Credit where it's due: Sarah Palin, who has just announced the launch of her subscription-based online video channel, is one of the most skilled, and resilient, TV stars of the past decade.
After her resignation as governor of Alaska in 2009, Palin pivoted seamlessly to television, where she served in an official capacity as a Fox News contributor and in an unofficial capacity as a shameless entertainer ready to take any gig; she showed up in the audience of "Dancing With the Stars" week after week as her daughter competed, and guest-hosted "Today." She had her own reality show on TLC, too. But no matter how often and widely she touted her on-air persona, her particular brand of charisma proved a little too spiky to really work in established TV contexts.
Her difficulties with Fox News have been widely reported. But across the dial, Palin never quite fit in. Brought in to boost "Today's" ratings for a day, Palin couldn't resist bringing up how she thought "Game Change" was based on lies about her -- a little too bilious a subject for a morning show. Working on reality TV, Palin basically ignored the vintage-sitcom family-reality-show template (one that's run from "The Osbournes" to "Duck Dynasty"). Everyone involved was so focused on projecting a postcard image of brave, hardy Alaskan pioneers that they forgot that actual events need to happen in order for television to be interesting. And Palin basically haunted "Dancing With the Stars," not only appearing in the audience but also making cameos in the lyrics, as several of the dance numbers young Bristol performed referring to a conservative mother ("You Can't Hurry Love," "Mama Told Me [Not to Come]"). Palin's daughter was an amiable blank, reflecting the light and heat generated by her mother rather than generating any of her own. This wasn't the way the show was meant to work -- the contestants, generally, are supposed to be charismatic on their own.
Palin clearly wants to be on television. But she wants to be a TV personality on her own terms. Having tried reality TV shows and news programs of various stripes, Palin is now making TV that is part of no established genre besides "things that come from Sarah Palin's brain" --and asking her fan base to pay her $99.95 a year for the privilege of watching it. It seems like a waste of Palin's extensive charisma: She despises the mainstream media so much that she apparently isn't willing to play by its rules at all. As she says in the introduction to her "Sarah Palin Channel," here are plenty of political conservatives who willing to play the Fox News game and in so doing make a tidy living. Her introduction to the Sarah Palin Channel shows her speaking about how tired of "media filters" she is, over vintage photos from the 2008 presidential campaign. But she could put those media filters to use if she could only stop being defensive long enough to learn how to package her message for a broader audience.