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Why the record success of Sarah Palin's Alaska may keep her from running for president



TLC-sarah-palin_1_370x278.jpgIt is official: TLC announced today that Sarah Palin's Alaska has set records for the channel as its highest-ever debut in total viewers and TV households, attracting 4.9-million viewers and 1.8-million viewers in the advertising sweet spot, adults aged 25 to 54.

But there's a few reasons why that might not be the best news for Sarah Palin the politician -- at least, if she hopes to run for president in 2012 (side note: I'm scheduled to discuss these ideas on CNN tomorrow morning, if you care to watch).

As Shelley Ross, the former executive producer of Good Morning America, writes for Newsweek, there's lots of messaging going on in her new, supposedly non-political series, from the way she's shown fretting about a journalist living next door (I'm persecuted!) to the way she ID's a brown bear in the Alaska wild (I'm smart!)

Such stuff is hardly new -- as I've written before, every so-called reality show has subtle messages; it's up to savvy viewers to question what they're shown and why. But there's a few reasons why this series may make it tougher for Palin to run for president, no matter how much it humanizes her now.

According to a new Gallup Poll, 52 percent of those surveyed viewed Palin negatively; this in a poll of more than 1,000 adults taken days after the GOP scored huge electoral gains in the mid terms elections, from Nov. 4 to 7. This 52-percent mark is her highest unfavorable rating and lowest favorable rating since Gallup began polling. The bulk of her unfavorables came from Democrats and Independent voters (80 percent of Republicans liked her).

TLC_Sarah_Palins_Alaska.jpgSo Palin is popular with a wide niche of supporters, both in politics and on television. But winning the presidency requires winning over independent voters and appealing to a broader constituency. Similarly, 3.9-million of Palin's record viewership for Alaska was age 35 and up -- a relatively senior crowd for cable television.

Palin works best in venues where popularity with a vocal, conservative older niche is important. That's good news for cable TV and a midterm election -- this year, voter turnout was projected at 42-percent, compared to 63 percent in 2008 during a presidential election. But not such good news for an election where you need a broad constituency; small wonder election gurus such as Karl Rove want Palin to be sidelined for 2012.

And headlining a reality show won't help one of the biggest criticisms among her enemies; that Palin hasn't proven she has the substance to govern a nation. In other words, if she needs a TLC show to convince the world she's smart and capable, that may be an important sign all by itself.

Let's not forget that the show in which Jon and Kate Gosselin announced their divorce drew 10-million viewers, but more recent episodes of Kate Gosselin's solo  program are doing much worse -- down to 1.6-million and 1.3-million.

So Palin's Alaska will likely dip -- still making enough money to show she might be better off as an inspiration to a vibrant niche than a failed candidate shooting for the mainstream. If you're among those who missed the program, check out a sample of the show here.

[Last modified: Monday, November 15, 2010 4:00pm]


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