May 09, 2011 4:24pm PT by Tim Goodman
Is Bristol Palin the Billy Carter of Our New Times?
To answer the question in the headline — no. Bristol the Pistol's mother, Sarah Palin, is not president. She's not vice president, either. Right now, she's more like, well, a former politician, former reality show participant and possible presidential candidate. Meaning, she's right where she appears to like it most — in front of the cameras, with everyone saying her name.
Apparently, that's a DNA strand that got passed down to Bristol, who just signed on for her own 10-part reality series on BIO, a channel just invisible enough to cut down on the collateral damage she could do to her mother if all hell breaks loose on the show and Mom decides to run for president.
But Bristol, who already appeared on Dancing With the Stars and gave birth to a son out of wedlock — and who is now being discussed as someone who got cosmetic surgery (at 20?) — seems too overtly problematic for the Palin political camp to let run amok. That should be the first sign that something is a little fishy here. Her BIO series is going to follow her as she moves from Alaska to Los Angeles, where nothing bad has ever happened to anyone young, unsupervised and seeking to be famous.
So it's no wonder that the real goal of the move to Los Angeles is — riveting television alert — "to work at a a small charity in need," according to David McKillop, executive vp programming at A&E and the BIO channel.
Is that charity her mother's presidential ambitions?
Seriously, this reality show sounds vaguely similar to something her mother recently did for TLC. Remember that? I believe it was called Sarah Palin's Alaska, Paid for by the Sarah Palin for President Committee.
For a lot of viewers, Sarah Palin's Alaska was a very convenient way to reframe her image as, well, more presidential. And sure enough, the TLC show was like a postcard from the campaign trail even though she wasn't technically on it. Credit the Palins for playing ball with TLC to get exactly what both wanted: an image makeover and ratings. But there wasn't a second season of that series because the commitment would have effectively taken Palin out of the discussion for a 2012 presidential run. Whether she really wants the job (let alone could get it) isn't the issue.
And that's the really troubling part of daughter Bristol's series. She's going from Alaska to Los Angeles to help people in need? You mean everybody's just dandy in Alaska? Interesting. She's making the trip and will live with brothers Chris and Kyle Massey, 21 and 19 respectively, who have worked on shows like Zoey 101 and That's So Raven.
"Bristol is the kind of personality BIO is drawn to," McKillop said in a statement. "Her personal life has been playing out in the media for several years, but this is the first time she's opening up her real life with her son and her friends the Massey brothers."
Two issues here. One, is Bristol Palin really a "personality" other than being Sarah's daughter? Doubtful. Secondly, BIO doesn't really appear attracted to personalities at all, just a bunch of ghosts, fugitives, more ghosts, William Shatner and psychics. Cobble them together, and you've got, well, one of the more pointless cable channels in existence. Perhaps the goal was to get a lot of mileage out of the fact that Bristol will be a political lightning rod.
We're such a polarized country politically that it was impossible to look at Sarah Palin's Alaska without a political tint to it. Bristol's show? Same. Although the Palins love to mock the "mainstream media" for intruding into their lives, they can't have it both ways. The Palin family continues to put itself on television in much the same way the Osbourne family has, minus all the talk about drugs and rock 'n' roll. With Bristol trying to dance with the stars and a massive campaign not to have her voted off (what an embarrassment that would be, right?), these little forays into reality bring with them the inevitable bit of knee-jerk political warfare of the words.
And so Bristol should expect people to assume she's helping others to polish her image so that her mother's recently polished image (television is so helpful!) doesn't get smudged. The question here is whether BIO is giving Team Palin full control without telling everyone they are, in return for the inevitable spike in ratings based on curiosity or fury. At the very least people will say, "Hey, I get this Biography channel thing I've never watched before. Weird."
(By the way, if Sarah was on TLC and then Bristol fell to BIO, how long before husband Todd Palin shows up on RFD-TV?)
If, in some miracle of oversight, the Palin handlers are not controlling every shot or edit, then we might have an interesting show to watch. But not for the people Bristol helps. But for the damage she might do to Mom's political plans.
That would be the only reason to watch — Bristol unleashed. (Although if she's unleashed with the Disney-fied Massey brothers, how much actual trouble can she get in? And what is this, some kind of Webster for the 2000s?)
Is it political to hope that some kind of crazy-ass Real World hootenanny happens with these people? Because otherwise, paid political ads or PSAs get to be so boring. Whether they are in Alaska or Hollywood.