Network giant CBS announced Tuesday that it would not air its controversial mini-series The Reagans. The film will instead be aired on the subscription channel Showtime, which, like CBS, is part of the Viacom group. CBS has seemingly buckled under the pressure of conservative groups that dismissed the film as misrepresenting the Reagan presidency.
This could possibly be the first time that a major network has ever recalled a completed project from its schedule due to political pressure and the threat of an advertising boycott.
The controversy began after The New York Times ran an article announcing the series and gave vague details about its contents. Only parts of the script had been leaked, but the few scenes that were available were contentious enough, such as a President Reagan wondering aloud to his wife Nancy if he indeed was “the antichrist.”
This caused conservative critics to create a major uproar around the film questioning its portrayal of the former president. While some of the film’s critics have seen a transcript of part of the film, none have seen the film they are vehemently opposed to.
In CBS’s press release announcing the withdrawal of the mini-series from its schedule, it refutes that its decision was due to the “controversy that erupted around the draft,” but based it on a viewing of the final film. The release says, “Although the producers have sources to verify each scene in the script, we believe it does not present a balanced portrayal of the Reagan0s for CBS and its audience.” But it seems unlikely that such a politically sensitive film would not have been reviewed by studio executives numerous times throughout the production. So why would CBS cancel a finished, featured mini-series that has, according to its news release, “impressive production values great acting and is factually correct,” if not for the political pressure and proposed boycott that was mounted against the film? CBS goes on to boast that it has tackled several controversial and tough topics in films such as Jesus and Hitler, but neither of these films attracted the same level of criticism that The Reagans has received.
CBS has decided to give the series to its sister channel Showtime, stating that different standards apply to the subscription channel than public broadcast networks.
CBS’s decision to back down may have more to do with the proximity of the presidential election. Bad relations with the GOP may result in the network getting less access to leading GOP figures throughout the campaign. Whatever the reason, by caving in to political pressure, CBS has failed its audience and created a dangerous precedent.