"Basically, the other shows were all about following a day in the life of Sarah Palin, only it would be extended for days on end," she says. "How boring."
Alaska "is a way to undo a lot of the untruths, inaccuracies and lies about our family," she says. "This is a way to show — as we're showcasing Alaska — what our family is all about."
'We've been burned so many times'
Lambasted by mainstream news media for lacking gravitas and for stepping down as governor after just two years as she parlayed political notoriety into celebritydom and wealth (Forbes recently pegged her net worth at $10 million), Palin's distrust of most news media — which she has called "limp, gutless and impotent" and "corrupt bastards" — runs deep.
The University of Idaho journalism graduate says she's shocked at how she and her family have been portrayed. "We've been burned so many times. How else can they kick us? Can they keep saying Trig (her 2½-year-old son) is not really my child? That Track (her eldest son, 21 ) had to join the Army to avoid jail? That Todd and I are in the middle of a $20 million divorce?"
Alaska may provide National Geographic-style moments of Palin and her family fishing, camping, panning for gold and watching critters, but it's also a Family Circle-type platform to showcase Palin on her terms, warts and all. "This allows us to get the truth out there," says Palin, who prefers sending her message to the masses via social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook.
On Sunday's Alaska premiere, Palin gets to express some barely hidden contempt for author Joe McGinniss, whose pixilated image is seen from the home he rented next door while researching a Palin book due in 2011. "It's none of his flippin' business. ... It's an intrusion and an invasion of our privacy," Palin tells viewers. "If some dude you knew was out to get you, 15 feet away from your kids, how would you feel?"
(McGinniss asked TLC to remove his likeness from the show.)
In her living room earlier in the episode, a tongue-in-cheek Palin makes sure that teen interloper "Andy" knows a safety gate blocking a staircase isn't just meant for Trig's protection but to block Andy's private time with Palin's 16-year-old daughter, Willow. "No boys upstairs. She'll be downstairs in a minute. You can text her," Palin tells the kid. He sneaks upstairs anyway.
Other touches of family life are sprinkled through the series. Daughter Piper, 9, relishes a fishing trip to Big River Lake, as much for the adventure as the remote locale that could disconnect Mom from her ever-present BlackBerry. And on an excursion near Denali National Park, the steely Palin's vulnerability is exposed as the young grandmother nervously crosses crevassed ice fields and fights fatigue and frustration scaling a mountainside.
Future episodes feature poignant moments with Palin ruminating about Trig's future after seeing an older child who, like Trig, has Down syndrome.
TLC chief Eileen O'Neill says plotting out the series was a collaborative effort with the Palins.
"There was no list of anything off-limits. Knowing she is certainly controversial, we weren't going to produce a controversial show," O'Neill says. "I think this will be really good television and storytelling about an amazing state and a charming family."
Burnett, who has dealt with outsized egos of celebrities such as The Apprentice's Donald Trump, says he was surprised by the Palins' casual nature.