THE PUBLICIST: 'The Reagans' fiasco proves that CBS has a blind eye to certain publicity matters

This column is starting to have the same effect as the Sports Illustrated cover jinx. After lauding ESPN here for its exceptional College GameDay publicity campaign, the sports cabler immediately suffered the Rush Limbaugh fiasco. A couple of weeks after commending CBS for its stellar publicity work on Survivor, The Reagans PR meltdown hit the network. Hard.

This column is starting to have the same effect as the Sports Illustrated cover jinx. After lauding ESPN here for its exceptional College GameDay publicity campaign, the sports cabler immediately suffered the Rush Limbaugh fiasco. A couple of weeks after commending CBS for its stellar publicity work on Survivor, The Reagans PR meltdown hit the network. Hard.

I saw this one coming a mile away. In fact, months ago I contacted The Reagans production in Montreal to see if they might want some help during shooting to get ahead of the inevitable impending controversy. They declined, wishing instead to hire a local publicist to save travel and lodging costs. I'm not sure if they ever found one, but it doesn't appear so. The eye network was blindsided by a conservative bull rush of a protest, and never got a chance to launch a counter campaign - much less air the film. It's been handed over to Showtime, which has no fear. "Bring it on," they challenge. As a pay-cable network, they are not beholden to advertisers or ratings, so they can stare down any bully on the block. Typical of the kind of protest launched against The Reagans, most of the folks who complained about the miniseries have not even seen it. Nor have I. But when rumors surface that network brass is alarmed at the "unbalanced" story, you can hardly fault the Reaganites for getting up in arms. After all, this man was the standard bearer of the conservative movement - and is slowly passing from this world. Probably not the best time to make a controversial film on his life. All the more reason CBS should have had a preemptive PR campaign underway. Instead, they end up looking like Big Brother censors kowtowing to pressure. Again. Indeed, earlier this year they were taken to task for trying to paint too "sympathetic" a picture of Hitler in their miniseries Hitler: The Rise of Evil. (I dunno. I didn't see the show, but maybe the first cut depicted the evildoer scratching the ear of a puppy. I believe, also, the original title was Hitler: The Misunderstood Water Colorist.) I called CBS media relations to see if, perhaps, it might not be a bad idea to increase its unit publicity presence on projects that have a complex theme or somewhat controversial bent. A woman called me back to say CBS had "no comment." Exactly the kind of strategy that put the network in this embarrassing position in the first place.
  • Lawrence Mitchell Garrison is an LA-based freelance publicist and writer

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