Those objecting to CBS’ planned November ratings sweeps miniseries ”The Reagans” included Nancy Reagan herself, various conservative organizations and talk show hosts, and the chairman of the Republican Party, all of whom said the biopic would be a smear job without having seen it. Still, in announcing on Tuesday that it was pulling the miniseries and licensing it to sister cable network Showtime, CBS insisted that it was not giving in to pressure.
”This decision is based solely on our reaction to seeing the final film, not the controversy that erupted around a draft of the script,” the network said in a statement. News reports quoting that draft, which included such controversial lines as ”They that live in sin shall die in sin” (attributed in the script to President Reagan in response to the AIDS crisis, though screenwriter Elizabeth Egloff acknowledged to the New York Times that he never said those words), convinced Reagan defenders that the movie would be a liberal distortion. So did the casting of James Brolin, husband of outspoken Democratic supporter Barbra Streisand, as the former president. (For her part, Streisand said in a statement on her website that she had not even read the script and noted that the Democratic leadership never complained about all those unflattering Kennedy miniseries.)
According to Newsweek, lawyers vetted the miniseries three times, and the ”They that live in sin” line was edited out, but CBS chief Leslie Moonves, who took over the editing (director Robert Allan Ackerman quit in protest), was apparently still not satisfied. ”Although the mini-series 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,” the statement read. ”Subsequent edits that we considered did not address those concerns.”
CBS also insisted that, despite pressure from the current president’s party, it wasn’t abdicating the First Amendment rights of its filmmakers. ”A free broadcast network, available to all over the public airwaves, has different standards than media the public must pay to view,” the statement said, regarding the shifting of the film over to Showtime. ”We do, however, recognize and respect the filmmakers’ right to have their voice heard and their film seen.”
No word on when the miniseries will air on Showtime, or how CBS will fill the valuable four hours of November sweeps real estate ”The Reagans” vacated. It’s also not clear if moving the movie to a more sparsely viewed pay cable channel will quiet the complaints of historical inaccuracy or quell the boycott calls, or if conservatives will mind having the movie air on the home of ”Queer as Folk.”