Sarah Palin likely isn't looking forward to what passes in the increasingly melded worlds of politics and celebrity as Super Saturday: this weekend’s premier of "Game Change," HBO's drama about the 2008 presidential election.
But the attention she and the movie are commanding during a key week in the current presidential election cycle speaks to the media's enduring fascination with the top celebri-pol of the reality TV era. Sarah Palin might not always love TV. But nearly four years after she was plucked from relative obscurity to become the GOP's first female vice presidential candidate, TV still loves her – even when she’s not basking in a favorable light.
"Game Change" appears to focus on Palin’s gaffes and conflicts with John McCain’s campaign handlers – rather than the bitter Barack Obama-Hillary Clinton primary battle also chronicled in the book that served as the movie’s basis. Making Palin the film’s virtual star seems less a plot by the liberal Hollywood elite, as she has suggested, than a smart choice to spotlight the campaign's most compelling character. As HBO Films President Len Amato told The New York Times: “There were a number of films in the book. Our job was to zero in on the best one.”
That's saying a lot, given the 2008 contest featured formidable players with great backstories and conflicts galore, like McCain, Obama and Clinton. (It’s worth noting this week also brought news of a new USA series starring Sigourney Weaver as a former first lady with a troubled marriage who becomes secretary of state.)
Palin – a divisive figure, like Clinton – has shown remarkable staying power. She maintains her platform on Fox News. Her reality show, "Sarah Palin's Alaska," proved reasonably popular, showcasing her state – and her family. Her daughter Bristol, late of "Dancing With the Stars," just signed with Lifetime to star in a reality show about her life as a single mother.
Sarah Palin, of course, has received plenty of bad press, little of which seems to faze her. She’s inspired unflattering satirical imitations by Tina Fey and Gina Gershon and now a dramatic impersonation by Julianne Moore, who, judging from previews for “Game Change,” embodies Palin’s mannerisms in an eerily realistic fashion.
The ongoing series of Republican candidate debates, also the subject of much parody, if not drama, has been likened to a reality show – even President Obama jokingly compared the sessions to "Survivor." Palin isn’t part of the contest – at least not technically – but remains a player who goes by her own rules.
She showed as much on Super Tuesday in an apparently impromptu interview with CNN at the caucuses in Wasilla, Alaska, on what otherwise was Mitt Romney’s big day. She left the door wide open on a 2016 presidential run – and a crack ajar on a GOP convention surprise this August, in what could be the media spectacle of the summer. “Anything is possible for an American,” the former Alaska governor told CNN’s Paul Vercammen.
The quote sounds like it could have come straight from one of Palin’s heroes, Ronald Reagan, who knew that politics, in great part, is a celebrity’s game. While Reagan was once best known for acting in the movies, Palin is the star of an ongoing reality show of sorts – with new scenes that include her encounter with CNN and her turn as the subject of the HBO drama. Check out a clip below from “Game Change,” which doesn’t seem likely to change anyone’s mind about Palin but is already giving fans and foes plenty more to talk about:
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.