KUDOS TO CBS!
No Teflon here: As outcry rises, CBS drops 'Reagans'
Network says move to Showtime unrelated to barrage of criticism
10:10 PM CST on Tuesday, November 4, 2003
By ED BARK / The Dallas Morning News
Supporters of former President Ronald Reagan say they've won one for the Gipper with CBS' stunning decision to cancel its centerpiece November "sweeps" attraction less than two weeks before its Nov. 16 premiere.
The Reagans, a four-hour miniseries starring James Brolin and Judy Davis, was dropped and shuttled to the Showtime cable network Tuesday after being branded by some as "cowardly" and "hateful" based on published excerpts from its script and a seven-minute clip.
It's the first time a broadcast network has scrapped a movie or miniseries in the midst of a protest over its content.
CBS said in a statement that its decision on The Reagans was "based solely on our reaction to seeing the final film, not the controversy that erupted around a draft of the script. ... 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."
Critics weren't buying it, seeing motives that ranged from financial to political.
"CBS essentially was saved from itself by the outcry. Only after the controversy occurred did they suddenly decide it may not be fair and balanced," said Media Research Center vice president Brent Baker, whose conservative organization had urged major corporate advertisers to "refuse to associate your products with such a movie."
BoycottCBS.com, launched last month by former Republican congressional staffer Michael Paranzino, declared victory with an asterisk Tuesday.
"It should not have taken a national groundswell of hundreds of thousands of Americans to make Hollywood and CBS realize that an attack on the Reagans is seen by most Americans as an attack on our values," Mr. Paranzino said. "I am troubled by reports that CBS may simply give its failed program to its sister cable outlet, Showtime. A smear is a smear."
Airing on Showtime
Showtime, which like CBS is owned by Viacom, said it will air The Reagans early next year after collaborating with the director and producers to "create a final film that will be the kind of quality programming its subscribers have come to expect."
The pay network, which seldom has a program among Nielsen Media Research's weekly top 40 cable shows, also plans "an on-air forum ... that will provide a dialogue for those who agree and disagree with its content."
One particular scene has been a lightning rod. According to a script leaked to The New York Times, it depicts an indifferent Mr. Reagan saying, "They that live in sin shall die in sin," in response to first lady Nancy Reagan's efforts to enlist his help in fighting the AIDS epidemic.
That line subsequently was cut, among other edits made by the producers and CBS.
A promotional clip sent last month to TV critics includes a scene portraying Mrs. Reagan as a de facto chief executive. "From now on, you don't just call the president to tell him what's going on. You call me!" she rages.
Mr. Brolin, who is married to singer and liberal activist Barbra Streisand, portrays Ronald Reagan as an amiable man who calls his wife "Mommy" and "Nancy poo pants."
But he's also shown upbraiding her after she insists that he fire Alexander Haig as secretary of state. "All right now, get off my ... back, will you!" Mr. Brolin's Reagan fires back.
The president also is shown looking dazed and confused in what is portrayed as the early onset of Alzheimer's disease during the Iran-Contra scandal.
The former president's son Michael Reagan, who says he viewed the CBS clip, denounced the network on his syndicated radio show. "Ronald Reagan had the biggest heart of any president in America's history – so big that CBS had no trouble finding it when they decided to plunge a dagger into it."
Merv Griffin, a longtime friend of the Reagans, told MSNBC last week that the miniseries is "the most cowardly thing I've ever heard. How can it be so cruel? That's not Nancy and the president at all."
But Marc Berman, who writes the "Programming Insider" for mediaweek.com, branded CBS "cowardly" for not airing The Reagans.
"The broadcast networks are looking for ways to compete with cable and be more bold and aggressive," he said. "Yet at the first sign of controversy they buckle under the pressure."
Other observers say CBS feared a backlash from advertisers and its older "heartland" audience.
Jeff Chester, director of the Washington-based Center for Digital Democracy, said CBS and other broadcasters also are lobbying hard on Capitol Hill to ease ownership restrictions. "Viacom clearly is feeling the pressure as it tries to win support for its political agenda from Republicans," he said.
CBS chairman Leslie Moonves, who was a public supporter of President Clinton, declined to comment on the network's cancellation of The Reagans. But before the miniseries was yanked, he told the CNBC cable network that "there are things we think go too far" in the miniseries.
Its executive producers, Neil Meron and Craig Zadan, are the openly gay duo behind the Oscar-winning film Chicago and the Emmy-winning ABC miniseries about Judy Garland.
A left-wing conspiracy?
Some critics of The Reagans have said the producers, in league with Ms. Streisand, have an "agenda" to portray Mr. Reagan as an enemy of AIDS research. Ms. Streisand, on her official Web site, said that she hadn't read the script for The Reagans and that her husband, Mr. Brolin, "was not responsible for what is depicted in it." "This is what the right wing does when they are faced with a truth that is not 100 percent positive for their side," she said.
. . .
CBS jettisoned The Reagans just two days after making peace with the Smothers Brothers during Sunday night's live CBS at 75 special. They performed onstage and joked about the 1969 cancellation of their variety show for its opposition to the Vietnam War.
Robert J. Thompson, professor of media and popular culture at Syracuse University, said on MSNBC Tuesday that CBS may have opened the door to more pre-emptive strikes against controversial programming.
"Now there's going to be a battle cry – 'Remember The Reagans' like 'Remember the Alamo,' " he said, "which is that this kind of pressure can indeed be brought to bear upon a network and sometimes work.
"The networks may regret having set that precedent." [I doubt it.]