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Politician vs. Wild: Palin Reportedly to Become Reality-TV Star

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Does Sarah Palin aspire to be the next Ronald Reagan or the next Bear Grylls? She appears to be stepping closer to one of those goals at least, as Variety reports the former Alaska governor is signing a deal with Discovery for her proposed show “Sarah Palin’s Alaska.”

If you’re expecting a Kardashians-style series, perhaps with a drama-triggering cameo by Levi Johnston, you’re out of luck. The series, produced by Survivor’s Mark Burnett, is conceived as a travelogue-style tour of Palin’s home state. The reality series—at an estimated $1 million-plus an episode—would feature “interesting characters, traditions and attractions in the 49th state — with the ex-VP candidate as a guide.”

Does it make sense for Discovery? For Palin?

I don’t know about the price tag, and how well the network can expect to recoup its costs, but this is probably the best match of network and subject. Despite earlier reports, this show was never a serious fit for a big broadcast network. It’s perfect for cable, though, not just for the attention Palin will bring, but because Discovery viewers, especially Deadliest Catch fans, love them some Alaska.The flip side is that Palin is polarizing (no Alaska pun intended), and that may cost some viewers. But the ratings bar is lower in cable, so that may not be a problem, especially if she brings in enough of her fan base.

As for Palin, there’s been talk that this series proposal, coupled with her Fox News gig, was proof she doesn’t intend to run for President. Not that I’m a political pundit, but I doubt it makes a difference. That is, you can argue whatever you want about Palin’s chances or intentions, but I don’t think a TV show–provided it doesn’t turn out to be an embarrassment–would hurt her. Ronald Reagan, after all, became a nationally prominent figure precisely by working as a TV host. Yes, that was before he was governor of California—but it was also half a century ago. It’s not like TV has become less a path to influence since then.

More to the point, whatever Palin’s source of political influence, it doesn’t come from the impression that she’s followed a traditional path to political standing and gravitas. It may be that hosting a reality show, however lofty-minded, will strike some people as “not the sort of thing a serious politician does.” But Palin does not derive influence from coming off as a traditional politician. You could even argue that her launch to fame—becoming a national candidate and subject of argument after suddenly vaulting from obscurity—is very much modeled on the American Idol pattern of the public embracing instant stars, reality-TV style. (You could also say that about Barack Obama’s overnight notoriety at the 2004 convention, though his own quick rise was still slower than Palin’s.)

[Update: That's not meant to knock either Palin or Obama, just to say that, as a culture, we're more accepting of people vaulting from nowhere to the top, and skipping the traditional dues-paying steps in the middle.]

In any case, whatever your politics, I think we can all agree to be grateful that we were spared the reality series “Joe Biden’s Delaware.”