Showtime’s ‘The Reagans’ goes behind the idyllic image of the 40th president

'The Reagans' – Showtime docuseries goes behind the myth

“The Reagans”

The enduring image of Ronald Reagan is one of an affable father figure who led the U.S. back from the brink to prosperity during the 1980s. The reality, at least according to a new Showtime documentary series, is somewhat different.

In “The Reagans,” a four-part series premiering Sunday, Nov. 15, never-before-seen material and interviews with those who knew him tell the story of the nation’s 40th president from his days as a Hollywood actor and head of the Screen Actors Guild to his governorship of California and his two terms in the White House. It also examines his political metamorphosis from Democrat to Republican, his relationship with second wife Nancy and her behind-the-scenes power and considers how some of the achievements and problems of his presidency still reverberate today.

“I’ve long believed that one of the great accomplishments of Reagan and the Reagan-ites,” says Matt Tyrnauer (“Valentino: The Last Emperor”), the series’ director, “was the mythologizing and the enormous protective shield around the image of a very peculiar and flawed presidency. And I think that another enormous accomplishment of Reagan, Nancy Reagan and the Reagan administration was weaving a myth and doing that by manipulating the media. And I also think the past is prologue and a lot of the problems that have re-emerged in the country today have their origins in the Reagan years.”

Indeed, trickle-down economics, racial divisions and scandal are all present-day themes that are touched upon here, with commentary coming from government officials, journalists, friends and family. Probably one of the most eye-opening interviewees is son Ron, now a liberal commentator and contributor on MSNBC, who is surprisingly candid about his father and how much influence his mother wielded in policy making, including urging her husband to reach out to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, a move that would eventually end the Cold War.

“I was …very impressed at how clear-eyed he is about his parents, and I think this comes after many years of intensive thought,” Tyrnauer says. “And like all of us with our parents, I don’t think we fully understand who they were, what was going on until many years later sometimes. And I think that I felt talking to him, now a man in his 60s, that he had come to some really stark, fascinating and not always flattering conclusions about what was going on. … I don’t think he’s gone as far as he did in these interviews on an array of subjects, his father’s Alzheimer’s just one example.”

George Dickie

George Dickie

George Dickie has been a features writer for Gracenote/Tribune Media Services since 1989, when “Hee-Haw” was still on the air and George “Goober” Lindsay was his first interview. His early interviews ranged from Jim Henson and Dick Van Dyke to Phil Collins and the Dixie Chicks.

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