Skip to comments.AP: Judgment Passed Too Soon on 'Reagans'
Posted on 11/13/2003 3:41:05 PM PST by steppenwolffe
NEW YORK - This was where I was going to review "The Reagans," CBS' much-anticipated miniseries airing Sunday and Tuesday. Except it isn't going to air - not then, not on CBS.
I prefer writing about shows that will actually be broadcast and shows that I've screened. But since everyone else has expressed an opinion about this biopic, sight unseen, why shouldn't I?
Come to think of it, I'd like to salute CBS for giving "The Reagans" the hook (episodes of "CSI," "CSI: Miami" and "Without a Trace" are now scheduled instead). I think CBS' turn-tail tactic is a win for all concerned.
It's certainly a win for everyone who frightened CBS into bailing on the project. As NewsMax, the right-wing Web site, crowed, "CBS' decision to cancel the Reagan movie is one of the greatest victories - ever - for the conservative movement over the left-wing, so-called mainstream, media."
It's also a win for the TV audience.
Viewers alarmed that the film might defame a man they lionize were spared from having their vision of him challenged. Even better, they were handed new evidence to buttress their belief that "the left-wing, so-called mainstream, media" are out to trash everything they hold dear.
As for viewers who aren't so fond of Reagan, they win, too. They have been spared from watching a film they probably didn't want to see anyway (what if it went too easy on him?), while they also get to bask in righteous indignation over CBS denying them a look at it.
The New York Times won. Despite being part of the "left-wing, so-called mainstream, media" (or so some insist), it ignited the firestorm against fellow "media elite" CBS in a big story last month that quoted details from the script deemed unflattering to Reagan.
And what of CBS? Yes, it has won, too, exhibiting a newfound, heretofore undemonstrated commitment to program quality.
In its announcement that "The Reagans" had been scrapped, CBS said the decision was "based solely on our reaction to seeing the final film, not the controversy that erupted around a draft of the script." The film, said CBS, "does not provide a balanced portrayal of the Reagans."
So last-minute worries about fairness and factuality prompted CBS to yank a four-hour-long extravaganza from its November sweeps lineup just two weeks before airtime! However unlikely, CBS professes to have struck a blow for truth. (It also washed its hands of a sticky problem by dumping "The Reagans" on its pay-cable sister channel, Showtime, where the film will air months from now).
Of course, cynics may counter that CBS simply caved in to the Far Right. Or that, even more dismaying, the network pandered to conservative Washington lawmakers whose votes it needs for high-stakes legislation that, among other things, would allow its parent Viacom to own more local stations.
None of that had anything to do with his decision, Leslie Moonves insists.
"It was a moral decision, not an economic or a political one," the CBS boss told Variety last week.
CBS' cancellation of "The Reagans" comes on the heels of the timidity it displayed over its "Hitler" miniseries last spring. The network blasted one of the film's executive producers after he was quoted in TV Guide comparing the fear among Germans during Hitler's rise to fear in America as it headed into war with Iraq. Then the producer was fired from the film.
But despite that uproar, "Hitler" aired as scheduled. Now, with the axing of "The Reagans," CBS has seemingly declared that its future biopics won't dare to challenge conventional wisdom.
Meanwhile, the network has reminded its viewers that, at crunch time, they don't count. Special interests do.
After all, none of the thousands who protested "The Reagans," and prevailed with CBS, had viewed the film.
Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie, who wrote a blistering letter to Moonves, hadn't. Bill O'Reilly, who joined other on-air pundits in demonizing the film, hadn't. Michael Paranzino, who launched the "Boycott CBS" Web site, hadn't.
And now CBS' viewers never will.
But there's really no need. These days, passing judgment on a film calls for no more than a few excerpts, a glimpse of its script, and cherished assumptions about the media's collective depravity.
"We believe this is a solution that benefits everyone involved," said CBS when it pulled "The Reagans."
So everyone wins, huh? But what show gets pulled next? How long will CBS surrender to this kind of winning streak?
An inconvenient fact, left out of ALL of the liberal whining about the pulling of the miniseries is that the writers admitted to MAKING UP things and putting them in RR's mouth. We didn't need to see the broadcast when we already knew, and had it confirmed, that the project was full of gross inaccuracies and outright falsehoods.
Go tell it to Mel Gibson.
Indeed. Classic projection of guilt.
I have the entire script, and I have read it all. It was a partisan hatchet job, plain and simple. Any intellectually honest person could see that.
And you may want to check your definition of "special interests" because the flak CBS caught over this film was not just from a small group (like the ACLU, NARAL, or NAMBLA) but we from a broad cross-section of the American people. People that vote ... at the ballot box, and with their remote controls and their dollars.
Capping an extraordinary conservative furor over a movie virtually no one has seen, CBS scrapped plans Tuesday to televise "The Reagans" and decided to shunt it off to the Showtime cable network instead.
Based on snippets of the script that had leaked out in recent weeks, conservatives accused CBS of distorting the legacy of Ronald Reagan.
While CBS said it was not bowing to political pressure, critics said that was exactly the case, and worried about the effects of such pre-emptive strikes on future work.
CBS believed it had ordered a love story about Ronald and Nancy Reagan with politics as a backdrop, but instead got a film that crossed the line into advocacy, said a network executive who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The film had been scheduled to air Nov. 16 and 18, in the heart of the November ratings sweeps. CBS attempted to edit the film to remove offending passages, but gave up.
"We believe it does not present a balanced portrayal of the Reagans for CBS and its audience," the network said Tuesday.
Neal Gabler, author of "Life the Movie: How Entertainment Conquered Reality," said the decision was unhealthy for democracy.
"CBS, in pulling this film, did incredible harm, much more harm than they could ever have done in making the film," Gabler said. "What they've told us now is that a very small group of people have censorship power over the broadcast networks."
Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said the decision "smells of intimidation to me."
But conservatives said it was a question of accuracy.
The miniseries became a hot topic on talk radio and the TV news networks. The chairman of the Republican National Committee wrote to CBS President Leslie Moonves, asking for historians to review the movie, and the conservative Media Research Center asked advertisers to consider boycotting the film.
"This was a left-wing smear of one of the nation's most beloved presidents and CBS got caught," said Brent Bozell, founder of the Media Research Center.
Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie said putting the movie before a smaller audience on Showtime doesn't address accuracy concerns.
Without changes, Showtime should remind viewers every 10 minutes that the movie is fictional, he said.
Showtime and CBS are both owned by Viacom, which is anxiously awaiting federal action on rules to restrict ownership of local TV stations.
Failure to enact such changes could cost Viacom millions of dollars, said Jeff Chester, head of the Center for Digital Democracy, a communications lobbying group.
Viacom needs help from Republicans in the White House and Congress who might not like seeing Reagan portrayed negatively, Chester said.
"They made a business decision," he said. "In doing so, they clearly caved in to the political pressure."
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