The Reagans

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The Reagans
The Reagans film DVD.jpg
Based on First Ladies Volume II
by Carl Sferrazza Anthony
Written by Carl Sferrazza Anthony
Jane Marchwood
Thomas Rickman
Elizabeth Egloff
Directed by Robert Allan Ackerman
Starring James Brolin
Judy Davis
Željko Ivanek
Mary Beth Peil
Bill Smitrovich
Shad Hart
Zoie Palmer
Richard Fitzpatrick
Vlasta Vrána
Francis Xavier McCarthy
Frank Moore
Aidan Devine
John Stamos
Theme music composer John Altman
Country of origin United States
Original language(s) English
Producer(s) Robert Allan Ackerman
Carl Sferrazza Anthony
Stephanie Hagen
Dave Mace
Neil Meron
Lynn Raynor
Craig Zadan
Cinematography James Chressanthis
Editor(s) Mike Brown
Melissa Kent
Running time 180 (2x90 minutes)
Original network Showtime
Original release
  • November 30, 2003 (2003-11-30)

The Reagans is a 180-minute television film about U.S. President Ronald Reagan and his family which CBS had planned to broadcast in November 2003 during fall "sweeps", but was ultimately broadcast on November 30 of that year on cable channel Showtime due to controversy over its portrayal of Reagan.


The miniseries featured James Brolin as Ronald Reagan and Judy Davis as Nancy Reagan, and covers the period in time from 1949 when Reagan was still in Hollywood, through his governorship of California until Reagan's last day in office as President in 1989.


About a month before it was scheduled to air, portions of the script were leaked. As a result of these stories, the miniseries began to be widely criticized by conservatives as an unbalanced and inaccurate depiction of Reagan. CBS reportedly had ordered a love story about Ronald and Nancy Reagan with politics as a backdrop, but instead received what they later claimed was an overtly political film. Supporters of the film claimed that these criticisms were simply partisan bias, and were an attempt to censor a film because it did not always portray the former president in a positive light.[1]

Conservatives began criticizing it before it was broadcast and claimed that it put words in Reagan's mouth and condemned it as leftist historical revisionism. Some of the criticism was based upon early drafts of the script and featured scenes that were not shot or were dropped from the final version. Eventually, after several weeks of outspoken criticism by conservatives, on November 4, 2003, CBS withdrew the broadcast saying that it did "not present a balanced portrayal of the Reagans." The network chose instead to broadcast the miniseries on the cable channel Showtime, which along with CBS was owned by Viacom.[2] In a statement on its web site, CBS said:

CBS will not broadcast The Reagans on November 16 and 18. This decision is based solely on our reaction to seeing the final film, not the controversy that erupted around a draft of the script.

Although the mini-series 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. Subsequent edits that we considered did not address those concerns.

A free broadcast network, available to all over the public airwaves, has different standards than media the public must pay to view. We do, however, recognize and respect the filmmakers' right to have their voice heard and their film seen.[3]

CBS's denial that it was yielding to the furor did not persuade its critics. The producers of the movie noted that, before the outcry, CBS had approved both the script for the miniseries and had seen dailies as they were shot, and the film had been approved by two sets of lawyers. Jeff Chester, head of the Center for Digital Democracy, a communications lobbying group, said that CBS had chosen not to offend Republicans at a time when the federal government was considering rules restricting ownership of local television stations. CBS executives "made a business decision," he said. "In doing so, they clearly caved in to the political pressure." Senator Tom Daschle, the Democratic leader of the time, commented that the decision "smells of intimidation to me."[1]

A controversial line excised[edit]

One of the most controversial points in the script was the depiction of Reagan telling his wife during a conversation about AIDS patients, "They that live in sin shall die in sin."[4] The screenwriters admitted that there was no evidence that Reagan ever said this; however, in the C. Everett Koop papers at National Institutes of Health, Koop stated that AIDS "predominantly affected people--homosexuals and intravenous drug users--who, in the view of President Reagan and his domestic policy advisers, brought the disease upon themselves by engaging in immoral conduct, and who were in greater need of moral reform than of new health information or policies."[5]

This line was dropped in the Showtime and DVD versions of the film. The Reagans producers, Neil Meron and Craig Zadan, have insisted that every fact, though not every line of dialogue, was supported by at least two sources. [6] However, according to Reagan’s daughter Patti Davis,[citation needed] no family member or close friend of the Reagans was consulted by the filmmakers throughout the production.

Another factor which has motivated certain critics to claim bias was that Reagan was played by James Brolin, whose wife Barbra Streisand is an outspoken liberal.[1] Brolin would later play Governor Rob Ritchie, a fictional Republican candidate for the Presidency in The West Wing, while his son Josh would play the 43rd President George W. Bush in the 2008 Oliver Stone film W.



  1. ^ a b c "CBS pulls Reagan miniseries". Associated Press. November 5, 2003. Archived from the original on June 19, 2008. 
  2. ^ Buncombe, Andrew (November 5, 2003). "Reagan series dropped after attacks from conservatives". The Independent. Retrieved January 11, 2010. 
  3. ^ "CBS statement regarding "The Reagans"". CBS. November 4, 2003. Retrieved January 11, 2010. 
  4. ^ Susman, Gary (November 4, 2003). "In Dutch". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved January 11, 2010. 
  5. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2010-04-08. Retrieved 2010-04-08.  AIDS, the Surgeon General, and the Politics of Public Health
  6. ^ Smith, Sean (9 November 2003). "The War Over The Gipper". Newsweek. Retrieved 19 April 2017. 

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