There isn't even a finished script yet, but
Executives in July announced plans for a miniseries starring Diane Lane that would look at the life and career of the former first lady, New York senator and secretary of State. What angle the miniseries will take is far from clear, but
Republican National Committee chairman
Although the RNC hasn't specifically said so, it could also steer
NBC is thus repeating a lesson networks have learned many times before: Politics and broadcast TV dramatizations don't mix.
In fact, the network's top programmer is now backing away from the project, only weeks after touting it as part of an exciting push into "event" programming.
"The Hillary Clinton movie has not been ordered to production, only a script is being written at this time," Bob Greenblatt, chairman of NBC Entertainment, said in a statement. "It is 'in development,' the first stage of any television series or movie, many of which never go to production. Speculation, demands and declarations pertaining to something that isn't created or produced yet seem premature."
NBC declined further comment.
The notion that a Clinton biopic could sway large numbers of voters is unfounded, said Martin Kaplan, the
Kaplan, a deputy campaign manager for
"But it turned out to make no difference," he said.
Justified or not, the betting in the TV business is that the Clinton biopic won't air on NBC or any other broadcast station, for several reasons.
Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, have been anathema to conservatives for years — meaning that large numbers of viewers may simply tune out. Then too, any whiff of controversy could keep major advertisers away. And if Clinton does indeed run for president, it's conceivable that opponents could demand equal time on the network.
"She is one if the front-runners in 2016, so it's a little risky," said Brad Adgate, analyst at ad firm Horizon Media, adding that NBC lacks the freedom that a pay-TV outfit such as HBO enjoys.
As a premium-cable network, HBO does not run advertising or political debates, which makes it immune from the kinds of pressures that give pause to broadcast bigwigs. Former GOP vice presidential hopeful
HBO executives shrugged and ran the movie, which ended up winning five Emmys.
It's a different story on broadcast, which is regulated by the
While Hollywood is known as a bastion of liberalism, the risk to political TV projects cuts both ways.
A decade ago,
Even when executives do bite the bullet, there can be little payoff to politically themed material.
In that instance, viewers appeared to care much less than politicians did. With a $40-million price tag, the two-part show wound up being beaten in the ratings by a football game.
The planned "Hillary" miniseries, however, would almost certainly draw more attention — and indeed, it already has, even without a script.
"We have seen films leave an imprint on campaigns, as [Michael Moore's] 'Fahrenheit 9/11' did impact the conversation in the 2004 campaign," said Chris Lehane, a lawyer in the Clinton White House. "Even the Clinton video 'A Man From Hope' … took a photo of Clinton doing a pro forma handshake with JFK and turned it into a symbol and enduring image for the entire campaign."
One thing is certain: For the Republicans, attacking "Hillary" is a no-lose proposition. If NBC goes ahead with production, party leaders can take shots at the project for months, firing up partisans who detest the Clinton family. They could even use the miniseries as a basis for an anti-Clinton fundraising appeal.
And if "Hillary" winds up on the scrap heap before it's even produced, RNC head Priebus can claim that his take-no-prisoners approach led to victory.
"The GOP's strategic attacks won't have any influence on NBC, but those attacks rhetorically signal to the GOP base that the party leadership has enough backbone to challenge the 'liberal media establishment,'" Jeffrey McCall, a media professor at Indiana's DePauw University, said via email.
"The GOP has gotten a good deal of attention with its righteous outrage, so their efforts are largely successful," he added.
Kaplan said the dust-up does show the consequences of letting the national political parties have such a big say in how the debates are run. Years ago, he pointed out, the League of Women Voters ran the debates with little interference from the major parties.
"Once we inadvertently gave power over debates to the parties and let networks bid for those eyeballs, there's always going to be some complaint by some party," he said.