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CBS may cancel Reagan mini-series

James Brolin as President Ronald Reagan poses on the set of CBS'
James Brolin as President Ronald Reagan poses on the set of CBS' "The Reagans."

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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) -- Drawing Republican fire over the accuracy of its upcoming mini-series "The Reagans," CBS appears ready to present a kinder, gentler portrait of the ailing former president than originally produced -- if the network airs it at all.

Sources close to the production said Monday CBS is considering canceling the docudrama, slated to air Nov. 16 and 18, under mounting criticism from political conservatives that the two-part series unfairly depicts Reagan and his wife.

Meanwhile, Hollywood trade paper Daily Variety reported that director Robert Allan Ackerman has quit the production over creative differences with CBS executives who insisted on numerous last-minute alterations.

Neither producers for the four-hour film nor Ackerman could immediately be reached for comment.

But sources familiar with the production told Reuters that last-minute changes demanded by CBS are being made and that there was a chance the movie could be moved to the network's sister pay cable TV channel, Showtime.

The manager for actor James Brolin, who stars as Reagan in the film, said his client was refraining from taking part in promoting the mini-series at this point.

In the dark

"We don't know what movie they're putting out there or when or what they're doing with it," Jeff Wald told Reuters, adding that Ackerman was not participating in editing the final cut.

Wald described executive producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, whose credits include the hit film musical "Chicago," as "absolutely dismayed" by the sight-unseen backlash.

He dismissed criticism from some that the mini-series is a "hatchet job" and denied that the filmmakers had any agenda in portraying Reagan other than to make a "fair and balanced movie about who he was, positive and negative."

While the Viacom-owned network had no comment Monday, CBS Chairman Leslie Moonves told CNBC last week that "there are some edits being made trying to present a more fair picture of the Reagans."

The only comment from the Reagans themselves has come from former first lady Nancy Reagan, who in a brief statement issued last week to the Fox News Channel said, "The timing of (the mini-series) is absolutely staggering to me. Obviously, it's very hurtful." She apparently was referring to the fact that the 92-year-old former president is severely ill with Alzheimer's disease.

Moonves is expected to decide in a few days whether to pull the mini-series from the network's November schedule, reschedule it for a later date or move it to Showtime.

However, if Moonves goes ahead with plans to air "The Reagans" on Nov. 16, as planned, the final product will differ substantially from the film that Reagan supporters have criticized, with many controversial scenes heavily edited or cut from the production, sources said.

The furor over the mini-series arose after the New York Times reported last month that the film portrays the Reagans in a largely unflattering light. In one scene, Reagan says of AIDS patients, "They that live in sin shall die in sin." But there is no evidence he ever expressed those views.

Some Republicans also were incensed that Reagan is played by Brolin, who is married to Democratic activist Barbra Streisand. Nancy Reagan is portrayed by Judy Davis. Both are self-described liberals, as are Zadan and Meron.

On Friday, Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie asked CBS to allow a team of scholars to review the film in advance for historical accuracy. Otherwise, he said, CBS should run a disclaimer informing viewers that the film is a fictional portrayal of the Reagans.

Some Reagan supporters have urged boycotts of CBS by viewers and advertisers.

On her Web site last week, Streisand said criticism of the film was typical of "what the right wing does when they are faced with a truth that is not 100 percent positive for their side -- they ... scream and yell until they get their way. Instead of boycotting and trying to have the movie changed, why don't they all just wait to see the film when it airs like the rest of us."

Copyright 2003 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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