Reagan Miniseries: Final Cut
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TERENCE SMITH: Conservatives have won one more for the Gipper.
After weeks of rumors that a planned CBS miniseries presents a less-than-flattering portrait of former President Ronald Reagan, the network today announced that it is pulling the broadcast off the air.
It will instead license the film to Showtime, a cable channel owned by CBS parent Viacom.
The network denied that it acted under pressure, but in a statement, CBS said it does not believe the film presents “a balanced portrayal of the Reagans,” a criticism leveled by the Republican National Committee and admirers of the 40th president.
President Reagan’s son, Michael, and the Senate Democratic leader, Tom Daschle, both spoke about the controversy today.
MICHAEL REAGAN: We’re going to talk about it because we’re going to stand up for my father. They can put it on cable, they can put it anywhere they want to put it. The reality of it is so much of it is a lie and not the Ronald Reagan that we know; it’s the Ronald Reagan only the Hollywood left knows because that’s the way they want to see him.
SEN. TOM DASCHLE: It smells of intimidation to me, it sounds like they were intimidated in making decisions that reversed earlier ones, and I’m disappointed.
TERENCE SMITH: Showtime announced late today that it will televise the film next year, and because of the controversy, will pair it with an on-air forum about the movie.
Joining us for more is Bernard Weinraub, who covers the entertainment industry for The New York Times.
Bernie, welcome. What have you been able to learn today about why CBS in fact made this decision?
BERNARD WEINRAUB: Well, probably the most interesting thing about this whole episode is that nobody or very few people have actually seen this movie. Everybody is talking about it, on the right, on the left, in the center. But nobody has seen it. The people who have seen it are a couple people that at CBS, and so far as I know that’s about it. Certainly some people outside of CBS have read the play. But as you know, the play and the final product are often quite different. So that we’re talking about — everybody is talking about something that they may not know too much about.
TERENCE SMITH: What about the decision itself? CBS insists it was not made because of the pressure that has been brought upon them by the Republican National Committee, by the drumbeat of talk radio, by the friends of the former president.
But I wonder if you find that credible given the fact that just two weeks ago some executives at CBS thought they, said they thought it was a perfectly fair portrayal.
BERNARD WEINRAUB: Yeah. I don’t find the CBS version very credible. Certainly there was a drumbeat of opposition to the movie based on stories, based on an original story that on Oct. 21 in the Times, The New York Times by Jim Rutenberg, who talked about the screenplay and talked about the fact that there was this tide of opposition from people who had worked for President Reagan or Republicans, and a tide of uneasiness about what was going to take place.
But I think certainly CBS was hit by a lot of phone calls and certainly conservative commentators, the Drudge Report, a lot of people began weighing in on this whole thing.
TERENCE SMITH: Have you seen this before? Where a network faced with this sort of controversy pulls a fairly big production? This was to have been a four-hour miniseries to be broadcast on two nights later this month.
BERNARD WEINRAUB: Yes, it was a very high-profile show, it was going to be at the height of the sweep season, and they had invested a lot of money in it, and they had two stars, Judy Davis and James Brolin, and it was produced by Neil Meron and Craig Zadan, who won an academy award for Chicago and did the Judy Garland Show.
I think there was, there was a real sense that this show was biased, that’s why I think they dropped it.
TERENCE SMITH: You know, in its own statement CBS noted that it has done controversial historical films before, they mentioned one about Jesus and one about Hitler.
What made this different?
BERNARD WEINRAUB: Well, Hitler was the most recent one of course, where there was pressure and CBS did make some editorial changes, that is they made some editing changes, which apparently pleased them and, and in the end turned out to be positive. I mean there wasn’t any complaints insofar as I know once the film was aired.
I think what made this different was that there were certain elements in the film that were probably untrue, certain statements that were attributed to Reagan, certain statements or actions that were attributed to Mrs. Reagan, that seem to have been untrue. And also I think one of the additional problems is, although CBS did pass on the script, and CBS executives certainly saw the movie, they saw it over the past couple weeks, I don’t think the head of CBS, Les Moonves, actually saw the film, the full, you know, version of the film until after that Times story came out on the 21st.
And I think then he got involved in it, and he saw it and I can’t speak for him, but I think he then realized that from his point of view, there were problems in terms of its not just accuracy, but I think he felt fairness.
TERENCE SMITH: Is there any evidence of any connection between this decision by CBS and the fact that their parent company, Viacom, has issues pending before Congress right now that will certainly depend in part on Republican support?
BERNARD WEINRAUB: There could be. I mean I think Sumner Redstone is — the man who runs Viacom is a Democrat. And I actually spoke to him today over the phone, and he denied any, he said he did not have any dealings at all on this whole thing, that it was really Les Moonves’ call.
I’m not sure that Viacom’s dealings on Capitol Hill would have that much of an impact in terms of the Reagan miniseries.
TERENCE SMITH: Okay. Bernard Weinraub, thanks very much.
BERNARD WEINRAUB: Thank you.