Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

CBS May Yield on Reagan Biopic

HOLLYWOOD, California -- In what would be an extraordinary concession to outside pressure, American television network CBS is considering moving its two-night dramatized biography of Ronald and Nancy Reagan to its pay-cable sister network Showtime, if not shelving the project entirely, sources familiar with the production said Monday.

The network's response to emotional Republican protests -- the second time this year CBS has scaled back a major history-based show in the face of opposition -- has already resulted in changes to the producers' version of "The Reagans."

None of the parties involved with the biography -- CBS, Sony Television or the Storyline production company -- would comment publicly on possible changes. A less radical compromise open to CBS would be to delay the miniseries past the scheduled Nov. 16 and 18 air dates, in the heart of the November sweeps period.

The program has been under fire since The New York Times reported on Oct. 21 that the movie contained some unflattering moments. Conservative cable TV and radio talk show hosts focused their wrath on "The Reagans" through the week.

Critics were particularly inflamed about a scene in which Reagan says about AIDS patients: "They that live in sin shall die in sin." Reagan never made such a public remark. While AIDS activists contend such a quote symbolizes Reagan's slow response to the crisis, opponents of the CBS movie say it personifies liberal bias against him.

Further fueling the ire toward the miniseries is that Reagan is portrayed by James Brolin, the husband of liberal activist, singer and actress Barbra Streisand, and that Reagan, 92, is in the late stages of Alzheimer's disease.

Pre-broadcast protests greeted CBS's May miniseries about Adolf Hitler's early years. After some critics, who'd seen a preliminary version of the script, complained that it was not critical enough of Hitler, the screenplay was rewritten to de-emphasize his childhood years and play up his evil.

But complaints over the Reagan movie have created far stronger reverberations. The reason, historians said, is that CBS inadvertently stepped into a broader controversy -- the legacy of the Reagan presidency. As soon as Reagan left the White House in 1989, his admirers, suspicious that liberal media and academics would never portray him fairly, launched a campaign to have at least one public building named for Reagan in each of the United States' 3,067 counties.

Further complicating the debate over the CBS program is Reagan's personality, which has historically been seen as avuncular by his supporters and emotionally distant by his critics. Peter Schweizer, a conservative who last year wrote a book about Reagan's legacy of anti-communism, suggested that part of CBS's problem is that "Reagan can be a difficult man to capture. I think part of that is that he is so disarmingly transparent ... what you see is what you get." Reagan biographer Edmund Morris grew so frustrated in his search for Reagan's character that he resorted to a much-criticized device of inventing characters to share their insights about him.

Robert Thompson, head of Syracuse University's Center for the Study of Popular Television, said CBS was being pilloried because it had chosen to dramatize recent history. "The longer water is under the bridge, the less likely it is to be controversial." The screenplay is based on "First Ladies," a two-volume collection of profiles of presidential wives by former Nancy Reagan speechwriter Carl Sferrazza Anthony.

Among the protests against CBS: The Republican National Committee late last week asked CBS to screen the film for a team of historians. GOP Chairman Ed Gillespie suggested CBS run a "crawl" reminding the audience "that this is not a film that is supposed to be historically accurate."

Brent Bozell, president of the Virginia-based Media Research Center, the largest conservative media watchdog group in the United States, fired off a letter to the country's top 100 corporate advertisers asking them not to support the miniseries. Radio talk show host Michael Reagan, the former president's eldest son, vented his displeasure. Reagan's daughter, Patti Davis, wrote a commentary for next week's Time magazine but refused immediate comment. Maryland lawyer Michael Paranzino set up a web site, www.boycottcbs.com, which he said solicited more than 50,000 e-mails of protest.

Reagan's friends in Hollywood blasted the timing of the series. "A much-loved president is on his death bed," said Merv Griffin, who has been close to the Reagans for 40 years. "He's in the last stages of Alzheimer's. ... For somebody to put out a docudrama, if that's what you want to call it, a fictional drama, without them being able to respond or react, I'd say is extremely cowardly and extremely cruel."

Streisand's personal web site mocked suggestions that she had any effect on the way her husband portrays Reagan. "What is going on instead 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."