CNN, NBC scrap Hillary Clinton TV projects

By Liana B. Baker and Gabriel Debenedetti

REUTERS - Two television projects focused on Hillary Clinton got the axe on Monday after the programs became embroiled in partisan wrangling, including threats by the Republican National Committee (RNC) to boycott presidential debates sponsored by CNN and NBC.

The filmmaker for CNN said he could not complete the project because he'd received no cooperation from either Democrats or Republicans, while industry sources said NBC's move had nothing to do with the RNC, the Clintons or NBC News, which is run separately from NBC's entertainment unit.

Charles Ferguson, the filmmaker responsible for the CNN documentary, wrote a scathing online essay, saying that the Democrat's camp froze him out and that Republicans had grumbled about meddling in the 2016 presidential race.

A CNN spokeswoman on Monday confirmed the film would be canceled and said the decision was made by the filmmaker.

NBC, whose entertainment unit had been planning a dramatic four-hour miniseries starring Diane Lane as Clinton, said it was also abandoning the TV movie on Monday.

"After reviewing and prioritizing our slate of movie/mini-series development, we've decided that we will no longer continue developing the Hillary Clinton mini-series," an NBC spokesman said in a statement.

The mini-series had already lost a production partner when Fox Television Studios passed on working with NBC in August.

The Republican National Committee in August had threatened to boycott any 2016 presidential debates sponsored by CNN and NBC, and RNC spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski said on Monday the RNC would no longer stage boycotts now that both networks had canceled their Clinton projects.

"Now that CNN and NBC have canceled their Hillary Clinton infomercials, we will work on developing a new debate model that will address the timing, frequency, moderators and venues that will come in the next few months," Kukowski said.

The committee has not revealed the new model for the debates yet.

Although NBC did not directly say why it had decided to cancel the mini-series based on the life of the former secretary of state and first lady, industry sources called it a "tenuous" production without a script and said losing its production partner also influenced NBC's decision.

Clinton is widely expected to run for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination. The former U.S. secretary of state has said she is still considering her options.

Clinton representative Nick Merrill said "Lights, camera, no reaction," in an email on Monday to Reuters.

DIRECTOR QUITS

Ferguson, who was tapped to direct the CNN film last year, said he began receiving messages from Clinton's staff almost immediately after he signed the contract and in the ensuing months found it difficult to get anyone to speak to him.

"But when I approached people for interviews, I discovered that nobody, and I mean nobody, was interested in helping me make this film. Not Democrats, not Republicans - and certainly nobody who works with the Clintons, wants access to the Clintons, or dreams of a position in a Hillary Clinton administration," Ferguson wrote.

In his blog post, Ferguson also cited pushback from Republicans whose leaders complained that the documentary amounted to political ads for Clinton, a former U.S. senator from New York and the wife of former President Bill Clinton.

The filmmaker said he was not pressured by CNN to cancel the project, and that the network's president, Jeff Zucker, had pledged his support for the film.

Ferguson is best known for his 2010 documentary "Inside Job" a critical look at Wall Street and what led to the 2008 financial crisis. It won an Academy Award in 2011 for best documentary film. An earlier documentary he produced and directed, "No End in Sight: The American Occupation of Iraq," received film festival awards.

Ferguson said he was surprised that "prominent Democrats made it known both to CNN and to me" that they weren't happy with the project.

"After painful reflection, I decided that I couldn't make a film of which I would be proud. And so I'm cancelling," Ferguson said in the blog post. (Reporting by Liana B. Baker in New York and Gabriel Debenedetti in Washington; Editing by Doina Chiacu and Ken Wills)

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