Sarah Palin is hitting the road with her guns, fishing rods and “Mama Grizzly” persona.
The former Alaska governor is returning to reality TV as host of “Amazing America,” a weekly series on the Sportsman Channel set to begin in April.
According to its billing, Mrs. Palin “takes viewers coast-to-coast where the American spirit and the great outdoors are celebrated in equal measure.”
“It takes a certain kind of pizzazz for a politician to make the move into reality television,” said Jeffrey McCall, professor of communication at DePauw University. “Harry Reid, for example, could never find a reality television platform that would catch on. The Sportsman Channel, however, has found a great fit with Sarah Palin. Palin has a special attraction for her fans, many of whom are likely viewers for Sportsman Channel.”
The show is Mrs. Palin’s second direct attempt at reality television. In 2010, she and her family were the focus of TLC’s “Sarah Palin’s Alaska.” The series premiere was the network’s most-watched with nearly 5 million viewers, though the show lost roughly half of that audience after four episodes.
“People who love the outdoors and support the Second Amendment will find this show and its focus on Sarah to their liking,” Mr. McCall said. “I am quite certain that Sarah’s show will be a ratings winner for this channel and her high profile will draw people to the channel who previously had not tried it.”
The Sportsman Channel provides 24/7 programming about hunting, fishing and shooting to more than 32 million households.
“Obviously, what you want from a host is someone true to the brand and the lifestyle. She certainly checks that box,” said Marc Fein, executive vice president of programming and production for the Sportsman Channel.
Robert Thompson, director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, said what makes Mrs. Palin stand out is that she “was so much more than a political candidate.”
“She was a presence in the American Olympus of celebrity, in a class kind of her own,” he said. “She was the punch line of every late-night comedian’s jokes, she was the clown in the freak show. At the same time, she was in the position as a woman running for vice president. That hasn’t happened many times.”
Mr. Thompson said the show could draw an audience of those hoping “to see her and say, ‘You go, girl,’” but also those waiting for the next train wreck.
Larger than life
Mrs. Palin, a mother of five, became a household name when Republican presidential candidate John McCain plucked her from political obscurity to become his running mate in the 2008 election.
Her folksy style and defense of the Second Amendment helped make her a rock star among the party’s grass roots and a favorite target of Democrats.
After the election, Mrs. Palin returned to Alaska. She stepped down as governor months later, citing “frivolous” ethics probes and associated legal costs.
Her speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference this month in suburban Washington galvanized the audience. Still, Mrs. Palin, 50, tied for 10th place with Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in a presidential preference straw poll sponsored by The Washington Times.
Aside from reality television, Mrs. Palin has been the subject of books, including her memoir “Going Rogue,” appeared on many news shows, inspired a made-for-television movie, and traveled across the country on the public speaking circuit.
Jennifer Lawless, a government professor at American University, said Mrs. Palin’s staying power in the media stems from her ability to inspire reactions from fans and critics.
“She speaks in sound bites and says things that are completely over the top and extreme,” said Ms. Lawless, an analyst of women in politics. “As a result, that motivates and energizes people who support her and turns off people who oppose her.”
Mrs. Palin’s willingness to take on anyone, Ms. Lawless said, also helps her gain an audience.
“She’s dynamic in her delivery and her ideological position,” Ms. Lawless said. “The fact she’s willing to speak about anything, and her style, lend themselves to the reality TV format.”
Todd Belt, with the political science department at the University of Hawaii at Hilo, credited Ms. Palin’s larger-than-life personality for her prolonged time in the limelight.
“She does have a very big personality, and politicians with those big personalities people project things onto them,” said Mr. Belt, who has published works including “Viral Videos: Reinforcing Stereotypes of Female Candidates for President. “Speaking out in brash ways, I think that people either wish that more politicians would speak out that way or wish they wouldn’t if they happen to be on the other side [of opinion].”
‘She’s got a spine’
Mrs. Palin’s job choices, such as being a commentator on cable news shows and her TLC reality show, prove her “desire to stay in the public spotlight,” Mr. Belt said.
“She knows what worked for her in the past,” he said. “She caught lightning in a bottle in 2008, and she’s going with what works for her.”
Linda Beail, a political science professor and director of the Margaret Stevenson Center for Women’s Studies at Point Loma Nazarene University, echoed Mr. Belt’s assessment. She said Mrs. Palin doesn’t fit any stereotype, which made her interesting in 2008, and her unabashed beliefs have kept her on American television screens and in newspapers.
“It’s really hard to be ambivalent about her,” said Ms. Beail, who co-authored the book “Framing Sarah Palin: Pit Bulls, Puritans, and Politics.” “She’s a confident woman, a powerful woman. She’s not the traditional liberal Democrat feminist, but someone who really played with her femininity. It’s such a complicated set of juxtapositions. I think the other thing that keeps her interesting is that she does allow us to project a lot onto her.”
To be sure, Mrs. Palin has mastered the art of getting attention, but that comes from her rigid beliefs and her fearlessness in sharing them, Ms. Beail said.
“She’s got a spine,” she said. “She believes what she believes, and she’s not changing. I think she likes having a lot of influence, likes being independent and being able to say what you want to say. You can’t really do that when you’re seriously wanting to run for office.”
Whether Mrs. Palin would consider another run for office is anyone’s guess. Mr. Belt said a political campaign could backfire if she backpedals on her public persona.
Justin Vaughn, an assistant professor at Boise State University’s political science department, said Mrs. Palin’s success has come at a price.
“Not any politician or former politician who wanted to do what she’s doing could be able to. But also not any politician who could do it would necessarily do it, because I think you lose credibility,” said Mr. Vaughn, who co-edited the book “Women and the White House: Gender, Popular Culture, and Presidential Politics.”
“I think the way she’s stayed in the public eye is by being perfectly happy to go from being talked about in The Wall Street Journal and National Journal, to being talked about in tabloids.”
• Meredith Somers can be reached at email@example.com.
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