CNN debuts the documentary “The Reagan Show” on Monday, and it is an often surprising account of the just how transformative President Ronald Reagan was when it came to stage managing the presidency for photo ops, dramatic gestures, and sweeping backdrops.
But even though Reagan shares a celebrity background with President Donald Trump, as well as an ability to capture attention, the similarities end there.
The documentary, from Sierra Pettengill and Pacho Velez, shows the extent to which Reagan himself exploited television, drawing on his experience as a Hollywood movie actor and later TV host. “The Reagan Show” focuses on Reagan’s relationship with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who also grasped the importance of public image, and how that influenced the landmark agreement to reduce nuclear stockpiles.
As much as he thrives on rallies and shows of presidential might, Trump also has brought a reality show background to the presidency. Where Reagan relied on the carefully planned performance, even admitting that he wondered how anyone could be president without knowing how to be an actor, Trump draws on unpredictability and a kind of chaos.
“Reagan’s template was very much that of a Hollywood actor,” Velez tells Variety‘s “PopPolitics” on SiriusXM. “He thinks about being the good guy riding in to save the day in the third act, and thinking about the world in those sorts of terms. Whereas Trump is really a reality TV star. The question is who is going to get voted to get off the island this week.”
Pettengill says that Trump perhaps is creating a “new template,” but cautions that “it is really hard to draw larger conclusions based on what feels like a real abnormality that we are kind of stuck with right now. But it is really interesting to watch the difference. I don’t think there’s any less media savvy, I just think it is a different conception of what the media is and what the expectations of that particular form are.”
The filmmakers talk about the different ways that Reagan and Trump responded to times of national crisis.
“The Reagan Show” draws entirely on archival footage, including candid moments of Reagan and his wife Nancy after before and after speeches and photo ops.
“The Reagan Show” debuts on CNN at 9 p.m. on Monday, and it will be shown again at 12:30 a.m. on Tuesday; 10 p.m. on Sept. 9; and 2:30 a.m. on Sept. 10. Clip courtesy of CNN.
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