Monday, November 15, 2010

Vice Is Virtue

Sarah Palin's new reality series "Sarah Palin's Alaska" drew a huge audience last night:

Sarah Palin's new TV show drew a bumper audience of almost five million people in its debut Sunday night, marking the largest viewership ever for a program launch on cable channel TLC, according to figures released on Monday.

"Sarah Palin's Alaska" -- an eight-episode series that is part travel show and part an inside look at the family life of the controversial Tea Party favorite -- was watched by 4.96 million people, most of them over 35 years-old, Nielsen data showed.

I didn't plan on watching this program, but stumbled across it while surfing last night and came away impressed. The real star of the show turned out to be the one getting second billing in the title, Alaska. Love or hate Sarah Palin, it's hard not to be captivated by a well-produced, beautifully shot program featuring Denali National Park in HD plasma wide screen glory for an hour.

Whatever the reason, getting 5 million viewers is an accomplishment. I understand it's not only a record audience for a new TLC channel program, but also an all-time record for a basic cable program featuring the name of a losing Vice Presidential candidate in its title. Believe it or not, "Joseph Lieberman's Connecticut" on Current TV completely bombed a few years ago. And don't even bring up The Travel Channel's controversial experiment with "Estes Kefauver's Tennessee" back in the mid-90's.

I think the lesson to be learned is that while losing Vice Presidential candidates mabe be a natural ratings magnet, merely casting them as hosts of a travelogue of their states is not necessarily the right thing to do. You've got to play to their strengths. And you've got to put something in the title that leaps off the on-screen TV guide and grabs viewers by the short hairs. Yes, for Sarah Palin, "Alaska" works just fine. For other losing Vice Presidential candidates, these other attributes would be far more likely to yield basic cable success.

-- John Edwards's Hair Care Tips

-- Joe Lieberman's ... (ed. note, there is absolutely nothing associated with the name Joe Lieberman that would attract a TV audience)

-- Jack Kemp's End Zone Action

-- Dan Quayle's Twice Baked Potatoe Recipes

-- Lloyd Bentsen's Other Things That Are No Jack Kennedy

-- Geraldine Ferraro at the Jersey Shore

-- Walter Mondale's Continuing Search for the Beef

-- Bob Dole's Banana Bonanza

Admit it, each and everyone one of these would stop you in your channel surfing tracks.