CBS pulls the plug on The Reagans; Showtime to broadcast in 2004

BY Advocate.com Editors

November 05 2003 1:00 AM ET

Just three hours after CBS Entertainment chief Nancy Tellem insisted publicly on Tuesday morning that the network had not canceled the embattled The Reagans miniseries, CBS issued a statement saying that it had done so. It also has licensed the film to Showtime, its pay-network arm. "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 statement said. CBS said the show "does not present a balanced portrayal of the Reagans for CBS and its audience. Subsequent edits that we considered did not address those concerns."

Earlier Tuesday, Tellem had said to a gathering of industry executives: "There has been no decision as of yet to take The Reagans off the schedule." Asked what the network was examining, she told an International Radio and Television Society breakfast, "There are lots of considerations.... We're editing it. We're taking this very, very seriously." At press time, a CBS spokesman had not returned calls to Reuters seeking comment on the discrepancy between Tellem's remarks and the official decision to yank the miniseries.

In its statement CBS said the decision was not based on a desire to avoid tackling tough topics on broadcast television. "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," the network said. CBS said it wanted, however, to give the miniseries a venue, because "we...recognize and respect the filmmakers' right to have their voice heard and their film seen." The network said that a pay network carries "different standards" than a "free" over-the-air service available to everyone.

Controversy over the miniseries, executive-produced by out producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron (Me and My Shadows: Life With Judy Garland; Chicago), began in recent weeks when The New York Times published a story reporting the contents of a copy of the script the newspaper had acquired. The screenplay, by Elizabeth Egloff, reportedly quotes President Reagan, talking about AIDS in a private conversation, saying, "They that live in sin shall die in sin"--a quotation that a former White House aide said was "an outrageous lie."

Conservatives had launched a major assault on CBS for its plans to air the two-part, four-hour miniseries, which was originally scheduled to debut on November 16, saying it contains historical inaccuracies that unfairly portray former president Ronald Reagan in a negative light. It's uncertain if moving the film to pay cable--which has historically aired more controversial movies--will assuage all of their concerns.

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