Sarah Palin gives TLC its highest-rated debut ever; is her show dangerous or innocuous?

Sarah Palin’s Alaska had TLC’s highest-rated debut ever last night, as close to five million viewers tuned in to a show that cost the network about $1 million an episode. That’s about half the record number of viewers Jon & Kate Plus Eight got when they separated.

A TLC press release said that it “is the #1 program launch in TLC history … besting the What Not to Wear series launch in 2003, and posting triple digit rating and delivery gains vs. the prior six week prime average.”

Besides inspiring a drinking game and inspiring theories about its subliminal messages, critical reaction to the series is mixed. Rob Owen points out that “that how a viewer feels about Sarah Palin, the political figure, will influence one’s desire to tune in for or flee screaming from Sarah Palin, the reality star.” And The New York Times’ Alessandra Stanley says “mostly, the eight-part series lives up to its title — the camera follows the former Alaska governor and Republican vice presidential nominee as she fishes, hunts, dog-sleds and rock-climbs. It’s a nature series for political voyeurs: viewers get to observe Ms. Palin observing nature.”

But in Salon, Mary Elizabeth Williams argues that “you might enjoy the show anyway, for its unquestionably breathtaking Alaskan scenery, its occasionally rogue-going younger Palins (9-year-old Piper’s critique of her mother’s Blackberry addiction is pretty swell) and for its near-constant willingness to put Palin in the line of danger.” But she calls it an “eight-hour campaign ad thinly disguised as a travelogue” and TLC’s assertions is apolitical “isn’t just a steaming pile of grizzly manure: It trumps ‘Bridalplasty’ as the hands down most dangerous reality show ever conceived.”

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