Reagan series dropped after attacks from conservatives

America's most venerable television network has dropped a series on Ronald Reagan after conservatives said its portrayal of the former president was unflattering, unfair and inaccurate.

CBS said the series would be licensed instead to a pay-to-view cable subsidiary, Showtime. "Although the miniseries features impressive production values and acting performances, and although the producers have sources to verify each scene in the script, we believe it does not present a balanced portrayal of the Reagans for CBS and its audience," it said yesterday. The network appears to have bowed to pressure from critics, among them Reagan's son Michael, and the former president's wife, Nancy, who have criticised CBS for insensitivity. Reagan, 92, is suffering from Alzheimer's disease and has not been seen in public since the mid-90s.

Michael Reagan said: "It's horrendous, it's absolutely horrendous'' after watching an eight-minute preview of the film, The Reagans, which stars James Brolin as America's 40th president and Judy Davis as the former first lady. "They paint my father as a buffoon. They also have my dad taking God's name in vain in an angry, angry way ... They have him calling another person in anger a [son of a bitch]. I've never seen my dad that angry and I've never heard him use ...[God damn]."

CBS officials said last week that sections of the two-part series were being re-edited. The decision followed criticism of a leaked part of the screenplay in which Reagan's character says of Aids victims: "Those that live in sin shall die in sin."

Ed Gillespie, the chairman of the Republican Party's national committee, wrote to Leslie Moonves, the CBS president, at the weekend asking for a team of historians to be allowed to review the film before it was broadcast this month.

He said: "If you're unwilling to do so, I respectfully request that you inform your viewers via a crawl [at the bottom of the screen] every 10 minutes that the programme is a fictional portrayal of the Reagans and the Reagan presidency and they should not consider it historically accurate."

That CBS was forced to back down shows Reagan holds a unique position in the minds of many Americans. "He is very, very special," said Stephen Hess, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a think- tank in Washington. "In many ways he is the first, pure conservative president. The defeat of Communism is another thing he is remembered for. He talked about the 'evil empire'. Who talks like that? But then the Soviet Union collapsed on his watch.

"Then he reveals that he is suffering from Alzheimer's and that he is leaving us. It is not just Republicans who have a warm, fuzzy glow. You don't pick on someone who is dying. [The series] could not be in worse taste. It's hard to imagine a commercial network doing this."

Lee Edwards, a fellow at the right-wing Heritage Foundation, said Ronald Reagan had restored America's self-confidence, brought economic prosperity and "won the Cold War without firing a shot. Any one of those would be good for a president, so to do all three is exceptional," he said.

In November 1994 Reagan disclosed in a moving letter to the American people that he was suffering from Alzheimer's and regretted the burden this would bring to his wife. "I now begin the journey that will lead me into the sunset of my life. I know that for America there will always be a bright dawn ahead," he wrote.

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