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