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Introducing Sarah Palin's 'non-political' Alaska

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It’s a tricky thing, being “non-politcally political.” But, gosh darn it, that’s exactly the type of social media campaign that TLC has launched around its reality series “Sarah Palin’s Alaska,” which premieres Nov. 14.

Days after launching the show’s website, spalaska.com, TLC hosted a launch party Thursday night in Manhattan to show clips of the show and to convey the site’s mantra: “It’s not political!”

New York might not have the most Palin fans in America, but blue-state bloggers enjoyed red-state kitsch as writers from the Daily Beast, Village Voice, Time magazine and Vanity Fair joined a handful of conservative and mom bloggers at the Time Warner building to eat red, white and blue star-shaped cookies and take home a free "I Can See Sarah Palin's Alaska From My Living Room" T-shirt.

TLC declined an L.A. Times request to discuss the show and its social media campaign, but we spoke with Brian Reich, the site’s head strategist, before the party. Reich has developed a site with four distinct blogs that cover, politics, culture, media and behind-the-scenes secrets. His idea is to engage viewers in the different conversations that he thinks will emerge from the show, hoping that they, in turn, will spend most of their extracurricular time on the site instead of on other fan forums.

“This shows the difference between marketing in the digital social age with traditional marketing, where you take the same story and deliver it to everybody,” Reich said. “We’re taking whatever story they want and delivering it the way they want it. We’re highlighting that there are several aspects to the show, and they can watch for any of them and find something.”

TLC has not been forthcoming about the contents of the series except to say that the documentary follows the former governor of Alaska as she takes viewers on a journey through the wonders of her home state. The network has released clips of the Palin family encountering bears, climbing rocks and petting a wolf. But Reich says the eight-episode series definitely cover Palin’s home life and features her immediate and extended families.

“This show is a basic unvarnished view of the Palin’s life,” said Reich, who worked for Al Gore when he was vice president. “[Executive producer] Mark Burnett has talked about how it was very important for the show to be true to Alaska but also to be true to the way the Palin family acts, warts and all. And I have to say there are some awkward moments in the stuff I’ve seen, like any family. I’m not a Palin backer, but credit to Sarah Palin for allowing that stuff to be shown.”

Those who attended Thursday’s party might have gotten a taste of that “stuff,” but the screening didn’t go as planned because Reich was given clips that were not cleared. Before he stopped the screening, those who were there (full disclosure: the Times arrived late and missed this part) got to see Palin, her daughter Piper and niece McKinley baking cupcakes in the “majesty and vastness of the family’s kitchen,” according to Vanity Fair. “The next landscape is the barren back porch, where Palin is sitting before a table covered in books and papers. The camera then pans to a shot of [Joe] McGinnis sitting on his adjacent deck, prompting Palin’s husband, Todd, to complain that “some of [the family’s] summer fun has been taken away.”

Not political?

Well, that’s where the “non-political political blog” comes in, says Reich.

“We knew there would be a political conversation around the show, and we couldn’t ignore it,” Reich said. “But we also know how political conversations go, and we didn’t want to let that happen. I’ve been in politics all my life, and I think the political conversation is largely stupid and broken, unfortunately. We’re not taking sides. What we’re trying to do is call out the ridiculous hyperbole that exists within the political conversation online and use that as a way to show people that, whether they are coming at this from a political angle or not, there’s more to the show.”

So, for example, says Reich, no matter what your political take on the environment is, life in Alaska is in full display in the series, and he hopes that will attract viewers of all political persuasions.

“I keep saying to people that there’s no politics in this show, and I’m not sure anyone believes me, but it’s true,” Reich said. “We’re shaking the political blog out there so that people say, ‘Aha! There is a political conversation. And then when they see the political conversation — they’ll be like, wait a minute, I got tricked. This isn’t a political conversation, but I want to watch the show. And then, ha, ha, I win.”

While TLC is savvy enough to understand the importance of creating an online presence to draw in younger viewers, it’s unclear if there will be a demand for so much coverage for a program that is only eight episodes long. So far, some blogs seem to be struggling to create relevant content: A recent post on “Director’s Cut,” the behind-the-scenes blog, compares Palin’s Alaska to the state shown in movies like Steven Segal’s “On Deadly Ground.”  But the show has not launched yet.

