Palin and Fey: The Twain Meet Again

The debut of the pol's "Alaska" show goes up against the comic's Twain Prize honors Sunday night. Are we in for a rematch? You betcha!

In a preview of her new show, "Sarah Palin’s Alaska," the former governor of the country’s largest state sits atop a rock formation, a postcard-perfect backdrop behind her – and does an imitation of Tina Fey imitating her.

"On a really clear day, you can see Russia from here – almost," Palin declares.

The show debuts on TLC Sunday at 9 p.m. – the same time Fey will be seen on PBS getting the prestigious Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.

"I would be a liar and an idiot if I didn't thank Sarah Palin for helping get me here tonight," Fey said Tuesday as she received the award, according to the Los Angeles Times. "My partial resemblance and her crazy voice are the two luckiest things that have ever happened to me."

The counter programming of Palin and Fey’s shows is either dumb luck or someone's idea of an in-joke. But we'll take the juxtaposition as a sign that the presidential wannabe and the "30 Rock" star's careers will continue to be intertwined – particularly at a time when a strange meld of politics, news and humor (intentional and otherwise) is seemingly becoming a new branch of entertainment.

Both of the Sunday night offerings are trailed by more than a tad (or, in one case, a Todd) of controversy.

As we've noted before, we’re Fey fans. But giving her America’s top humor prize at 40, at this relatively early point in her career, seems as premature as the legendary reports of Twain’s death back in the day.

There is a long line of folks ahead of her: Mel Brooks, Dick Gregory, Carol Burnett and Phyllis Diller, to name a few. Fey, to her credit, recognizes this ("I assume Betty White was disqualified for steroid use,” she quipped after learning she had been selected for the honor).

Palin, not surprisingly, played a big part at Fey’s award ceremony in Washington, if only in absentia. The comedian at one point went rogue – or at least overtly political – and was initially met by nervous laughter, The Washington Post reported.

Palin’s “Mama Grizzly” movement is good for all women – "unless you don't want to pay for your own rape kit . . . unless you're a lesbian who wants to get married to your partner of 20 years . . . [or] unless you believe in evolution," The Post quoted Fey as saying.

Fey’s honor threatens to be overshadowed by the possible impression that she's being rewarded for somehow tipping the balance in the 2008 election by returning to "Saturday Night Live" to mock Palin. If that sounds silly, the citation when "SNL" won the 2009 Peabody Award declared that the recurring bit “may have swayed the race itself.”

We can't judge Fey’s intent, the intent of those who tapped her for the Twain honors or any power she might or might not hold over the electorate. But we will note that her award comes amid the ongoing debate over whether Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert’s pre-midterm election “Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear” crossed the line from satire to political activism.

Palin, meanwhile, is zigzagging across all kinds of lines – using boats, sled dogs and skis, among modes of transportation. She’s a paid commentator for Fox News, and now has a TV show that seems as much an advertisement for the state she served three years as governor as for her all-but declared 2012 presidential candidacy.

Former Bush Administration adviser Karl Rove recently dismissed Palin as a Reality TV star and suggested she’s unworthy of the Oval Office. Palin responded by calling the show a documentary series – and noted that, hey, Ronald Reagan was an actor.

Judging from previews, “Sarah Palin’s Alaska,” looks a lot like a reality show. We see the former GOP vice presidential candidate and her family boating, skiing, fishing and even confronting grizzlies (unclear if any mamas were among them). There are cutaways to Palin talking about the action after the fact, as if it were an episode of “Jersey Shore.”

We also see her clash with her teenage daughter, Willow. If the idea is to show the Palins as typical, the former governor doesn’t mind reinforcing the image by telling us they’re just "normal, average everyday Americans." 

Which, whatever you think of Palin, is a load of the kind of distorted, non-reality reality these shows tend to propagate.

So before Palin declares her political intentions, she’s engaged in a rematch of sorts against Fey, at least in the battle for ratings. Are we grateful for our DVR? You betcha!

Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.

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