ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — “Sarah Palin’s Alaska” portrays the show’s heroine as an adventure-loving wife and mother enjoying a whirlwind of activities amid spectacular settings in her home state. There are no overt clues to her future political ambitions.
However, throughout the first episode of the eight-part TLC documentary series beginning Sunday, Palin’s outdoorsy image against the stunning scenery often plays nicely with her familiar political message.
One telling scene shows Palin and members of her family fishing near a bear and two frolicking cubs. Cut to the Tea Party darling and her self-sufficiency speech. For months, Palin has referred to strong Republican female candidates as “mama grizzlies.”
“I love watching these mama bears,” Palin tells the TLC camera. “They’ve got a nature, yeah, that humankind could learn from. She’s trying to show her cubs, ‘Nobody’s gonna do it for ya. You get out there and do it yourself, guys.'”
Translation: Stop relying on government.
That scene and others are sure to suggest to some viewers that the former Alaska governor and 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee is positioning herself for a 2012 presidential run.
There are other messages that seem to conflict with those ambitions, though. Palin talks about her love of wild Alaska, offering in one well-known homily, “A poor day of fishing beats even a great day at work.”
In a promo for the show with a montage of outdoor scenes, she says, “I’d rather be doing this than in some stuffy old political office” and “I’d rather be out here being free.”
Then come the snippets that easily could fill in as campaign slogans, particularly with Palin’s very political tweets, Facebook postings and other media forums. Her Alaska landscapes also loom larger than life.
“What all this suggests is that she’s crafting her lifestyle and her biography as typifying a person who’s independent, rugged, resilient, in touch with nature and has learned life lessons that she can bring into governance if she moves back into governance,” said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, a University of Pennsylvania communications professor who studies political rhetoric.
“It also could be life lessons to get to lead a better life in the rugged frontiers,” Jamieson said. “They have to have that duo message or this will read as if it’s a political ad.”
In a scene outside the family’s Wasilla home, viewers see the 14-foot-high fence the Palins erected when author Joe McGinniss moved next door to work on a book about Palin.
“By the way, I thought that was a good example,” Palin says on TLC. “What we just did, others could look and say, ‘Oh, this is what we need to do to secure our nation’s border.'”
The intent of the series is not clear — is she merely showing off a state she truly loves with off-the-cuff remarks, or are these the opinions of the paid Fox News consultant subtly laying the groundwork for a presidential bid?
Of course, with a production of this magnitude, money also could be a powerful motivation.
Palin, who could not be reached for comment, reportedly was seeking as much as $1.5 million per episode in pitching the show earlier this year, according to The Hollywood Reporter. TLC, a division of Discovery Communications, has refused to divulge Palin’s cut from the series, which is produced by Mark Burnett of “Survivor” fame.
Alaska has a fairly new film office that offers incentives including a 30 percent tax credit to qualifying productions filming in the state. It’s not clear if TLC’s Palin series is tapping into the program — Burnett’s office did not respond to requests for comment — which could mean the show ultimately would be subsidized by the state.
Alaska film office manager Dave Worrell said he could discuss only productions that have already received incentives and Palin’s show is not among them. The program is open to any production that spends at least $100,000 in Alaska, with added incentives for Alaska hires, as well as offseason and rural shoots.
History’s “Ice Road Truckers,” for example, spent almost $1.2 million in the state, earning almost $400,000 in incentives, according to Worrell.
As far as TLC spokeswoman Laurie Goldberg is concerned, the series is “a love letter to Alaska.”
Well, except for one temporary Alaskan.
In the debut episode, viewers catch a glimpse of McGinniss reading on his balcony as Palin and her family make snide remarks about the author they say has intruded on their privacy. They charge that he is writing a hit piece on them. McGinniss, who has since moved out, says he was filmed without his knowledge or consent and he’s demanding through his attorney that it be removed from the episode, according to Slate.com.
The California attorney, Dennis Holahan, did not return multiple calls seeking comment. Goldberg said she had no comment and referred questions to Burnett’s office, which also did not return calls.
If the series is about more than Palin’s love for the state, it would be hard to overlook the irony of a former governor who abruptly resigned in July 2009 with 17 months left in her first term. Take the footage of Palin struggling to climb a steep rocky slope in Denali National Park.
“About halfway up the rock, I did not know if I was going to be able to finish the task,” she tells the camera. “But I didn’t want to quit. I didn’t want to quit in front of other people.”