its rich, heavy fabric. The children were very cute, with the boys in blue velvet pants and the girls in those big sashes which were apparently based on a piece of contemporary art, a hilarious statement about contemporary art. The flowers, too—perfectly autumnal, all those darker flowers and the foliage outside the door.
But also... that venue is so big that it’s really hard to make a dent with anything short of a full-on Royal Horticultural Society show, and those floors must be awfully chilly on such a windy day and most of the guests had to sit in the nave, i.e., where they could barely even see the wedding. And a reading from The Great Gatsby, describing Gatsby’s smile, with the explanation that it reminded the bride of the groom? What in the hell was that about? Again: a perfect mix. I give it an 8.
Watch a few hours of Say Yes to the Dress, and you quickly become capable of identifying any TLC show without being told that’s where it first appeared. There’s a distinct approach, one that combines slightly shady narration—not as outright rude and desperate for escape as the Bridezillas voiceover, but still not entirely treacly—and shady editing—if there’s no conflict, by God they’ll create it—and manipulative music that drags you through every emotional beat of the show from comedy to judgement to finally, catharsis.
In this category, I’m sorry to say the royal wedding was a major disappointment.
This is because rather than giving the program the special TLC spin, the channel was actually just picking up the programming from the British channel ITV. And occasionally, they did come close. The noting of the Heathrow flight path was straight out of a Four Weddings episode I watched last night to prepare for writing this article. They also commented that Eugenie’s sister Beatrice probably expected to get married first, but instead her long-running relationship ended and now she’s a maid of honor for her younger sibling, and their tone of sympathy— “Bless her, Beatrice has had a difficult couple of years”—was almost ruder than the frank, joking approach that Say Yes to the Dress would have probably taken. Ouch, guys.
The best moments came as one of the anchors quickly clocked that Sarah Ferguson was running four minutes late, and as soon as the groom pulled up, everyone was quick to note that she was supposed to arrive first, and was therefore officially, seriously late. When she popped out of her car and dashed quickly to the crowd to hug someone, an anchor noted “This is classic Sarah Ferguson, isn’t it—doesn’t stick to the script.” They really busted out the snark for her hat. One anchor said it looked like she had chopsticks on the back; another compared the trimming to a venetian blind, “crumpled up there in the back.”
But most of the drama required some knowledge of the royal family to unlock, while a classic TLC wedding show would never leave you to your own devices like that. Sadly, I must assign a 4—and I added an extra point just for the hat rudeness.
There’s maybe a 30 percent chance—I don’t know, I had to drop pre-calculus or fail it—that at any given moment, there’s an episode of Say Yes to the Dress on that you’ve already seen. This is an essential element of the formula. TLC is a rerun monster; they’ll be showing episodes of Say Yes to the Dress filmed in 2012 when the sun burns out. Is anybody gonna rewatch this wedding when they’re flipping channels at 3pm on a Sunday afternoon in two years? Hell, no—they’re going to keep flipping and see if there’s a Meghan Markle movie on Hallmark. I can award no points in this category.
This is the narrative trick of any TLC wedding show: After all the vinegar comes a little hard candy nugget of pure, pure sugary sweetness. For anybody willing to watch to the end, there’s an emotional moment where the tearful bride says yes to the dress, or you see some couple really seem to care about each other, or somebody’s parent cries. No matter how much the show cast a side eye upon these people earlier in the episode, they always let the curtain drop for just a moment there at the end.
And I’ve gotta say—Jack Brooksbank looked shy and nervous and thrilled to be marrying Eugenie. Also, she had her gown specially low-cut in the back to show her scars from scoliosis surgery at 12, and then ITV closed out their broadcast with a highlight reel scored to Ellie Goulding’s “How Long Will I Love You.” Fine—you got me in the end. It was the most TLC shit I’ve ever seen in my life—more TLC than TLC itself. I must award the full 10 points.
Final score: 5.8. It’s not destined to be a classic of the TLC canon, aired over and over for years to come. For a one-off, it worked well enough. But that’s because the biggest difference between the royals and any reality TV subject is the royals know to keep the biggest drama off camera. If it’s merely in print somewhere, they can pretend it doesn’t exist.