Palin bandwagon grinds to a halt as networks turn away

No one wants to buy her new reality TV show
  • @guyadams

Whatever happened to Mama Grizzly? A year ago, Sarah Palin was one of the hottest properties in US politics, hovering near the top of the polls in the Republican presidential race, negotiating a $1m-a-year contract to act as a contributor to Fox News, publishing books, delivering paid speeches, and starring in weekly TV documentary about life in her home state, Alaska.

Today, she appears to have gone into hibernation. After months of flirting with a run, Mrs Palin announced in October that as far as the White House went, she was a non-starter. Her last book came out in November 2010, and no others are on the horizon. Her speeches are few and far between. And her Facebook page, once tended to several times daily, has been updated a grand total of three times in the past month.

Nowhere does her decline seem more evident than in the ratings-obsessed world of television. This week, it emerged that she has been doggedly trying to sell a brand new fly-on-the-wall programme to the country's networks, but has yet to find a willing buyer.

Citing industry insiders, The Hollywood Reporter said that the mooted show will focus on her husband Todd's career as a championship snowmobiler. But Discovery Communications, the organisation whose TLC channel aired her last series, has passed on the proposal. A&E Networks, which lost a frenzied bidding war for Mrs Palin's first TV series, is also not interested.

Part of the problem appears to be the steep price that Mrs Palin and her producer, the influential British reality show developer Mark Burnett, are asking for the programme. Sarah Palin's Alaska was bought by TLC for around $1m per episode, and they are asking for the same lofty amount this time.

A second major issue is undoubtedly the subject matter. Viewers have already watched one television series about the Palin family's domestic travails, and their enthusiasm for a second is questionable. Although Sarah Palin's Alaska scored a record five million viewers for its first episode, it garnered mixed reviews. For the second episode, the audience dropped to three million. By the time all eight episodes were done, that figure was down to 2.5 million.

The third major factor that seems to give TV buyers pause for thought appears to be a perceived decline in Mrs Palin's cultural relevance. In recent months, everyone from Michele Bachmann to Rick Perry, Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich has temporarily sparked the enthusiasm of the Tea Party demographic which represents her core following. As a result, one network executive told the Reporter: "I think it's safe to say her time has passed."

Mrs Palin, 47, also has clouds on the horizon in her career as a rolling news pundit. Her decision to not seek the White House was announced on a talk radio programme. That so angered Roger Ailes, the powerful Fox chief, who believes that his $1m-a-year contract should buy exclusivity on major stories, that he has reportedly considered letting her contract expire in 2013. "I paid her for two years to make this announcement on my network," Mr Ailes told a colleague, according to reports that have not been denied by Fox. Earlier this year, the New Yorker magazine reported that Mr Ailes believes her to be an "idiot" and was not prepared to support her as a potential Republican candidate if she decided to run.

Although she retains a devoted following, Mrs Palin also sparks fierce loathing among opponents. Perhaps as a result, she does not seem to find herself being publicly courted by potential Republican nominees for an official endorsement. This week, Mitt Romney learned the dangers of being officially backed by a headline-prone woman from the party's far right. Christine O'Donnell, a Tea Party favourite once dubbed "Palin-lite", toured TV studios announcing her support, only for Mr Romney's rival Newt Gingrich to take a double digit lead in the polls.