CBS has canceled its scheduled showing of the miniseries “The Reagans” amid fierce criticism of its portrayal of former President Ronald Reagan and his wife, Nancy.
In a statement issued today, the network insisted, however, its decision had nothing to do with the backlash from Reagan supporters.
James Brolin, Judy Davis as Ronald and Nancy Reagan in CBS miniseries
“This decision is based solely on our reaction to seeing the final film, not the controversy that erupted around a draft of the script,” CBS said.
The miniseries, originally scheduled to air Nov. 16 and 18, will be shown on CBS’ sister pay-cable network Showtime.
The network said further:
“Although the miniseries features impressive production values and acting performances, and although the producers have sources to verify each scene in the script, we believe it does not present a balanced portrayal of the Reagans for CBS and its audience. Subsequent edits that we considered did not address those concerns.
“A free broadcast network, available to all over the public airwaves, has different standards than media the public must pay to view. We do, however, recognize and respect the filmmakers’ right to have their voice heard and their film seen. As such, we have reached an agreement to license the exhibition rights for the film to Showtime, a subscriber-based, pay-cable network. We believe this is a solution that benefits everyone involved.
“This was not an easy decision to make. CBS does tackle controversial subjects and provide tough assessments of prominent historical figures and events, as we did with films such as ‘Jesus,’ ‘9-11’ and ‘Hitler.’ We will continue to do so in the future.”
Daily Variety reported yesterday the TV movie’s director, Robert Allan Ackerman, has quit because of many last-minute edits and alterations demanded by CBS executives.
CBS President and CEO Les Moonves said last week in a CNBC interview the network was adjusting the script to present a more balanced view.
Moonves said while he found criticism of a film nobody has seen to be “rather odd,” he and his staff were looking at the rough cut and “there are things we think go too far.”
“So there are some edits being made trying to present a more fair picture of the Reagans,” he said.
Script excerpts published by the Drudge Report included scenes of Reagan cursing at his staff and his wife slapping her daughter. Other scenes show the former president declaring he is the Anti-Christ and, in response to AIDS, stating, “They that live in sin shall die in sin” – though there is no record of him saying such things.
Actress and activist Barbra Streisand, whose husband James Brolin plays President Reagan in the movie, responded to a report by Drudge that she had a hand in its purported anti-Reagan slant.
On her official website she insists she has had nothing to do with it and spent only four hours on the set.
“What is going on . . . is that the Republicans, who deify President Reagan, cannot stand that some of the more unpleasant truths about his character and presidency might be depicted in the movie, along with his positive actions,” Streisand says. “This is what the Right Wing does when they are faced with a truth that is not 100% positive for their side ? they spread vicious lies and attacks and scream and yell until they get their way.”
Nancy Reagan issued a statement last week to the Fox News Channel saying, “The timing of [the miniseries] is absolutely staggering to me. Obviously, it’s very hurtful.”
The 92-year-old former president is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.
On Friday, the Republican National Committee asked CBS to allow a team of historians and friends of the Reagans to review the series before it aired.
RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie said if CBS rejected the request, he would ask the network to run a crawl across the bottom of the screen every 10 minutes warning viewers the program is not accurate.
Martin Anderson, co-editor of a newly released book, “Reagan: A Life in Letters,” said in an interview on “The O’Reilly Factor” he doesn’t buy CBS’ claim that producers of the series checked all kinds of sources for historical accuracy.
Anderson said he has been in touch with most of the people who were in Reagan’s inner circle and none said they were contacted by the movie’s producers.
That includes former Secretary of State George Schultz, former Attorney General Ed Meese and Reagan’s chief of staff, Michael Deaver, said Anderson. He noted Reagan biographer Lou Cannon and presidential historian Michael Beschloss also told him they were not contacted.
“If they want to run a movie, which is supposed to be historically accurate, let’s make it accurate, but let’s not lie about it,” Anderson told O’Reilly’s fill-in host John Kasich.
A close friend of the Reagans, entertainer Merv Griffin, told MSNBC the promos and scripts he’s seen of the movie are a “disgrace.”
“I’ve seen some of the promos, where Nancy screams at – screams – that fragile, wonderful woman doesn’t scream – screaming at all the White House aides,” Griffin said.
Griffin told interviewer Joe Scarborough, host of “Scarborough Country,” he has a personal insight that discredits the scene in the original script in which Reagan calls himself the “Anti-Christ” on the day the bodies of the 241 U.S. Marines killed in Lebanon in 1983 were returning home.
“Well, the beauty of it was,” Griffin said, “I spent that day with them prior to him going to Andrews Air Force Base to greet the bodies coming home from Lebanon, and then all the parents were there. He was devastated. He had nothing to say about the Anti-Christ. He didn’t – he doesn’t talk like that. He was simply devastated. I went back. I had lunch, just the three of us. We talked in the afternoon. He talked a great deal about it. It is just, that’s one scene that I was on the spot and know that that never happened.”
A number of boycott campaigns were launched in response to leaks of the script.
Howard Kaloogian, a leader of the California gubernatorial recall, launched a website DefendReagan.org he claimed vaulted into the top 5 percent of all sites after just three days online.
“This shows you the strong emotions people feel towards the smear campaign CBS is waging against President Ronald Reagan and Nancy,” he said in a dispatch yesterday.
Kaloogian asked supporters to contact Viacom, owner of the CBS network, as well as CBS directly.
“We are going to make sure that when and if this anti-Reagan miniseries airs that there is a ‘rebuttal’ that speaks the truth about Ronald Reagan’s accomplishments and points out the lies, smears and distortions that CBS has engaged in,” Kaloogian said.
He planned to place prominent ads with TV Guide and USA Today at a cost of about $200,000.
Kaloogian said the sponsors he was told were advertising on “The Reagans” were “all frantically scurrying for cover.”
The names of Ericsson, Gillette and Blockbuster were removed from the list, he said, after those companies assured him they will not purchase ads on the program.
A former chief of staff to a U.S. congressman, Mike Paranzino, teamed with colleagues to set up a website urging people not to watch the two-part series and to boycott its advertisers for 30 days during the peak of the holiday shopping season.
The campaign garnered such an overwhelming response it crashed the website.
The miniseries was scheduled to be broadcast during “sweeps week” when grabbing high ratings allows networks to charge higher rates for advertising.
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