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CBS firm on Hitler biopic

Despite controversy, miniseries to air in May. Network says it hasn't committed to 'Hillbillies' reality show.

January 14, 2003|Brian Lowry | Times Staff Writer

Apparently, it really will be springtime for Hitler on CBS.

The network said Monday that it will forge ahead with one controversial project while it apologized for another, announcing that a miniseries about Adolf Hitler will air as planned during the May rating sweeps but saying that it has not committed to a staged reality version of "The Beverly Hillbillies," which has prompted criticism from rural groups.

Network officials, who met with reporters in Hollywood as part of their semiannual gathering, currently find themselves in the midst of several controversies, including a protest regarding CBS' annual telecast of the Masters Tournament due to the host golf club's exclusion of female members. CBS refused to discuss that matter beyond reconfirming that it will broadcast the event.

CBS Television President Leslie Moonves did state, however, that the four-hour Hitler project will air in May, with Robert Carlyle ("The Full Monty") in the title role and that production is underway in Prague, the Czech capital. After criticism of an early script draft that circulated over the summer, CBS revised the project (now tentatively titled "Hitler: Origins of Evil") to include, among other things, a postscript regarding the horrors of the Holocaust.

Moonves said that historians and religious scholars are being consulted and that the project is drawing less from historian Ian Kershaw's biography "Hitler: 1889-1936 Hubris." Although the book's accuracy isn't in question, critics fear that a work depicting Hitler's early life will only serve to humanize him.

Moonves said he had seen writer-director Menno Meyjes' film "Max," about the relationship between a young Hitler and a fictional Jewish art dealer, which has also spurred debate.

The Hitler project will surely draw attention to CBS' struggling Sunday movie, whose ratings woes have fueled speculation that the network might experiment with series that night instead -- which would deal a blow to TV movie producers.

However, CBS Entertainment President Nancy Tellem stressed that the network is "very much committed to the franchise."

As for "The Beverly Hillbillies," CBS said that it hasn't found a family to participate and that the project is still in a preliminary phase. A Kentucky-based group, the Center for Rural Strategies, recently placed full-page ads in such papers as the New York Times and USA Today, accusing the network of mocking rural Americans.

"The idea of the show was to question social mores," Moonves, who was pictured in the ads, said Monday. "It wasn't my intent to offend anybody. I'm sorry if we have."

Currently the most-watched network in prime time, CBS will seek to fortify its lineup with "My Big Fat Greek Life" -- a sitcom based on the hit movie "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" -- that will follow "60 Minutes" on Sundays beginning March 2.

CBS will also premiere the next edition of "Survivor" on Feb. 13 with a 90-minute episode, leading into a 90-minute "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" -- pitting TV's top-rated drama against the former holder of that title, NBC's "ER," during the February rating sweeps.

Moonves announced that the long-running "Touched by an Angel" will conclude in May, and that CBS is developing a spin-off from its military drama "JAG."

The executive also expressed confidence that "Everybody Loves Raymond" would be back for additional seasons, despite a statement by star Ray Romano that it might be time for the show to end soon. "He's negotiating in the press," Moonves quipped. Romano's team of representatives includes Moonves' brother, Jon, an entertainment attorney.

Among other February sweeps stunts, Sharon Gless will appear on "Judging Amy" -- reuniting her with "Cagney & Lacey" co-star Tyne Daly -- and "Frasier's" Kelsey Grammer hops networks temporarily to join former "Cheers" colleague Ted Danson on "Becker."

Asked about the seeming saturation of staged reality shows, Moonves conceded that the networks will "probably have overdone it" by fall. "Everybody's looking for that quick fix," he said.

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