Critics Bash CBS for Booting 'Reagans'

11/05/2003 10:05AM

Score another one for the Gipper but nothing for CBS.

The network, yielding to mounting criticism from political conservatives, officially canceled its upcoming four-hour, $9 million miniseries, "The Reagans," and sold it to its sister pay-cable network Showtime for a reported $6 million.

But CBS probably didn't bargain for the critical backlash now greeting its decision.

In a prominent editorial Wednesday, The New York Times criticizes the network for undertaking an unflattering portrait of the still-living former chief executive in the first place.

But it then goes on to blast CBS for not having the guts to air the show and laments how controversial programming is now restricted to cable TV while networks exist for the sole purpose of providing a safe haven for shows about contestants who eat insects.

Democratic Sen. Tom Daschle of South Dakota also criticized CBS's decision to yank the show, as did political columnist Richard Reeves, who told NBC News that CBS "caved" to pressure and that the move is a clear sign that "Reagan's people are now running this country."

Not surprisingly, Barbra Streisand, whose husband, James Brolin, plays Reagan in the embattled movie, also has spoken up. In a statement issued Tuesday, Streisand, 62, said: "Indeed today marks a sad day for artistic freedom -- one of the most important elements of an open and democratic society."

A statement from CBS said the decision about the series -- which also stars Judy Davis as former first lady Nancy Reagan -- was "based solely on our reaction to seeing the final film, not the controversy that erupted around a draft of the script."

CBS also says the final version of the movie, which was set to air Nov. 16 and 18, failed to "present a balanced portrayal" of the couple, and that subsequent changes "did not address those concerns."

Showtime is expected to air the miniseries early next year, say reports.

The project first drew headlines for its content last month, after The New York Times obtained a final copy of the script. The paper reported that the film portrays the Reagans in an unflattering light while overlooking his political achievements. As a result, several Reagan supporters demanded a viewer and advertiser boycott of CBS.

There also was unhappiness in some quarters that Brolin is playing Reagan, given that Streisand is such an outspoken Democrat.

Davis also is known to be politically liberal, as are the two executive producers of the film, Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, whose credits include the film musical "Chicago," Reuters reports.

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