A Harris Poll released Monday found that CBS gets little public support for dumping the four-hour TV movie The Reagans, which the TV network shifted to sister cable network Showtime in November. Plagued by conservative pundits' and politicians' loud and repeated complaints that the movie, which none of them had seen, was unfair and unbalanced, CBS backed away from its November broadcast dates, all the while claiming that it was not giving in to external pressure.
The Harris Poll found that the public overwhelmingly agreed with the statement "It is a bad precedent for a network to give in to organized lobbying to prevent the showing of a fictional television show because some people don't like its content" by 58% to 22%; 20% said "Not sure." A majority of respondents also agreed that "There have been many docudramas about other ex-presidents that have been critical; this one should have been shown as planned by CBS." That question drew support from 51% of those polled, opposition from 28%, and "Not sure" from 21%.
The Reagans, which was executive-produced by out filmmakers Neil Meron and Craig Zadan (Chicago, My Life With Judy Garland) and directed by Robert Allan Ackerman, aired November 30 on Showtime, garnering mixed reviews. The nearly three-hour cable film, which will be rebroadcast December 10, focuses on the relationship between Ronald Reagan and his second wife, Nancy, from their Hollywood courtship and marriage through Reagan's entire political career. In addition to general complaints that President Reagan was portrayed as not-too-bright, conservatives focused on a line from a pirated copy of one draft of the script that had Reagan condemning gay men with AIDS. Although Reagan did little to stem the AIDS crisis during his eight-year presidency--including not addressing it in public for years after taking office--some conservatives felt that the movie inaccurately portrayed the president as lacking compassion for people with AIDS.
It is not AIDS, however, but Alheimer's that upsets the American public in the context of The Reagans, the Harris poll found. A 43% plurality agreed that "Showing a critical story about President Reagan while he is suffering from Alzheimer's disease is in awful taste," while 38% disagreed, and 20% were unsure. Overall, 29% thought "CBS did the right thing; the show never should have been made," while 46% disagreed, and 26% were not sure.
The nationwide poll included 2,376 adults who were surveyed online by Harris Interactive between November 17 and 23.
Predictably, Republicans were less supportive of the filmmakers' rights to dramatize the Reagans' story than were Democrats and independents, the poll found. For example, only 10% of self-identified liberals, 18% of Democrats, 22% of independents, and 23% of moderates agreed that CBS did the right thing by axing the program, in contrast to the 55% of conservatives and 51% of Republicans who agree with the CBS decision to back down. (Respondents could identify both by party name and by generic political label.)