Eye’s hat in ring for Reagans mini

Net, Storyline project to air during the 2003-04 season

Craig Zadan and Neil Meron are teaming with CBS and Sony Pictures Television on a sure-to-be-controversial four-hour miniseries about Ronald and Nancy Reagan.

Robert Allan Ackerman is set to helm the project, with thesp Judy Davis in final talks to star as the former first lady. “The Reagans” reunites Zadan and Meron’s Storyline Prods. with Ackerman and Davis. They last worked together on Storyline and Sony’s “Life With Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows,” with Davis snagging an Emmy for her turn as Garland.

Script will be based on scribe Carl Anthony’s “First Ladies,” with Jennifer Miller, Tom Rickman and Elizabeth Egloff penning the screenplay. Anthony will serve as a consultant.

Production will begin this summer in Montreal, with the pic likely to air during the 2003-04 season, perhaps as early as November. Storyline and Hallmark Entertainment Distribution will produce in association with SPT.

Dave Mace, senior VP of TV for Storyline, brought the project to the company via his relationship with Anthony. He’ll serve as a producer on the pic.

This is not the first time “Chicago” producers Zadan and Meron have attempted to bring the story of the Reagan clan to the small screen. Duo and Sony sold ABC a biopic project, also based on Anthony’s book, that focused mostly on Nancy (Daily Variety, April 24, 1998). Reagan, who at one time was working on her own cable pic about her husband, was understood to be displeased about the original ABC project.

More expansive take

Eye’s “The Reagans” will have a much broader focus, as well as a completely new script. Mini will feature the entire Reagan clan, including children Patty, Maureen, Michael and Ron Jr., with insiders describing the pic as a broad epic spanning Reagan’s days as a young thesp in the 1940s to his run for governor of California through his historic presidency.

The Reagans’ romance will be at the heart of the pic.

“It’s not really about the controversy,” said CBS telepic topper Bela Bajaria. “Once you get into this, it’s such a rich story that works on so many levels: It’s a love story, a story about family, a story about the country and politics during a certain time. And it’s about these two icons.”

Sony longform exec VP Helen Verno said the pic wouldn’t be a tabloid expose. “We want to do a film that’s entertaining, that’s informative and gives new insight into the Reagans,” she said. “It’s a well-rounded look at these two people … and in the end, it’s going to be a balanced story.”

Project, however, “is not a biopic,” said one exec familiar with the project. “It’s a socioeconomic, political and family epic. It’s going to show you the emotional love affair these people had their whole lives, but it’s also going to portray everything else that happened in a candid and honest way.”

Political backdrop

Politics will provide a backdrop for the mini, as will many of the events of the 1980s, including the Iran-Contra hearings, the end of the Cold War and the assassination attempt on Reagan. Focus, however, will be on the relationship between Ronald and Nancy, their sometimes-strained relations with their kids and how the nonstop media spotlight affected the entire clan.

Because of the strong partisan feelings Reagan still evokes, it’s almost a given the mini will arouse some sort of controversy.

Zadan and Meron most recently produced “Martin & Lewis” and “Lucy” for CBS. Both pics were produced with Sony via Storyline’s overall deal with the studio for nonmusical pics.

Davis and Ackerman are repped by ICM, while WMA reps Storyline.