EXCLUSIVE: Expanding on the success of its miniseries that examined slices of America’s past, like Hatfields & McCoys, History is embarking on its most ambitious scripted effort yet. The cable network, which will be presenting today as part of A+E Networks’ upfront, is developing The Commanders, an anthology scripted series envisioned as an annual television event ranging from four to 10 hours in length. It will dramatize pivotal moments in U.S. history that defined the legacy of the men who served as Presidents of the United States — from the first one, George Washington, to No. 42, Bill Clinton.
The first installments of The Commanders, currently in active development, will focus on Clinton, Ronald Reagan, Theodore Roosevelt, James Madison and Thomas Jefferson. They hail from such auspices as Emmy winner R.J. Cutler (The War Room), Oscar nominee Stephen J. Rivele (Nixon), Matthew Sand (Deepwater Horizon), Cyrus Nowrasteh (The Path to 9/11), Michael Hirst (History’s Vikings) and Leslie Greif (Hatfields & McCoys). The network also is developing internally limited series about other former presidents including Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Dwight Eisenhower.
As part of the development process, History has optioned several best-selling biographies as source material for The Commanders including The Breach: Inside the Impeachment and Trial of William Jefferson Clinton by Peter Baker, Theodore Rex by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Edmund Morris, Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates by Brian Kilmeade and The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan by Rick Perlstein.
“From the contemporary history of Clinton’s impeachment and its lasting impact on the nation’s political landscape and Reagan’s influence that defined the Republican Party for generations to Jefferson’s creation of the military might of the U.S. Marines – these defining stories forged our nation,” said Jana Bennett, History’s president and GM. “The Commanders would bring history to life and speak to the crises we face in modern times.”
The Breach: Inside the Impeachment and Trial of William Jefferson Clinton, which is eyed to launch the franchise, joins another high-profile limited series on the subject in the works, the upcoming American Crime Story installment about the Monica Lewinsky scandal that led to Clinton’s impeachment. Ryan Murphy’s FX series will be based on a different book, Jeffrey Toobin’s A Vast Conspiracy: The Real Sex Scandal That Nearly Brought Down a President.
The Commanders is being produced by A+E Studios, which also is behind History’s breakout new Navy SEAL drama series Six, recently renewed for a second season, as well as Lifetime’s praised UnReal.
“Shocking, revealing and consequential, The Breach: Inside the Impeachment of Bill Clinton, along with Rise of Reagan, Theodore Rex, War of 1812, Alliance and Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates would be exceptional additions to our high-quality programming and development slate,” said Paul Buccieri, president of A+E Studios and A+E Networks Portfolio Group.
Here are details about The Commanders limited series now in development:
THE BREACH: INSIDE THE IMPEACHMENT OF BILL CLINTON
Based on Peter Baker’s New York Times bestseller, “The Breach: Inside the Impeachment and Trial of William Jefferson Clinton,” which Bob Woodward called “the definitive work on Bill Clinton’s impeachment and trial,” comes a political thriller that would bring viewers behind the scenes of an event unique in modern American history: the impeachment of an elected president. Featuring a who’s who of contemporary modern political figures, “The Breach: Inside the Impeachment of Bill Clinton” would go into Republican and Democratic war rooms revealing the infighting among the President’s advisers, the secret back-channel negotiations between the White House and Congress, Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky, and the manner in which Clinton, his family, and his political opponents all dealt with the fallout. The series would chronicle how Washington became lost in the breach of its own partisan impulses, an event which many argue has defined the political landscape today. “The Breach: Inside the Impeachment of Bill Clinton” is an A+E Studios production in association with Cutler Productions. R.J. Cutler (Nashville, The War Room) serves as executive producer, writer and director, with David K. Israel also serving as writer.
RISE OF REAGAN
In the wake of economic decline and international tumult, a former actor and California governor named Ronald Reagan shook up the political world when he did the unthinkable, running against sitting Republican President Gerald Ford in a campaign that would ultimately ignite the “Reagan Revolution.” As President, Reagan redefined the Republican Party and shaped the course of American conservatism. “Rise of Reagan” is an A+E Studios production and based on “The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan,” by Rick Perlstein, who serves as consultant. Bill Haber (“Rizzoli & Isles”) is on board to executive produce and it is written by Cyrus Nowrasteh, author of “The Day Reagan was Shot.”
“Alliance” takes the viewer inside the summits between Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin as they strategize the campaign to win World War II. While creating the battle lines for the Cold War, Churchill and FDR realize the next great global threat is in the room negotiating with them. Based on Jonathan Fenby’s book “Alliance: The Inside Story of How Roosevelt, Stalin and Churchill Won One War and Began Another,” the series is written and executive produced by three-time BAFTA Award nominee Stephen Butchard (“The Last Kingdom”, “House of Saddam”) with Bad Wolf’s Julie Gardner, Martin Davidson and David Attwood also serving as executive producers.
In the wake of the assassination of President William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt rose to power as the youngest chief executive in the United States. A complex and dynamic leader, Roosevelt was a man who lived many lives: battling with robber baron John D. Rockefeller to break up Standard Oil, building the Panama Canal, preserving millions of acres of parks and forests and ultimately winning the Nobel Prize. Written by Matt Sand and based on “Theodore Rex,” the New York Times bestselling book by Pulitzer Prize winner Edmund Morris, this is a definitive look at one of the most popular and larger-than-life leaders of the 20thcentury. “Theodore Rex” is an A+E Studios production in association with Critical Content. Tom Forman, Andrew Marcus, Matthew Sand and Ray Ricord serve as executive producers.
THOMAS JEFFERSON AND THE TRIPOLI PIRATES
With America’s merchant ships under attack, its citizens being held hostage, and the US Naval fleet sold off to help pay the debts from the War of Independence, President Thomas Jefferson’s decision to wage war against the Barbary Coast pirates would transform not only the American military, but the future prosperity of the United States. Based on the New York Times bestselling book by Brian Kilmeade, “Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates,” this story charts Jefferson’s refusal to back down against the aggression of the Barbary pirates, and tell the story of his domestic battles to get backing for foreign intervention and to build a naval force which led to the creation of the Marines. Their defeat of the pirates on the shores of Tripoli redefined American foreign policy for the two centuries that followed. From Thinkfactory Media, Leslie Greif serves as executive producer and is written by Stephen J. Rivele.
WAR OF 1812
A few decades after securing independence, the fledgling United States, led by President James Madison, was once again pulled into battle with Great Britain and its Canadian and Native American allies. It was a fierce battle for control of territory and freedom of the seas that included the burning of the White House, and was the last large-scale attempt by the Native American nations to maintain power by forming an alliance with the British, which led to over 100 treaties when the war ended. From A+E Studios and Michael Hirst (“Vikings,” “The Tudors”), this is the iconic story of the little-known war that forever secured the nation’s independence and would see the origin of the Star Spangled Banner.