“Sarah Palin’s Alaska” Breaks TLC Ratings Record
No need for a Palin watch when you can’t remember a day that didn’t feature her on TV.
And if you think you can get away by turning off the news channels, think again: her new series on TLC, Sarah Palin’s Alaska, or SPA, drew in over five million viewers during its season premiere “Mama Grizzly” Sunday night, making it the biggest premiere in the channel’s history. Sadly, no Jack London quotes or John Denver songs were included in the broadcast. Here’s a preview:
That the premiere was so huge shouldn’t really surprise anyone, mostly because it followed one of TLC’s biggest marketing campaigns. One online ad even poked fun at Tina Fey and SNL: “I can see ‘Sarah Palin’s Alaska’ from my living room.” TLC is also launching an interactive website called Spalaska with five blogs, including the “‘We Can All Agree to Watch’ Official Guide”, which features tips on how to throw a SPA-themed party “to help people with different political perspectives come together and share the ultimate television watching experience.”
And if you can’t agree? Well, that’s what following Sarah Palin on Twitter is for, as you binge on “Savory Blue Chips (with ‘Green Party’ Guacamole), Red Hot Right Wings, Pork Barrel Tenderloin, and Red State Beans and Rice.” Just don’t forget to wash all that down with, “I Can See White Russians from My House.”
Does this mean a Sarah Palin marathon will be airing at the same time as the Super Bowl?
Loosely referred to as a reality show, SPA really reads more like a travelogue. “We define the show as a docu-series,” said Discovery Communications senior vice president of communications Laurie Goldberg, “because it’s a documentary series about Alaska, and Palin’s relationship with it.” Like the scene where Palin urged for “respect for the elements” while riding a speedboat in a bright yellow parka. The same woman who brags about hunting moose and shooting wolves while campaigning for more oil drilling in Alaska. I’d say Sarah Palin’s relationship with Alaska is about as rigged as Bristol Palin beating out Brandy in Dancing with the Stars. Perhaps this docu-series is more reality TV after all.
The New York Times called the show “wholesome, visually breathtaking and a little dull. In a way it’s like ‘The Sound of Music’ but without the romance, the Nazis or the music.” Or the intellect. It shows a different side of Sarah Palin from the usual Tea Party-campaigning, takeback-America-shrieking wanna-be politician who could stand to improve her image by researching before talking. Here, we see Palin at her best, that is, as an outdoorswoman in what The New York Times calls, “A nature series for political voyeurs: viewers get to observe Ms. Palin observing nature.” The show mostly documents her having fun in nature — rafting, kayaking, climbing, even fishing. After one unsuccessful fishing trip, she turns to the camera and says, “A poor day of fishing beats even a great day of work.”
No publicity stunt like this can resist injecting splessons, or Palin’s political nuggets of wisdom, like the scene where she shows the tall fence she and her husband put up while she was writing her memoir to protect themselves from their new next-door neighbor, journalist Joe McGinniss and his unauthorized Sarah Palin biography. She offers the experience up as an analogy for borderland security: “I thought that was a good example, what we just did. Others could look at it and say, ‘Oh, this is what we need to do to secure our nation’s border.’”
The real excitement of the show was what happened offscreen. One of the highlights of SPA’s premiere consisted of a family fishing trip to Wolverine Creek, which is also a popular fishing spot for brown bears because access to fish is so easy. For the record, no actual grizzlies were seen during the filming of “Mama Grizzly.” Unfortunately, Wolverine Creek’s brown bears are widely seen as tourist spectacles rather than wildlife habitants. According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, you’re not allowed to fish within 30 feet of a bear. Footage from the scene shows the Palin family a little too close for comfort to brown bears, and she didn’t care. “She is encouraging the violation of important guidelines that allows tourism to flourish in Alaska,” said Alaska Wildlife Alliance director John Toppenberg. “She is inviting future problems with the tourism industry and, in particular, the bear-viewing industry.” The Wildlife Conservation Division said that according to the shots, it wasn’t clear if Palin’s boat really was within 30 feet of bears, which provided no concrete evidence to suggest she violated any guidelines.
However, leave it to Sarah Palin to sensationalize anything for the sake of drama. Later in the episode, she dramatically told the story: “So I’m thinking we are going to get stuck there, the anchor is dropped and there is a bear coming toward us.”
Sarah Palin — she’ll wrangle a Democrat like she can fight off a bear. Not so much. Wolverine Creek is a hot tourist spot, which means the bears are not only more tolerant of humans than bears in other areas, they also know better than to approach two-legged visitors and their boats. But props, Sarah, for trying to look brave. Something tells me if you were really in any grave danger, the cameraman would be swimming to shore instead of filming you get mauled by a bear.
Which harkens back to the lack of authenticity that any “documented” TV show has when shooting and editing discretion are involved. Travelesque as the cinematography is, it’s important to remember that series is shot like a reality show, as in staged. “No matter what spin Palin might try to put on her wild-and-crazy adventures in Alaska for TLC, you can rest assured they are wild and crazy in a purely Hollywood sense: No political superstars were killed or injured in the making of this movie,” wrote The Alaska Dispatch.
Really, the show should be renamed Real Housewife of Alaska, because that’s exactly how it depicts Palin: a shrill, melodramatic hypocrite who proudly states at the dinner tables that her husband “brings home the bacon” and interacts with her surroundings by exploiting it in extravagant ways that the average American has no way of affording.
Nevertheless, it’s a brilliant political move if Palin continues to court the 2012 presidential candidacy, because it sets her up as Sarah Palin the person as opposed to Sarah Palin the politician. A Gallup poll released two days before SPA’s premiere showed that 40% of the surveyed Americans have a favorable view of Palin, while 51% do not. She also doesn’t appeal to 81% of the country’s democrats, and 53% of the independents aren’t sure about her either. TLC is playing makeover artist for the GOP and a woman who’s getting paid for her political airtime. What Not to Wear? How about What Not to Shoot?
When Sarah Palin the presidential candidate steps in, viewers will remember the show, and she may get more support for her TV image as opposed to her political platforms. As the LA Times suggested, it “sets a new standard for political ads.” Just wait for her next series – Sarah and Me Plus a Cup of Tea.
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Photo courtesy of Roger H. Goun via Flickr