From our seats in front of the television, it certainly feels like the TV network programmers have all the power to entertain us. But the press gatherings of the Television Critics Association in Tinseltown suggest that others audaciously think they should be in the driver's seat, and they're not shy about saying so.
The latest TCA press tour showed off the intimidating power of the television critics flailing away at young, shy Bristol Palin, who's returning to ABC for an all-star version of "Dancing with the Stars."
Look, there's no doubt that Sarah Palin has figured out a way to benefit from all the media attention -- mostly negative, often vicious -- after the 2008 presidential race. The enemy of my enemy is my friend -- and her support has grown by the millions. Her supporters across America made Bristol a fan-favorite on "Dancing," even if she was hardly Ginger Rogers on the season debut. But the Palin-haters who dismissed her as being on the show only because of her famous mother proved their real agenda when Chastity "Chaz" Bono took a turn (as a "male") on the program, and the crickets chirped.
In addition to the TLC series "Sarah Palin's Alaska" and Bristol's two turns on "Dancing," Bristol is currently on the show "Life's a Tripp" on Lifetime. Her father, Todd, will star in the fall on the NBC show "Stars Earn Stripes." There's no doubt the TV critics hate the idea of this family on television.
Washington Post critic Lisa de Moraes made great fun of how the Palins are cashing in to become "the Barrymores of reality TV" and competing with the Kardashians to see which shameless "family business" can do the most programs. The Palins have a good response: "I don't think it's our business," Bristol said of her family, when one TV critic asked that question. "I just think you guys are going to be talking about us either way, so we might as well be doing something enjoyable and fun."
"You haven't gone full Kardashian," joked ABC host Tom Bergeron. "No, not at all," Bristol replied. Bristol kept up the "might as well have fun" line for the next hardball. She was asked: If you don't like the harsh media attention, then why don't you just go home to Alaska and raise your son, rather than make yourself a target? The "please go home" feeling in the question was unmistakable.
In the eyes of these critics, the Kennedys are American royalty, while the Palins are too cordoned off with reality TV divas like the Kardashians or hicks like the stars of "Hillbilly Handfishin'."
A journalist also brought up a recent episode of "Life's a Tripp" where Bristol's son said an "F-word" that was bleeped. (I say "a journalist" because the critics don't identify each other by name when they report on how they have picked on young Palins.) Gay activists claimed the little boy uttered their hated F-word, and Lifetime's corporate line of defense was no, actually it was the more common F-bomb. The better question is why Lifetime felt that tantrum of profanity and brattiness was considered great television, instead of cutting-room floor garbage. The toddler bleeps haven't helped. The "Tripp" show has performed badly enough that it's now airing in a late-night slot.
The critics' toughest hardball question for Bristol was how she would react if paired with a homosexual professional partner on the new season of "Dancing With the Stars." It's also a somewhat strange question. On Bristol's previous tour of the show, bisexual comedian Margaret Cho and her gay professional partner, Louis van Amstel, danced to "Copacabana" with a gay-pride message. There was no storming off the set or critical comments from Team Palin. But that is never good enough.
Under fire from the journalists, Bristol answered: "You know what? I like gays. I'm not a homophobic (sic), and I'm so sick of people saying that, just because I'm for traditional marriage..." The media elite replied by happily tweeting the grammatical mistake.
Again, the media code is obvious: no "homophobes" in favor of traditional marriage should be allowed to star on a TV program -- and certainly not in a room full of ballroom dancers. It doesn't matter if they never say a word of protest or never plan an "educational" dance routine that honors Jesus and the ridiculed home-schooled kids who are allowed to study him in school time.
Would it be rude to ask Chaz Bono how she would feel if ABC paired her with a male professional partner, since she was (and is) female? Not just rude, it would be insulting. In the calculus of the TV critics, Bono must be applauded for her courage, and Bristol must be brought low because she's a Palin.