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How the Palins stay in the limelight

By Lisa Respers France, CNN
Sarah Palin, shown here holding son Trig, daughter Bristol and Bristol's ex-boyfriend Levi Johnston have been making news.
Sarah Palin, shown here holding son Trig, daughter Bristol and Bristol's ex-boyfriend Levi Johnston have been making news.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Sarah Palin, her daughter and former son-in-law to be are all over the media these days.
  • Palin's reality show is to debut in November; Levi Johnston is shopping his own show
  • Writer: U.S. doesn't have royalty, "We have movie stars. And politicians. And the Palins"

(CNN) -- The Palins may not be the first family, but you wouldn't know that from recent media coverage.

From Sarah Palin's soon to premiere reality show on TLC Network, to her daughter's appearances in the tabloids over her relationship with her baby's daddy, Levi Johnston, Alaska's most well-known family is getting plenty of attention. Even Johnston is reaping plenty of limelight spillage; he recently announced he's shopping a proposed reality show in which he seeks Sarah Palin's former job as mayor of Wasilla, Alaska.

Palin has her fair share of detractors, so why do she and her circle continue to dominate the headlines and stir up conversation on everything from American politics to the politics of staying on good terms with your ex?

"I think their appeal is two-fold," said Anna David, journalist and editor of the book "Reality Matters: 19 Writers Come Clean About the Shows We Can't Stop Watching." "One, she's such a polarizing figure -- you'd be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn't either love or hate her. And two, you rarely see politicians so blatantly going after the bottom dollar the way that family seems to."

Ever since she burst on to the scene as the Republican vice-presidential candidate during the 2008 presidential election, Palin has been both revered and reviled.

The former governor of Alaska has sold millions of copies of her book, "Going Rogue: An American Life," and stirred controversy with her connection to the tea party movement.

Yet lately, she and her family have entered into an even broader realm of American consciousness: stars of their own family minidrama, which is playing out like reality television even before Palin and her now ex-son-in-law-to-be can hit the small screen.

When Palin's oldest daughter, Bristol, recently announced (via the cover of a celebrity magazine) that she had gotten back together with Johnston, the father of her toddler, the national conversation was as much about her mother's reaction as it was what Bristol could possibly be thinking reuniting with an ex-boyfriend who had publicly slammed her family.

In this modern-day romance, the younger Palin became Juliet to Johnston's fishing, gun-toting Romeo.

"We remember our own teenage loves clearly: the pain of the heartbreaks and the joy of the reconciliations, the meddling influence of our parents, and the sureness that the person we're in love with at age 17 will be our one and only true love," said Sasha Pasulka, who runs the celebrity website, Evil Beet Gossip. "Bristol and Levi are playing out a very high-stakes version of everyone's teenage love story, and we're fascinated. We relate to all of it."

Pasulka said the love story is made all the more intriguing because it comes with a healthy dose of blue state versus red state drama.

"They're not being the perfect political children we're so used to watching," Pasulka said. "Meghan McCain [daughter of senator and former Republican presidential candidate John McCain] can Twitter about her cleavage all day long, but Bristol and Levi managed to conceive a child out of wedlock while her ultraconservative mother was running for vice president of the United States. It's hard to top that."

The Palins are like the family at the next table at Olive Garden. We're all eavesdropping.
--Donna Trussell, writer
Video: Levi's new reality gig
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Donna Trussell has written about the Palins for Politics Daily and said that in a country like the United States that does not have royalty, "We have movie stars. And politicians. And the Palins."

"How many ordinary Americans can really relate to Brangelina or the extended Kennedy family?" Trussell said. "Yes, I realize that in the past couple of years we've had a whole parade of sinning, confessing adulterers. But the cognitive dissonance of beautifully coiffed, Ivy League men and women rooting around in the dirt is just too much for most people."

"The Palins are like the family at the next table at Olive Garden," Trussell added. "We're all eavesdropping."

Such public access is about to get much easier. TLC recently announced that "Sarah Palin's Alaska" is to debut on November 14 on the cable network. "Loving Levi: The Road to the Mayor's Office" has yet to find a network home.

Writer Anna David has no doubt that people will be watching.

"Sure, presidential and vice presidential candidates get big book deals, but they're usually above trying to land their own TV shows unless their political careers have been destroyed by scandal, like in the case of [disgraced former New York Gov. Eliot] Spitzer," David said. "We're in the Lindsay Lohan era, so whether it's intentional or not, the Palins do things that, in 2010, keep their names in the news. "