Sarah Palin may be able to see Russia from her house. Come Sunday, you'll be able to get an extended look at her from your living room.
With the state's stunning scenery as a backdrop, TLC's Sarah Palin's Alaska (9 p.m. ET/PT) offers the most telling look yet at the private life of 2012's highest-profile potential contender for president, mostly through a politics-free lens.
A hybrid of adventure travel, documentary — and, despite Palin's protests, reality TV — the eight-episode series follows Mama Grizzly encountering brown bears, Sarah Barracuda hauling in freshly caught halibut, and Caribou Barbie mingling with moose, bison and, yes, caribou.
"This is not Housewives of Alaska," Palin said in a rare interview at home on the shores of postcard-worthy Lake Lucille. "This is about the uniqueness of Alaska, the special place it is, and showing the rest of America why we are here and what we have to offer."
Launching at a time when Palin has helped energize the grass-roots Tea Party movement and backed dozens of Republicans with mixed success in statewide, Senate and House races during the midterm elections, Alaska and its family-friendly tone could be an image-shaping public-relations bonanza.
For Palin, 46, the show represents a chance to begin redefining a shoot-from-the-hip reputation shaped by sharp anti-Washington rhetoric that has won her support among conservatives nationwide but raised questions about her qualifications and motives — and inspired parodies by Tina Fey on NBC's Saturday Night Live.
It's unclear whether Palin, the Republican vice presidential nominee in 2008, will make a run at the White House in 2012. But if that's her plan, is an entertainment-oriented cable TV show an appropriate platform for a presidential contender? Skeptics, notably prominent Republicans such as strategist Karl Rove, have said Palin's TV foray is decidedly unpresidential.
"For many Americans, it's hard to take her seriously, politically," says Stuart Rothenberg, publisher of the rothenbergpoliticalreport.com. "She doesn't do many things to demonstrate depth, seriousness and substance. She's not going that route with this TV show."
Even so, Rothenberg says, Alaska could help soften Palin's nails-tough, polarizing reputation and broaden her appeal beyond core conservatives. "She's a celebrity, a brand and a phenomenon — much bigger than she was as a vice presidential candidate," he says. "But this isn't really about politics. It's about pop culture. And this could show a dimension that could make her appealing to people who think she's just snarky and opinionated."
Joining TLC's slate of featherweight reality, lifestyle and cooking shows such as Kate Plus Eight , What Not to Wear and Cake Boss doesn't seem politically risky to Palin, a multitasking mother of five. After Rove's criticism last month, Palin noted on a Fox News show that former president Ronald Reagan — whose portrait hangs above the fireplace in the great room that doubles as Palin's pulpit for remote Fox satellite feeds — was a film and TV actor.
Palin spurned offers for TV gigs outside her role as a Fox News pundit until Mark Burnett, producer of Survivor and Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?, sold Palin and her husband, Todd, on an adventure-centric family exploration of Alaska's pristine outback and diverse cultures.