Sarah Palin and TV Critics: 'Let's Use Each Other for a Day'
The former politician can still gather a crowd, but she's running out of options to make a hit TV show — or to get a niche cable channel noticed.
Sarah Palin's arrival on the Television Critics Association press tour on Friday -- not her first rodeo with us -- was little more than an exercise in two groups trying to use one another.
The Sportsman Channel, where Palin will now be employed with her own series, Amazing America, needed Palin to help promote what is very much a niche and obscure channel, no matter how its executives spin the channel's popularity with a certain segment of the country. Palin, too, clearly needed a TV job, and she ended up not on some Discovery-level brand, but on the Sportsman Channel.
Together, they were savvy enough to know that if Palin showed up, we'd show up. Any press is good press, right? Especially when you desperately need it. And show up we did. Even for an 8 a.m. breakfast for a cable channel that -- at a wild wild guess -- 99.5 percent of the critics here won't write about except for this appearance by Palin.
So, we essentially had a deal. It was called, "Let's use one another."
And it worked out great, at least for me. I got to make a lot of Twitter jokes about the event, which was less organized and poorly sold than I'd imagined. For example, the Sportsman Channel didn't have a panel format (apparently they weren't allowed to because they came late to the party), but everybody who showed up expected Palin to take questions.
Instead, she had opening remarks and then was going to, in her words, "bebop" around to all the breakfast tables and meet the assembled critics. Did that happen? Of course not. As soon as she came off the little mini-stage she was swarmed by reporters who needed to file a story about Sarah Palin being, well, anywhere. Everywhere she goes, she gets attention. Until she doesn't, she's a draw. And a draw that will keep attracting offers for shows. But the very fact she was here for the Sportsman Channel -- and again, no disrespect to the channel -- is probably a damning sign about the continuing relevance of her draw.
It's still there. But perhaps the resonance is fading.
In any case, Palin did not, in fact, bebop. She was swarmed, she talked -- but not about a lot of things people wanted to hear about. I was ready to talk to her about fly fishing. Because her show is about being in the great American outdoors and experiencing Alaska and environs beyond and, well, I don't really know, but I'm assuming it has something to do with fishing and/or bears. And I like to fly fish. I hate politics, but I would have talked to her about catching trout, that's for sure. But she never made it to my table.
In her remarks she had assured the assembled that Amazing America would "not be some kind of fake reality show." I didn't get a chance, at my purported bebop table chat, to find out whether that meant she thought Sarah Palin's Alaska was, in fact, a fake reality series.
Instead, I would have had to jump up and thrust a microphone in her face to get anything answered, which didn't seem like part of our unspoken rule to use each other. If you're going to use me, don't make me sweat for it.
"She's someone people want to listen to," said a Sportsman Channel executive. "She's the real deal."
The first is still true, at least currently; the latter is certainly debatable. And yes, every time you mention Palin there will be people who will want to read some kind of political bias into what you say. We live in a world with one hell of a yawning chasm of a political divide, and it's unlikely to narrow anytime soon. So, in case you're wondering, no, I'm not a fan of Palin's politics or social stances. But I also thought Sarah Palin's Alaska on TLC was kind of weirdly alluring because it was her first truly "big" postpolitical move and subjected her family to a lot of reality-TV-like attention. It was, because she was at the center of it, interesting television. But even after a few of those episodes, the rubber-necking curiosity part vanished.
Fast-forward through any number of pithy quotes in response to political events, unfulfilled hints at a political comeback and her stint at Fox News and you'll find Palin's TV career at … the Sportsman Channel.
So, toss out the politics and let's look at this from a television perspective. From a "television career" relevance perspective. This is not a star gig. This is not going from, say, film star to TV star. It's more like a reality "star" ending up on a reality show about fallen reality stars. Trajectory-wise in the business of television, Palin is going down, not up.
In two-plus weeks of surveying new series and talking to series' creators, stars, showrunners and producers here at the TCA press tour, critics and TV reporters will stack up their relevance and get the word out to viewers navigating a very, very crowded field of options. It's unlikely that you'll find anything about Amazing America in those assessments other than Sarah Palin was here for breakfast.