‘A real Alaska Native character’: Writer reflects on ‘Alaska Daily’ cancellation

two women
The storyline for the ABC television series “Alaska Daily” was built around two strong women. Roz Friendly, an Alaska Native reporter played by Grace Dove, held her own against Hilary Swank’s hard-bitten Eileen Fitzgerald, an investigative reporter from New York City. (Courtesy ABC)
Behind the scenes at “Alaska Daily,” a podcast with show writer Vera Starbard and reporter Rhonda McBride

Fans of the TV drama “Alaska Daily” will never know if Eileen Fitzgerald, a hard-nosed, hotshot reporter, will fall in love with a Bush pilot and put down roots in Alaska – or what’s behind her panic attacks. ABC has cancelled the series after only one season.

Hilary Swank played Fitzgerald, who had come to Alaska to rescue her reputation after she left a New York City newspaper in disgrace. A former editor recruited her to help investigate a series of cold cases involving missing and murdered Indigenous women.

Eileen was impressed with neither the Alaska Daily, which operated out of a strip mall in Anchorage, nor the reporter she was paired up with – Roz Friendly, an Alaska Native and one of the newspaper’s rising stars, played by Grace Dove.

an "Alaska Daily" banner
A banner ad for “Alaska Daily” (Courtesy ABC)

During the first few episodes the Eileen and Roz had frequent clashes, which set the stage for the story arc of the two women learning to work together. At the end of the series, the two solve the murder of a young Alaska Native woman.

In the last episode, Eileen turns down a job in New York and decides to stay in Alaska, at least for the time being.

a woman
Vera Starbard is a well-known Juneau writer. Before joining the “Alaska Daily” writing team, she was wrote screenplays for the hit PBS children’s series “Molly of Denali.” (Rhonda McBride/KNBA)

Vera Starbard, an Alaska Native and one of the writers for the series, says she had hoped to expand Roz’s role, to reveal more about her culture and family background.

“Honestly, she’s the reason I signed onto the show,” Starbard said. “OK: here’s a real Alaska Native character. This isn’t some silent nobody, who is going to get two lines, but fight for her own space and fight for her right to be there.”

Starbard says Roz and Eileen were pivotal characters, who helped to raise awareness about missing and murdered Indigenous people across Alaska and the nation.

“Literally, the millions of people who saw this show now have to know this is an issue. And many of them are a little bit more educated about exactly why that’s an issue,” Starbard said.

Some of the storylines for “Alaska Daily” were inspired by the work of Anchorage Daily News reporter Kyle Hopkins, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his series “Lawless: Sexual Violence in Alaska.”

Starbard says the true crime element was an important undercurrent in the show although she and one of her co-writers, Utqiagvik filmmaker Andrew MacLean, worked to keep “Alaska Daily” from becoming too sensational.

The two Native writers also tried hard to make the show as authentically Alaskan as possible. According to Starbard, one of their big successes was getting Native languages incorporated into the script. The Alaska Native characters also wore clothing, jewelry and regalia made by Alaska Natives.

Starbard is disappointed but not surprised the ABC network cancelled the program. It was an expensive show to produce and did not draw the ratings the network had hoped for.

Starbard says she wrote the eleventh and final episode of “Alaska Daily.” She left the show feeling that there was so much more to share about the richness and beauty of Alaska’s Indigenous cultures.

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