I’ve always been queasy about fictionalizations of history, especially fictionalizations of biography.
Obviously, there is nothing wrong with using history as background, and even, although now we’re getting to trickier territory, using “real” characters to interact with the major players in historical fiction. Serious writers from Tolstoy to Doctorow have made that work to everyone’s advantage.
But where the writer simply appropriates a real person and characterizes him or her as he or she chooses, the chance for abuse – of history, of the named people, or the careless reader or viewer – is dangerously high. Think of Oliver Stone’s JFK, in which real names are simply hooks from which the writer-director dangles is own, usually shallow and melodramatic ideas.
All of which is to say, NBC’s not-quite-a-plan for a Hillary Clinton biopic series sounds like a very bad idea. Licensing any writer/director team to dream up a fictional version of a real character who may or may not be planning to run for President, while that run is impending is asking for a mess.
On the other hand, (and why is this distinction not being made?), CNN’s plan to let the distinguished journalist Charles Ferguson do a documentary about Ms. Clinton, even as she considers her own Presidential possibilities may be a very good idea. I mean what is a “newschannel” for, if not giving serious, in-depth, documentary-length evaluations of potential candidates. My guess is that Ms. Clinton may have more to fear from this project than the GOP.
Will Ferguson be making judgments about HRC? I’m sure he will, as an inevitable part of his journalistic process. Thus, those judgments will be based on facts, and backed up by evidence on video drawn from real news coverage. That is very different from a dramatic series, “based on a real story,” with made up dialogue, and character-defining impersonations (even if from a distinguished actress like Diane Lane).
As for Republican Party Chair Reince Priebus’ threats to cut NBC News out of any 2016 GOP Presidential Candidate Debates in retribution, this is just silly, and given the quality and audience size of 2012’s endless series of “thundering herd of elephants” debates, amounts to tossing the Peacock squad into B’rer Rabbit’s briar patch. Deny a network a chance at an hour or two of the next campaign’s version of Herman Cain vs. Rick Perry vs. Rick Santorum et al? Hit me again, Reince! Please!!!
So, Steve Burke, turn away from this golden opportunity to be excluded from that un-funny clown show, by doing the really right thing: kill the Hillary project and leave covering the realities of politics to your professionals at NBC News who put reality first.
I guess NBC could come up with a compromise: do the biopic, but run it on MSNBC, where reality has no role and rhetoric (fawning or abusive) already defines the brand.