Sarah Palin Guest Hosts Today, Probably Not for the Last Time

The first Mama Grizzly reference came in the first minute or two of former AK Gov. Sarah Palin's stint guest hosting NBC's Today show. In the opening segment, a very energetic Palin noted New York's "warm" weather (by comparison to Alaska, where it was 25 degrees this morning, about 20 degrees cooler than NYC). Ann Curry scoffed at the idea that it was warm and that's when Palin whipped out the Mama Grizzly. Alaskans are just made of sterner stuff than hardened New York network hosts, it seems: Curry was bundled up and visibly reacting to the mild weather. Matt Lauer wasted no time getting little digs and jibes in at his guest co-host, but I was struck by the appearances of the whole thing. Palin occupied screen right and looked great in a modest dark suit, and she appeared to be within an inch of Lauer's height. She fit right in despite the evident hostility of Lauer and Curry, weatherman Al Roker seeming to be the friendliest of Today's permanent crew. She exuded the confidence of someone who has hosted big shows for decades, not the typical nervousness of a one-time guest host going behind enemy lines in the lamestream media.

Within about 15 minutes, Lauer's attitude seemed to change. Palin joined Lauer and three other Today regulars, Star Jones, Dr. Nancy Snyderman, and Donny Deutsch, for a round of pop culture gab. Palin lauded Oprah Winfrey for living the American dream in establishing her OWN network, which is struggling to attract an audience on cable. Palin also defended Jessica Simpson, whose pregnancy-related weight gain has generated tabloid and online derision. Jones found herself alone criticizing Simpson for putting herself on magazine covers, while Palin and Snyderman defended her. Snyderman did offer that Simpson has gained too much weight, and should work to lose it as soon as possible after her child is born. Deutsch contributed little beyond snide one-liners and politically correct hostility toward Palin. He tried putting Palin on the spot about the "negativity" in politics, but Palin deftly turned the jab around to zap Bill Maher. Deutsch, who hosts his own poorly watched cable show, quickly surrendered. Lauer found himself agreeing with Palin more often than not and seemed to warm up to her, but caught himself and offered her a condescending "Good job!" toward the end of the segment.

Palin's positive attitude must be made of titanium. She is unsinkable and finds a way to say something worthwhile amid the nothingness that is morning TV. The next segment featured Palin and Ann Curry two-hosting actress and author Tori Spelling. The segment consisted of typical Today fluff, a star's book about parenting or some such along with party snack suggestions. Palin, though, turned the vapid segment into a brief salute to motherhood, congratulating Spelling for her growing family (she is pregnant with her and her husband's fourth) and for her success in media. Spelling seemed to be genuinely touched by Palin's praise.

The governor's next appearance came in another segment about parenting, this one centering on dealing with teenage daughters. The two guests were authors of parenting books, and in typical network booking tactics, one of the two was also a gorgeous blond. But Palin took over the segment after a couple of typically bland rounds of questions from Curry, whose lack of personality has long left me wondering how she ended up owning such prime media real estate as the Today set. Palin's experience raising kids allowed her to relate immediately to both authors. Curry spent much of the segment on the fringe of the conversation, and had to stop the ongoing conversation to get to the next network break.

All in all, Palin put in a more than solid performance. She never seemed to be on the defensive, never seemed put out by any of the subtle and overt hostility around her, and was never shy about advancing conservatives and conservatism. During the segment on Oprah's flailing network, for instance, while lauding Winfrey's entrepreneurial spirit and her honesty in admitting mistakes, Palin said that she hoped the network would succeed and that Winfrey would get some conservative shows on. Deutsch lamely jumped in and said Oprah should hire liberals, but no one on the set even paid attention to him. With good reason, too, since Deutsch's own show is little watched, and Winfrey has already tried liberals like Rosie O'Donnell, and has already failed with them. Going to the middle or right would at least be a creative choice for Winfrey to consider. Palin's advice was thus an advancement of conservatism and practical advice for Winfrey to turn her flailing network around. One only needs to look at the failure of Air America, the struggles of leftward tilting MSNBC, the dominance of Fox News Channel, and conservatives in talk radio to see that Palin knows what she's talking about, purely from a programming perspective.

Palin was quick witted, informed, personable, and beautiful guest hosting Today. She looked like she belonged there and brought a different energy to the show. Once she was gone, Today quickly returned to its blandly liberal self. Whoever came up with the idea of having her guest host deserves credit for thinking creatively and boldly to bring her in. It was a good show all around.

Update: When I mention the other hosts' condescending hostility toward Palin, this is what I'm talking about. Lauer asks Palin if Romney should choose a running mate with more experience than she had. When she was chosen in 2008, Sarah Palin was actually more experienced as a government executive than Barack Obama, Joe Biden and John McCain.

Update: The LAT sees the negative reviews that it set out to see.