Sarah Palin and family’s long, complicated history with reality TV: A timeline

April 3
(Sportsman Channel)
(Sportsman Channel)

For a family that has been vocal about disliking the media, the Palins sure have participated in a fair amount of TV shows. Continuing that tradition, Sarah Palin stars in “Amazing America with Sarah Palin,” premiering Thursday night on the Sportsman Channel. The docu-series follows the former Alaska governor/vice presidential candidate around the country as she and a crew explore “people, places and pastimes connected to America’s outdoor lifestyle.”

This is just the latest in a long line of TV shows for the Palins — perhaps not unexpectedly, several have had their share of controversy attached. Here’s a timeline of the most visible Palin family reality appearances over the years:

Fall 2010: Bristol Palin on “Dancing With the Stars” Season 11 (ABC)

Given that Sarah Palin was still very much in the spotlight after the 2008 presidential race — she had also joined as a contributor to Fox News Channel that year — it was big news when her daughter, Bristol, signed on for “Dancing With the Stars.” It was even bigger news when conservative bloggers boasted of gaming the voting system, keeping Bristol in the competition despite her scoring lower than other dancers. (ABC claimed it was impossible to rig the votes; Bristol eventually placed third, losing to Jennifer Grey.)

(Adam Larkey/ABC)
(Adam Larkey/ABC)

That was only one of the bizarre stories of the season, including the question of whether people booed when Tom Bergeron interviewed Sarah Palin in the audience, who showed up every week to cheer on Bristol; later, a man in Vermont shot his TV in a fit of rage over Bristol’s appearance on the dancing competition.

Winter 2010: “Sarah Palin’s Alaska” (TLC)

In the middle of Bristol’s “DWTS” journey, Sarah Palin’s own self-titled show — produced by reality show king Mark Burnett — debuted with huge ratings for TLC. Those numbers dropped over time, as the show became more of an Alaskan travelogue than anything else. (Though screenwriter Aaron Sorkin did write a scathing editorial that went viral about the fact that she killed a caribou in one episode.)

Summer 2012: “Bristol Palin: Life’s a Trip” (Lifetime)

Initially, the idea for a Bristol-themed show on the Bio Channel was this: Bristol would move into a house with Kyle Massey (they become good friends while on “DWTS”) and his brother, and work at a small charity in Los Angeles. But that idea was scrapped — Massey reportedly didn’t like the direction the show was heading, including when cameras captured a screaming match at a local bar, when a man yelled unflattering things about Bristol’s mother. Anyway, the show eventually became only about Bristol’s life in general raising Tripp, and moved over to Lifetime. The Massey family wound up suing the show’s producers for stealing the idea. (They wound up settling for an undisclosed amount.)

Either way, the show wasn’t long for the reality TV world. Lifetime yanked it out of primetime when ratings plummeted.

"Stars Earn Stripes" (Chris Haston/NBC)
“Stars Earn Stripes” (Chris Haston/NBC)

Summer 2012: Todd Palin on “Stars Earn Stripes” (NBC)

Also produced by Mark Burnett, the show paired celebrities (from Todd Palin to Dean Cain to Nick Lachey) with members of the military for physical challenges. Before it aired, journalists wondered why Todd would participate on the network that was home to “Saturday Night Live” — the show that constantly skewered his wife during her run for vice president — but he insisted he didn’t mind.

“I was invited to participate in this competition to raise money for military-based charities, and that was the last thing in the back of my mind when I made the decision to be part of this event and to hang out with these military ops and these celebrity contestants” Todd said at the Summer TV Press Tour. “And to be able to shed a light on our guys that keep us safe and save lives and defend our freedom every day.”

Fall 2012: Bristol Palin on “Dancing With the Stars: All Stars” Season 15 (ABC)

There was less of a fuss this time around when Bristol joined the show again for the “all stars” edition made up of the best — and most controversial — contestants throughout series history. Sarah Palin, Todd and Bristol’s toddler son, Tripp, showed up to cheer in the audience, but this time there were no one-on-one interviews of the Palins. Meanwhile, Bristol only managed to last a few weeks her second time through the competition.

April 3, 2014: “Amazing America With Sarah Palin” (Sportsman Channel)

The channel wouldn’t release any episodes in advance of the premiere, but from the trailer and preview clips, Palin appears to be the host as a group of outdoorsy people travel around to meet “risk takers and legacy makers.” That includes profiling a woman who is the “modern day Annie Oakley,” along with a visit to professional wrestler James Storm. The show crowns Palin the “First Lady of the Outdoors,” and also sends her on her own adventures, including going dog sledding.

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