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Tuned In: 'Reagans' also hurt by docudrama rush

Thursday, December 04, 2003

By Rob Owen, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

I'm not conservative enough to be upset by CBS's decision to make "The Reagans," nor am I liberal enough to be upset when it got shunted aside to Showtime. And I certainly don't take this or any made-for-TV biopic as gospel. It's a docudrama, heavy on the drama.

Sunday's premiere showed it to be less a "Saturday Night Live" skit than early previews suggested, but it suffers from the same rush to encapsulate history as every other movie of this stripe (Nixon is nominated by Republicans and then shown resigning within a five-second span).

Is "The Reagans" a hatchet job? Yeah, a little. Reagan (channeled by James Brolin) is depicted more as a nice, God-fearing, well-meaning man than as a shrewd thinker. He's imaginative, not ingenious, which likely rankled some viewers. The film concentrates on his administration's troubles rather than its successes, which isn't surprising for a TV movie -- there's often more drama in failure than success.

Nancy Reagan (Judy Davis) gets the worst treatment. She comes off as a manipulative power broker, a sometimes puppet master who tried to pull Ronnie's strings. And neither of them seems to know how to deal with their children.

The most troubling aspect of "The Reagans" isn't the content of the movie -- and make no mistake, it is a movie, not a documentary -- it's the timing. With Ronald Reagan in a slow, tragic decline as he suffers from Alzheimer's, a film with an often negative point of view would be better saved for a later date.

The movie airs again on Showtime at 8 tonight, followed by a repeat of Monday night's panel discussion, "Controversy: The Reagans." Although the panelists sometimes fall into predictable liberal and conservative camps, there's also a fair amount of thoughtful commentary on the historical inaccuracies of the film and what impact this sort of production has on the way Americans remember real-life public figures.

Comcast channel changes

Comcast began to roll out new channel lineups on area cable systems yesterday. Customers should have received -- or will soon receive -- new lineup cards by mail.

The new lineups were also included on Page 3 of the Nov. 30 edition of the Post-Gazette's TV Week.

TV Editor Rob Owen can be reached at rowen@post-gazette .com or 412-263-2582. Post questions or comments to www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Forum.

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