Palin Family Goes Hollywood (Sort of)

Bristol’s gig on ABC Family show is the latest chapter in the Palins' love-hate (mostly hate) relationship with the entertainment world

By Jere Hester
|  Thursday, Feb 25, 2010  |  Updated 12:15 AM EDT
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Sarah Palin's conflicted relationship with Hollywood is no tea party.

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In the Palin Family Guide to Hollywood, Fox’s "Family Guy" is garbage but the Disney-owned ABC Family network apparently gets the (former) gubernatorial seal of approval.

Sarah Palin's daughter Bristol, as widely reported, is set to appear on ABC Family’s “The Secret Life of the American Teenager.” The 19-year-old single mom will play herself in a storyline dealing with teen pregnancy.

The acting gig underscores the very public Palin family’s increasingly complicated love-hate relationship with the entertainment world – especially as Sarah Palin positions herself as an office-less political celebrity/presidential-candidate-in-waiting.

On Feb. 15, Bristol Palin slammed the “heartless jerks” behind a "Family Guy" episode that included a gratuitous crack that some took as mocking her baby brother Trig, who has Down syndrome.     

Her response appeared on her mother's Facebook page, which has become the family megaphone. Sarah Palin, Fox News employee, was somewhat more muted in her response, blaming "Fox Hollywood" for the “kick in the gut.” The distinction is an artificial one: Rupert Murdoch ultimately pays both the “Family Guy” folks to offend and Palin to spout opinions.           

That's indicative of the former Alaska governor’s inconsistency as she alternately courts and bashes major media to stay in the public eye.

She got attention for backing CBS' decision to broadcast a low-key anti-abortion commercial during the Super Bowl. Last year, she reaped another kind of publicity bonanza by lambasting the network's David Letterman for making a tasteless joke about another one of her daughters.

More recently, she chided radio host Rush Limbaugh for using the word “retard” as a slur – but later gave her fellow right winger a pass, saying the commentator was being “satirical.”

While promoting her book, “Going Rogue,” Palin visited Oprah Winfrey, who supported Barack Obama in 2008 and is seen by some conservatives as the queen of the liberal media elite. The show scored Winfrey’s biggest ratings in two years, a boon to both women. Palin – with Bristol – appeared on Winfrey’s show again last month.

Since leaving office, Palin generally has limited her direct dealings with the press – carefully controlling her message in Facebook posts, her Fox spots and speeches like her Tea Party address.

There’s much that’s out of her control, of course. The press is watching. So are the comedians, who had a field day with the crib notes spotted on Palin’s hand during her Tea Party talk.

Tina Fey is likely to reprise her Palin imitation on “Saturday Night Live” in April, which probably only will increase the former GOP vice presidential candidate’s exposure. Speaking of exposure, the recent Playgirl pictorial featuring Levi Johnston, the father of Bristol Palin’s young son, isn’t exactly in sync with the ABC Family role or the image the Palin family is trying to promote.

Part of that image is of Sarah Palin as an anti-Hollywood populist – something with which her daughter’s network acting job would seem to conflict. During the Letterman imbroglio, Sarah and Todd Palin issued a statement that noted, in part, “some Hollywood/N.Y. entertainers have a long way to go in understanding what the rest of America understands.”

Sarah Palin seems to understand very well how Hollywood works – and she’s trying her best to make it work for her.

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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