Published: October 1, 2013
NEW YORK — For a couple of months, NBC and CNN had been working on high-profile television projects about Hillary Rodham Clinton. Within a few hours on Monday, both projects were dead.
NBC said it was pulling the plug on a planned four-hour miniseries on the Democratic former first lady and secretary of state. "Hillary," which was to star Diane Lane in the feature role and appear before the 2016 election, was the target of external protests and internal unhappiness at NBC.
Earlier Monday, an Academy Award-winning filmmaker who was making a documentary about Clinton for CNN said that he was backing out because few people would cooperate with him. The network said the film would not be produced.
The Republican National Committee had protested both projects, fearing they would lionize Clinton when she might be a candidate for president. The RNC said it would not allow either network to air televised debates among potential GOP candidates for president for 2016 if the films continued.
NBC Entertainment issued a statement saying that "after reviewing and prioritizing our slate of movie and miniseries development, we've decided that we will no longer continue developing the Hillary Clinton miniseries." The statement gave no reason for the change, and spokesman Richard Licata did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
The announcement by NBC's entertainment division this summer that it was making "Hillary" took people in the network's news division by surprise. They were concerned that the news division would be blamed if the entertainment series took liberties with facts or leaned too far in making a positive or a negative portrayal of Clinton.
NBC News Washington correspondents Chuck Todd and Andrea Mitchell made their unease about the miniseries public.
CNN, meanwhile, had contracted with Charles Ferguson to make a documentary on Clinton. Ferguson won the 2011 Academy Award for his documentary "Inside Job," about the 2008 financial meltdown.
But Ferguson wrote in a column posted on The Huffington Post on Monday that he concluded he couldn't make much of a film: Clinton wouldn't agree to be interviewed, and of the more than 100 people he approached only two who had dealt with her agreed to speak on camera.
Ferguson said nobody was interested in helping him make the film.
"Not Republicans, not Democrats — and certainly nobody who works with the Clintons, wants access to the Clintons or dreams of a position in a Hillary Clinton administration," he said.
CNN understood and respected Ferguson's decision, CNN spokeswoman Barbara Levin said Monday.
Ferguson, through his manager's office, declined an interview request. But he wrote:
"It's a victory for the Clintons, and for the money machines that both political parties have now become. But I don't think that it's a victory for the media, or the American people. I still believe that Mrs. Clinton has many virtues including great intelligence, fortitude and a deep commitment to bettering the lives of women and children worldwide. But this is not her finest hour."
Clinton spokesman Nick Merrill, asked for a comment on Ferguson's decision, said, "Lights, camera, no reaction."
The decision doesn't necessarily open the door to the networks to televise Republican debates in 2016, the RNC said. Spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski said CNN hadn't decided on its own to abandon the project but was only doing so because the filmmaker quit. She said the party plans to take firmer control of its debate process in 2016; many Republicans thought there were too many debates in 2012.