Monday, June 14, 2021

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    Director of Trump-Comey TV Series Criticizes Postelection Release Date

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    Last week, ViacomCBS announced that its mini-series based on “A Higher Loyalty,” the best-selling book by the former F.B.I. director James B. Comey that angered President Trump, would be broadcast after the election.

    That came as a disappointment to the director, who had been working toward an air date before November, according to an email he sent to cast members on Monday.

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    It also came as bad news to Mr. Comey. “I don’t understand why CBS would sit on a movie about important current events, and I hope the American people get the chance to see it soon,” Mr. Comey said in a statement.

    CBS Television Studios announced the adaptation of Mr. Comey’s book last fall without specifying a release date. Last week it announced that the mini-series would makes its debut on ViacomCBS’s Showtime cable network in late November.

    Since the director of the mini-series, Billy Ray, sent his email on Monday, ViacomCBS appears to be reconsidering its scheduling decision. “We will be announcing several changes to our schedule and ‘The Comey Rule’ is most likely moving to air before the election,” a Showtime spokeswoman said in an email on Tuesday.

    The two-part, four-hour program, “The Comey Rule,” was adapted by Mr. Ray, the screenwriter of “Shattered Glass,” “Captain Phillips” and “Richard Jewell.” It stars Jeff Daniels as Mr. Comey, who served as the F.B.I. director from 2013 until the president abruptly fired him in May 2017. Mr. Trump is played by Brendan Gleeson, a Dublin-born actor perhaps best known for his portrayal of Alastor “Mad-Eye” Moody in the Harry Potter movies.

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    In his email to cast members, which was reviewed by The New York Times, Mr. Ray expressed disappointment in last week’s decision to broadcast “The Comey Rule” after the election.

    “We all were hoping to get this story in front of the American people months before the coming election,” he wrote. “And that was a reasonable expectation considering that we’d been given a mandate by the network to do whatever was necessary to deliver by May 15.

    “But at some point in March or April, that mandate changed,” Mr. Ray continued. “Word started drifting back to me that a decision about our airdate had been made at the very highest levels of Viacom: all talk of our airing before the election was suddenly a ‘non-starter.’” He added that ViacomCBS had refused to allow the filmmakers take “The Comey Rule” to another network.

    In a brief interview on Tuesday, Mr. Ray addressed the company’s decision to make the mini-series available weeks after Election Day, Nov. 3. “I don’t see how it could have been economically motivated,” he said. “They never told me why.”

    “A Higher Loyalty” was an instant blockbuster upon its publication in April 2018, selling 600,000 copies in all formats its first week. In its pages Mr. Comey likens Mr. Trump to a crime boss and calls him “unethical, and untethered to truth.” Mr. Trump attacked the book and its author, calling him an “untruthful slime ball” in a tweet.

    At the time of his firing three years ago, Mr. Comey was the top official leading a criminal investigation into whether Mr. Trump’s advisers had colluded with the Russian government to influence the outcome of the 2016 election.

    His book was published by Simon & Schuster, a publishing house owned by ViacomCBS. It is also the publisher of “The Room Where It Happened,” a memoir published on Tuesday by Mr. Trump’s former national security head John Bolton. In March, ViacomCBS put Simon & Schuster up for sale.

    CBS was among the hundreds of organizations and people that have been on the receiving end of attacks by Mr. Trump during his term in office. In a 2018 tweet, the president included CBS reporters among the “fakers” who have “done so much dishonest reporting that they should only be allowed to get awards for fiction!”

    Previous attempts by Hollywood to build shows around political figures have not gone according to plan. In 2013, NBC scrapped a mini-series that would have starred Diane Lane as Hillary Clinton before it was shot. More recently, the third season of Ryan Murphy’s FX series, “American Crime Story: Impeachment” — with a focus on President Bill Clinton, and with Monica Lewinsky as a producer — was scheduled to make its debut on Sept. 27. FX ended up postponing the release until after the election, citing Mr. Murphy’s busy schedule.

    In his email to the cast of “The Comey Rule,” Mr. Ray wrote that he was puzzled by ViacomCBS’s decision to wait until after the election.

    “Why?” he wrote. “I don’t know. The health of a media company depends on attracting audiences — and our movie, aired in August of an election year, would have been very big news. Can you imagine the billboards? Comey Vs. Trump! A cast loaded with Emmy winners! Yet here we are. I am deeply sorry that I didn’t win this one.”

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