Make no mistake: Sarah Palin’s TLC series most definitely qualifies as a “reality” show, whether she likes it or not. But it’s also true that ‘Sarah Palin’s Alaska’ takes reality TV to a new and previously unimagined level: It is the first reality show to serve as a possible springboard to the presidency of the United States.
For that reason, this show occupies a category all its own within the wide world of reality television. It’s a reality show that plays like a program-length commercial – a bit like those productions we sometimes see on TV in the final days of a presidential campaign when a candidate buys a half-hour of prime-time TV for a self-produced “portrait” special portraying him (or her) in the best possible light.
But the big difference between ‘Sarah Palin’s Alaska’ and those other productions is this: Few of us watch those campaign specials, but nearly 5 million of us watched the premiere last Sunday of ‘Sarah Palin’s Alaska’ on TLC (9 p.m./8c). And that was only the first of eight full hours she’s getting to strut her stuff on prime-time TV. And she’s not buying the time either – they’re paying her and throwing in the added benefit of heavily promoting the show to ensure that people watch it.
Preview Sunday’s Episode Here:
It’s the greatest opportunity ever taken up by a potential presidential candidate to promote his or her best personal attributes. On ‘Sarah Palin’s Alaska,’ the ex-gov gets to craft an image of supreme likability in an environment she controls – her home.
In the series premiere, she was tough and tender (you couldn’t miss the symbolism of the episode’s title, ‘Mama Grizzly’), a mom with five kids (‘Sarah Plus 5’) who juggled her professional life (preparing to be interviewed by Bill O’Reilly via satellite from her home TV studio) with her responsibilities as Mama Bear. In the episode, these duties included baking cupcakes with daughter Piper, 9, and attempting to prevent the teen boyfriend of daughter Willow, 16, from following Willow upstairs in the Palin home. She even demonstrated that she’s capable of laughing at herself when she was seen sitting on a rock somewhere in the Alaska wilderness and joking: “You can see Russia from here – almost!”
When she isn’t padding around the house in bare feet, gym shorts and a light-gray, zippered hoodie – as she was this past Sunday – this 46-year-old “cool” mom with “prom hair” (as one of her daughters described it) is flying around Alaska with family members fishing, shooting, canoeing, rock-climbing and wielding a chainsaw. They’re just “normal,” everyday activities for this typical mom. “Today we’re going to have a blast!” she said on the show. “After I get some of my work done, we’re taking the girls and we’re heading into bear country to do some salmon fishing!”
It all came across like a lot of fresh-air fun, and you can’t help but appreciate the Palins’ gung-ho attitude when it comes to gathering up the family for these far-flung outdoor activities.
But can ‘Sarah Palin’s Alaska’ help this controversial figure craft the kind of image that will convert opponents into supporters? Or more to the point, can this reality show help propel Sarah Palin into the White House?