Today’s cuppa: Northern Lights strawberry/maple tea (with polar bears on the box)

This week’s edition of my print column "We’d Like to See" looks at the flurry of TV interest in America’s only Arctic state. Here’s an updated and hyper-linked version…

Suddenly, it’s all about Alaska.

On Tuesday, Oct. 14, Discovery Channel premieres "Toughest Race on Earth: Iditarod," a six-part series from the producer of Discovery’s "Deadliest Catch" that chronicles the legendary dog-sled race from Anchorage to Nome.

But it’s just the latest of several shows focusing on the 49th state.

Although Alaska looms large in the imaginations of many in the Lower 48, the realities of life there have remained mysterious to those who, if they’ve seen the state at all, usually look at it from the deck of a cruise ship or through a vacation camera lens.

It’s fair to date television’s current interest in Alaska to the 2005 premiere of "Deadliest Catch," which introduced landlubbers to the wildly exciting and dangerous business of crab fishing in Alaska’s Bering Sea — and to the raffish charms of the fleet’s home port, Dutch Harbor.

Although many of the crabbers are not Alaskans — some come from as far as Seattle — the show celebrates their rough-and-ready lifestyle and grinning insouciance in the face of peril, necessary to survive what the Bering Sea has to throw at them.

In 2006, ABC premiered "Men in Trees," a comedy-drama that sent a New York writer (Anne Heche) to live in a small Alaskan town (the show actually filmed in Vancouver, British Columbia, a bit farther south).

In April, Discovery premiered a travelogue/survival show called "The Alaska Experiment" and an outdoor adventure show called "Expedition: Alaska."

In May, History Channel premiered "Tougher in Alaska," which explores how difficult conditions up north make even the most mundane and necessary tasks vastly more risky.

Thom Beers, the producer of "Deadliest Catch," currently has a Friday-night NBC show, "America’s Toughest Jobs," in which contestants take on back- and bone-breaking occupations, three of which — crab fishing, big-rig driving and gold panning — took place in Alaska.

This season’s edition of The CW’s "America’s Next Top Model," airing Wednesdays, featured Fairbanks’
own Hannah, who often referred to being from Alaska, not having electricity, etc.

Along with its reputation for spectacular wilderness and hardscrabble challenges, Alaska is also at the forefront of such hot-button 21st-century issues as energy and the environment, garnering it a lot of chatter among activists and news reporters.

Topping it all off, the naming of Alaska’s Gov. Sarah Palin as the GOP’s vice-presidential candidate has set off a new flurry of conversations about what Alaska is and who Alaskans are — and some of the comments reveal a lack of hard knowledge about what it’s like to live in America’s northernmost state.

Somewhere among romantic notions of the frontier and glorious views of untamed landscapes lies the truth of daily life in modern Alaska. I’d like to see television take a less sensational and more down-to-earth view of this remote but vital place.

Y’know, while we’re at it, it wouldn’t hurt television to take a closer look at the 50th state — Hawaii, birthplace of Democratic presidential contender Sen. Barack Obama. Like Alaska, its image to non-residents is probably largely composed of vacation experiences, movies and old episodes of "Hawaii Five-O" and "Magnum p.i."

But as a few seasons of "Lost" — which is filmed almost entirely in Hawaii — have shown us, the islands have mountains, deep forests and cityscapes that don’t quite fit into the simpler picture of pristine beaches, luxury hotels and surfing.

The islands also have a long and complex history and a unique social, cultural and ethnic mix.

Alaska and Hawaii are just as much America as Rhode Island, Alabama, Idaho, South Dakota or North Carolina.

It would do us good to learn more about all our states, near and far.

Posted by:Kate O'Hare