“Our hope is that the conversation around the show is going to be fast and that we’ll be able to keep up,” Reich said. “We’ve put the pieces in place, but the world will take care of the conversation. That’s the idea, anyway.”

In hiring his writers, two of whom are fresh-faced college grads, Reich didn’t worry about political affiliations, noting that in the Internet Age “it’s hard to find someone who doesn’t have an opinion on things that relate to society.” His new political blogger, Matt Gagnon, is Republican. But Danielle Johnsen, who write about culture and reality TV for the site, isn’t exactly an ardent supporter of conservative values.

Earlier this week, the Daily Beast reported that Johnsen has openly criticized Palin on Johnsen's personal blog.

"It's nice to be written about,” says Johnsen, who insists that TLC was aware that she'd written posts like this before they hired her. “I just wish it wasn't for something I wrote two years ago.”

Besides, she said, she expected that even conflicted viewers like her would be drawn to the show. “It’s not pro-Palin-running-the-world,” she said. “It's really about Alaska."

— Maria Elena Fernandez and Melissa Maerz

twitter.com/writerchica

Photo: Sarah Palin ready to head up the river in her husband's boat on "Sarah Palin's Alaska." Credit: Gilles Mingasson/TLC.

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Comments () | Archives (15)

It will be interesting to watch Sarah Palin and her family in Alaska. I hope Nancy Pelosi has time to watch too since she won't be heading the House of Representatives.

The only actual real thing you see in this TLC series is the Alaskan scenery. As an Alaskan, I think it's beautiful, the other stuff is not.

I knew Jay Hammond, Sarah, and you're no Jay Hammond.

Everything she does is calculated and political. Just like this current twitter issue...she had boasted about this Coulter picture several weeks ago, and applauded the church for its views. NOW she says she didn't mean it? This woman is wicked, not a Christian in any sense of the word, and I hope her show is seen by no one. I cannot tolerate one second of her creepy voice and her pageant attitude. She now thinks she is the Second Coming, since her candidates were so successful in taking over the House. As she was so fond of saying, "campaigning is not governing." Good luck to them as they try to work around the Senate and the President. If there is a God, they will be thwarted at every turn by reasonable, caring people who are not about how much money is in their war chest for the next election.

Robert,

Nancy is still Speaker of the House until late January. I believe Sarah's creepy show will be long gone by then, and the million safely tucked offshore with the rest of her ill-gotten gains.
Let's see how Boehner does at leading anything except a parade of whining conservatives. We will not forget how we were treated by the right the past two years.

To Richard Taylor:
Such an original and fresh comment!
Your IQ is off the charts -- keep up the good work.

You'd think Palin would be ashamed to show her face in Alaska, after she abandoned her responsibilities to its citizens by quitting as governor.

Shouldn't it be "Palins'" in the following sentence, not "Palin's"? “This show is a basic unvarnished view of the Palin’s life,”

This show is just another way to keep Mrs. Palin in the public's eye so that she can run for president in 2012. Her camp is afraid the we will her. They want us to forget that she is unemployed, quit her job as Governor for money and fame and is not qualified for any government position. I will not be watching her show and I hope that America sees it for what it actually is...a campaign commercial!

So Sally...Please enlighten us all as to how you know what others think??? You must be a crystal ball gazer since you, apparently, can read the minds of others.

Sara Palin makes the whole area look bad. Like it is inhabited by hillbillies who have little use for any truths that they don't like.

She has never been a friend of the environment. evrery thing she does is calculated and political, and often hurtful.

Now I can see why they no longer call TLC 'The Learning Channel'...This show fits pretty nicely between 'I Didn't Know I Was Pregnant' and 'Junkyard Wars'...it's sort of like 'Cash Cab', but no one asks questions, and the host gets all the money...'Welcome to Sarah Palin's Cash Grab'!

I noticed a very telling comment that she made in the promo -- she mentions that she would much rather be romping around in the Alaskan wilderness than be working in a "stuffy old office".

Reason #78 explaining why she quit the governorship of Alaska.

Hey Sarah, why don't you continue playing outdoors and leave working in the White House to the grown-ups?

Really enjoyed the first episode of Sarah Palin's Alaska. Her family life is chaotic and fun, filled with love. And the scenes of Alaska are awesome. Sarah is obviously much more of an outdoorsman than our President. She is cut from the mold of Teddy Roosevelt.


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