So what are we to make of the new Learning Channel (I’m told it’s just “TLC” these days) series, “Sarah Palin’s Alaska”?
There’s an odd split aim in this program, the first docudrama — TLC doesn’t like the term “reality show” — to feature a figure widely considered a potential, and perhaps even front-running, presidential candidate.
TLC insists it is not political. Of course, they reached out to other political bloggers and me to tout the show before Sunday’s debut.
“Regardless of what I say or what TLC says, people will apply a political lens to this program because of the title instead of the content of the series,” says Brian Reich, the chief strategist for the network’s extensive and detailed web page for the series, SPAlaska.com. “Instead of ignoring the elephant in the room, our approach was to be involved in the discussion. Political bloggers have just as much reason to be talking about this program as anyone else. Typically, TLC and other cable networks don’t engage the political blogosphere.”
The site will even feature a political blog, entitled “Not Taking Sides,” which calls itself the “home of the non-political political discussion about Sarah Palin’s Alaska.”
“TLC is not political, we’re not political, we’re not trying to poke at the beehive of the political conversation,” Reich says. “People who come to the show because of the politics will find information that feeds their political interests, but hopefully they’ll find something else that also elevates the conversation. Ultimately, this is a family show about Alaska.”
So what does Sarah Palin hope to achieve through this program? (Besides, of course, the rumored $1 million per episode in pay?)
“I wouldn’t pretend to know,” Reich admits, but notes that the program aims to showcase Palin and her family “touring Alaska, showing off the state, showing viewers what is unique and interesting about life there. It shows her at home, in a spectacular, picturesque environment that people from the lower forty-eight cannot truly appreciate until they see it. When you combine Sarah Palin with Mark Burnett, a man who knows a thing or two about highlighting the environment where his programs they’re set, you get a program that is not like anything else they’ve seen on television.”
First up in episode one: The Palins go salmon fishing and encounter brown bears. (And with that, a million “Mama Grizzly vs. Mama Grizzly ” headline puns were born.) A clip of this is already on YouTube:
Love it or hate it, consider it brilliant marketing or egregiously unpresidential, the program does seem set to reveal the personality of a major political figure in a truly groundbreaking manner. Reich notes that besides the bear encounter, the opening episode features the Palin family going camping on Mount McKinley and mountain climbing. “She admits that she’s never been a real mountain climbing person, when she’s up there, she gets a little scared, and it’s a really honest, really revealing moment. It makes for something people will not typically see as a politician.”
A portion of this is revealed in another promo:
Either way, TLC is fully aware that the “is she running?” speculation will drive viewership, and perfectly comfortable with touting that angle.
“Will people see that as presidential? My job is to give them data points to make that decision on,” Reich said. “I hope people discuss this ad nauseam. I hope people watch the show in order to scrutinize it, and determine whether this is a show featuring someone who’s running for president.”
The program debuts this Sunday, and runs for eight weeks through January 8. All of the episodes were taped in July and August, but only the first episode is finished editing.
“It is the Palins’ adventures,” Reich says. “You see them at home, dog-sledding, hunting, they have a great trip halibut fishing, with crazy stuff. You’ll see Willow hacking up a halibut with her bare hands.”
Hacking? Come again?
“They catch a halibut and then gut it. This fish must weigh as much as I do, maybe 125 pounds. It’s a big fish.”
Reich says it is unknown whether TLC and Palin have had discussions about a second season. Then again, Palin may have other plans for the coming years.