The Palins cash in on political notoriety
With apologies to earlier TV trailblazers…Palins. Meet the Palins. They’re the modern TV family. From up in Alaska, It’s near Russia, so it’s cold, you see. Sarah, once ran for the GOP, Then they found reality TV. When you watch the Palins, you’ll hear them discuss their values — Family values — And have (not that kind of) gay old time. Sarah Palin, the Republican vice presidential nominee in 2008, will not have a role in the party’s upcoming convention. Like a lot of recovering politicians, she’ll provide analysis for one of her employers, Fox News Channel. In her own way, though, the Palins have done as much to redefine the relationship between politics and entertainment as almost anyone — transforming the family business from politics to reality TV. And if those lines began blurring when Richard Nixon did “Laugh-In” and Bill Clinton played the sax or answered questions about underwear preferences, Palin — with her often-stated hostility toward the “lamestream media” — is an unlikely candidate to carry the ball across the finish line. Granted, Palin’s activities during the convention will mirror many politicians who found their way to paid news gigs, which is basically the equivalent of former coaches and ballplayers graduating from the sidelines to the broadcast booth. The Palins, however, have gone considerably further by so vigorously embracing a newer, more freewheeling genre in reality TV. Husband Todd can be seen on NBC’s “Stars Earn Stripes,” where he is billed only as a “four-time Iron Dog champion,” and has survived two rounds of shooting targets and jumping out of helicopters. Daughter Bristol recently starred in her own Lifetime reality show, “Bristol Palin: Life’s a Tripp,” as she prepares for her second stint on “Dancing With the Stars.” Before that, the whole family participated in the TLC series “Sarah Palin’s Alaska,” a combination travel guide/get-to-know-us show, which, like “Stars Earn Stripes,” was produced by Mark Burnett. “This is someone that’s going to get talked about,” Burnett said before “Alaska” premiered, by way of explaining the intense interest in Palin among TV producers. In terms of political precedents, Clinton flirted with hosting a talkshow after his presidency, but even that would have hewed more toward public affairs/”Oprah” territory, and the talks ultimately foundered. Some pundits deemed the mere prospect of Clinton hosting such a show undignified, and he went on to become enormously wealthy by other means. If there’s a Rubicon the Palins have helped cross, it involves expanding the limits of what a politician can do on television, so long as it provides money and exposure; and conversely, demonstrating how even polarizing figures — sure to alienate or engender scorn from portions of the audience — have ample value to networks in these fragmented times. In this, Palin has a good deal in common with someone else who will have a minimal presence at the Republican convention after playing coy about a presidential run: For Donald Trump, braving the political realm has felt largely motivated by his longstanding addiction to the spotlight, but like Palin, “The Apprentice” star has leveraged a media every bit as hooked on him as he is on them. Granted, other politicians of various affiliations — from Al Gore and Eliot Spitzer to Joe Scarborough, along with first daughters Jenna Bush Hager and Chelsea Clinton — migrated into news. And while former Cincinnati mayor Jerry Springer became a trashy daytime host, as a politician, he hardly enjoyed the national platform Palin commanded. As Burnett noted, the attraction is clear: The Palin name garners attention and generates buzz. Given that, it’s no surprise “Dancing With the Stars” evinced interest in Bristol after casting former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who resigned from office and was later convicted on money-laundering charges. Minus the scandal, it’s hard to imagine a former congressman being perceived as much of a draw. Palin objected to her portrayal in the HBO movie “Game Change,” but in terms of shifting the increasingly hard-to-locate nexus of politics and entertainment, for better or worse, her family has indeed been game-changing. Like everything else in this media-saturated culture, campaigns are no longer just about shaping policy. In showbiz terms, they’re also a very public audition — a competition where, for the open-minded, there’s potentially a substantial prize for finishing second.
Want Entertainment News First? Sign up for Variety Alerts and Newsletters!