One of the several recent gigs for Sarah Palin - former governor of the U.S. state of Alaska, obsessive attention-seeker, putative candidate for President of the United States in 2012 - has been television tour guide. Palin has been hosting an eight-part documentary series on Discovery Communications' TLC, traipsing about the 49th state with her family, talking with locals and showing off the sights to be found on her native turf.
Until now. Discovery announced that the show has run its course, and thus Palin's part-time job as a tour guide is over. When it premiered last Fall, a TLC media release informed potential viewers that "In each episode Sarah is joined by various family members as she shares the state she knows and loves - from salmon fishing in Bristol Bay to hiking along one of our country's most breathtaking glaciers.''
The end of "Sarah Palin's Alaska,'' as the show is called, came about by coincidence just as she tumbled into yet another, unrelated controversy.
This one is a dispute over placing either gunsights or surveyor's marks (take yer pick) over a map of 20 congressional districts held in last November's election by opposition Democrats and telling her Republican followers "Don't retreat, instead reload.'' One of the districts targeted on the online map was held by Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, the Arizona congresswoman who is fighting for her life after being shot in the head Saturday by an evidently deranged 23-year-old. In U.S. political and media circles, debate now rages over whether military-style rhetoric by Palin and many others combines with America's gun culture to produce deadly violence.
"Sarah Palin's Alaska'' has ended for more prosaic reasons: The commercial climate has changed. Its ratings slipped, from 5 million viewers for the first panoramic episode, to 3.2 million by the eighth and final showing. TLC spokespeople do not characterize the end of the series as a cancellation, saying the show was contracted for one season and time is up.
Before its acquisition in 1991 by Discovery Communications, TLC - the cable TV channel that carried Palin's series - was known as The Learning Channel. Three months after the debut of the outdoorsy, nicely shot, filmed-on-location Alaska series, what have we learned?
* The series was as much about an ambitious politician and Clan Palin as it was about what Alaska offers as a travel destination or a place to live.
* Sarah Palin really likes guns. She's often shown firing them.
* Sarah Palin really, really likes being on camera. Being on camera with guns is definitely OK.
* It's fun to shoot and kill wild animals - not primarily for food or clothing, but because there's something just, you know, dang enjoyable about it. Not to mention gutting and skinning them.
* Having the kids and husband Todd on camera, too, is a swell way to promote family values. Oh, and speaking of Todd, he's a fellow who registered a decade or so ago as a member of the Alaska Independence Party - twice - though he doesn't belong now and Sarah never has. The party, which operates statewide, would like to see an Alaska independent of the United States - you know, the country Sarah would like to be president of.
Well, gosh darn it, the show is off the air now. Alaska is still there, though. Seeing the place not through a personality-driven TV series but in person as, say, a passenger on an inner-passage cruise ship might be a better way to go, after all.