Reagan film gets air date

Times Staff Writer

"The Reagans," the miniseries dropped by CBS following a stream of protests about its portrayal of former President Ronald Reagan and his wife, Nancy, will air Nov. 30 on pay-cable Showtime, only two weeks after its originally scheduled network premiere.

The timing of the Showtime presentation surprised some industry insiders, who had anticipated that the continuing furor over the miniseries and the crafting of a final version would delay the airing until at least next year.

"Yes, the initial thinking was, 'Let's take our time in putting it on,' " Robert Greenblatt, Showtime's president of entertainment, acknowledged Monday. "But people are clamoring to see it, and there are a lot of uninformed judgments about the movie. So we felt we would put it on and put an end to the speculation."

Greenblatt, who saw a rough cut of "The Reagans" after the project came under fire at CBS, said he was uncertain about what differences there would be between the CBS and Showtime versions.

"It was never really a finished film when it was at CBS. But viewers who tune in will see the movie the filmmakers wanted them to see," he said.

He said he and producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron had engaged in a "collaborative and genial process" in crafting the Showtime version. Zadan, Meron and director Robert Allan Ackerman said in a statement: "As filmmakers, we are pleased that our final version of the movie will be presented. We are proud to live in a country where everyone, including artists and writers, has the right of free speech."

For the Showtime version, at least one heavily contested line of the script has been removed. In the script, Reagan, long criticized for failing to act with urgency on the AIDS crisis, remarked, "They who live in sin shall die in sin" -- a phrase Reagan never actually said.

"The Reagans," starring James Brolin and Judy Davis as the former president and first lady, was originally scheduled for broadcast in two parts Nov. 16 and 18.

But opponents, concerned that it was an unflattering portrait and poorly timed, given the former president's faltering health, mobilized against the miniseries on cable TV, radio talk shows and the Internet.

After days of criticism, CBS Chairman Leslie Moonves said he was shifting the miniseries to Showtime because "a free broadcast network, available to all over the public airwaves, has different standards than media the public must pay to view." CBS and Showtime are both owned by Viacom.

On Showtime, "The Reagans" can reach at most 20% of the potential audience that would have had access to it on CBS. It will air in a single evening, running two hours and 50 minutes without the commercials that would have accompanied it on CBS.

Michael Paranzino, a Washington political consultant who had spearheaded a boycott-CBS Web site before it backed away from "The Reagans," said he was startled by the Showtime announcement.

"It sounds like Showtime realizes they have a turkey on their hands, and turkeys don't keep much after Thanksgiving," said Paranzino. "It appears that they're taking advantage of the controversy before it all dies down."

Paranzino, who said he does not subscribe to the pay-cable network, said he would post information on his Web site about how Showtime viewers could cancel their subscription to register their protest. "But it's hard to impact something that is already small," he added.

Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie, who had written a letter to Moonves questioning the accuracy of the project, could not be reached for comment.

To address the issues surrounding the film, Showtime is assembling a forum of historians, politicians, journalists and others to discuss the film, to be held, most likely, Dec. 1. Still to be determined is whether the panel discussion, which probably would be 45 minutes to an hour, would be live or taped.

But Greenblatt said he is convinced that "The Reagans" will still provoke controversy: "Absolutely, we expect it. There is no pleasing Reagan's extreme supporters, or his detractors."

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