Reelz CEO Talks Decision to Air Miss USA Pageant Amid Trump Controversy

Reelz CEO Stan E. Hubbard opened the indie cabler’s Television Critics Assn. presentation by asserting that his company was “darn proud” of the decision to rescue the Miss USA telecast last month after it was dropped by NBC and Univision for what he described as “politically correct” reasons.

As a family-owned network, Reelz has the nimbleness to “be able and willing to make those tough decisions even in a politically charged atmosphere when they pop up,” Hubbard said. “We are darn proud of that.”

The Miss USA beauty pageant was hastily dropped by NBC and Univision after Donald Trump, who co-owns the Miss USA franchise with NBC, made disparaging comments about Mexican immigrants as he announced his campaign to run for the GOP presidential nomination. Those comments, including an assertion that many of those crossing the borders are criminals and rapists, brought a swift rebuke from Spanish-language giant Univision, and NBC followed a few days later in spite of its ownership position in the telecast.

Hubbard said Reelz decided to pick up the event out of consideration for the contestants — “young women who have made it their life’s ambition” to compete in the pageant — and for the community of Baton Rouge, La., where the pageant was staged.

“When the Miss USA television show was canceled, it was for reasons of political correctness,” he said. “We were proud to stand with the women of the Miss USA pageant and the community of Baton Rouge and bring it to the air.”

Hubbard said the company “disavowed ourselves from any of those comments” from Trump and he allowed that he understood why they were considered offensive. But in his view, the contestants and the people in Baton Rouge who were expecting to benefit from the event and the telecast were unfairly being punished for Trump’s incendiary remarks, as was the audience for the pageant. “Not one of those people had anything to do with why” the show was dropped by NBC and Univision, Hubbard said.

Trump has filed a $500 million lawsuit against Univision over the Miss USA flap.

Reelz has a history of grabbing projects that are scrapped by original networks amid controversy. In 2011, Reelz pickup up “The Kennedys” miniseries after History dropped it at the last minute because of pressure from the Kennedy family. The follow-up, “Kennedys After Camelot,” is set to begin shooting next April, with Katie Holmes reprising her role as Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis.

“I predict we’ll do it again, but I don’t know when that will be,” Hubbard said of opportunistic programming moves.

The July 12 pageant telecast struggled to attract advertisers, Hubbard admitted, but it was a win for Reelz in drawing a total of about 2.5 million viewers. It exposed the channel to new viewers and brought a lift to overall ratings.

Asked later by reporters if Reelz would be open to picking reruns of a radioactive TV property like “The Cosby Show,” Hubbard was unequivocal because the deal would directly benefit Bill Cosby, who is facing a multitude of allegations that he drugged and raped dozens of women over the years.

“That is not something I would support,” Hubbard said.

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