UPDATE: Maybe this is not as done a deal as the cast and director of The Comey Rule were told. Sources now tell me that the programming schedule is in flux due to COVID-19 and that some productions were delayed. As a result, several date changes will soon be made. Most important here, it is now looking likely that The Comey Rule will be moved into a slot before the Presidential Elections, I’m hearing. That will make the participants in the miniseries happy. Updates when they become firm.
EXCLUSIVE: Reflecting the collective disappointment of the cast of a $40 million limited series The Comey Rule after ViacomCBS gave a surprising post presidential election Showtime air date for the button drama about the clash between ex-FBI Director James Comey and President Donald Trump, writer/director Billy Ray wrote and circulated a letter of apology.
When the network revealed that the series would air over two nights in late November, speculation was rife that the move was made in deference to the White House. Sources said that the cast, led by Jeff Daniels (Comey) and Brendan Gleeson (Trump), all participated with the expectation that the series would air during election season, where it would be a relevant conversation piece.
Deadline got a copy of the letter Ray sent:
This is a really hard letter to write…
By now, you’ve no doubt heard that our airdate on Showtime will be late November, several weeks after the election.
I know what a disappointment this is to you. It is for me too – because while I’ve made movies about my country before, this was the first time I ever made a movie for my country. We all were hoping to get this story in front of the American people months before the coming election. And that was a reasonable expectation considering that we’d been given a mandate by the network to do whatever was necessary to deliver by May 15.
But at some point in March or April, that mandate changed. Word started drifting back to me that a decision about our airdate had been made at the very highest levels of Viacom: all talk of our airing before the election was suddenly a “non-starter.” I and my fellow producers asked for a chance to plead our case on the matter, but we were told that even the discussion itself was a “non-starter.” (So was the idea of our getting the movie back from the network so as to seek another partner to air it.)
Why? I don’t know. The health of a media company depends on attracting audiences – and our movie, aired in August of an election year, would have been very big news. Can you imagine the billboards? Comey Vs. Trump! A cast loaded with Emmy winners!
Yet here we are.
I am deeply sorry that I didn’t win this one. You trusted me with your time and your talent, and you deserved better than this. Your performances were spectacular. Please know that I won’t give up; and that regardless of airdate I am thrilled at the prospect of showing the world your wonderful work.
When the miniseries was put together by CBS Studios, it wasn’t clear where it would air, the choices being CBS, Showtime and CBS All Access, or all three. Sources said it was deemed too political to air under the CBS banner, which is the top rated network and skews heavy in Red States, and the decision was made to air it on Showtime. And then, post-election. I’ve heard that Daniels in particular is very disappointed. He left his role as Atticus Finch in the Aaron Sorkin Broadway play To Kill A Mockingbird to play Comey. He planned to take time off between performances but agreed to rush so the series would be ready. He planned to promote the mini on the entertainment and Sunday morning shows, to contribute to the national conversation the two-night series would have provoked. I’ve heard Daniels has made it known behind the scenes that he likely won’t promote the series. Who can blame him? The first question will be obvious: why in the world would this be programmed after Trump vs. Biden was decided?
When Deadline wrote a week ago about the dating of the series, and the release of the first images of Daniels as Comey and Gleeson as Trump, we noted what we’d heard, that the dating plans described to cast got changed at the level of Bob Bakish and chief Shari Redstone, the latter of whom has a mutual admiration relationship with the president. Shortly after Trump’s election, she was quoted saying this about Trump: “He’s always been very good to me and a tremendous supporter of me personally.” Trump in turn, invoked Redstone’s name when he was critical of a 60 Minutes segment in which Norah O’Donnell interviewed coronavirus whistle blower Rick Bright, with the president going so far as to suggest that ViacomCBS chairwoman Shari Redstone “knows how to make things right.” Bright is the former director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority who filed a whistleblower complaint last month, contending that he was ousted for refusing to promote the drug hydroxychloroquine as a coronavirus treatment. He also claimed that leaders at the Department of Health and Human Services ignored his warnings about the coronavirus and the need to prepare for the pandemic.
Was The Comey Rule relegated to post-election to placate the president and not have to see a series about one of his bitterest enemies?
CBS Viacom has numerous examples that would say otherwise. Showtime aired the provocative Sacha Baron Cohen series Who Is America? which became a scourge of conservatives, and Showtime Our Cartoon President, which lampoons Trump. CBS Viacom’s publishing company Simon & Schuster just published The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir, the expose by ex-National Security Advisor John Bolton that the Justice Department tried to stop. S&S has set a July 28 pub date for Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man, a tell-all by the president’s niece, Mary Trump. Even though the president has stated she signed a non-disclosure agreement and is not legally entitled to publish the book. S&S also will publish a big book on Trump by Bob Woodward in the heat of the presidential election campaign later this year.
It seems that CBS Viacom has an opportunity here to change course and slot the series – which was rushed to be ready – for election season to avoid growing questions and inevitable commentary by the voluminous cast that expected different, and if the president is upset, he’ll get over it. AMC just faced a similar situation where chief Adam Aron did an about face on his proclamation that wearing masks would be option when movie theaters reopened and citing that it created political problems. Realizing from the outcry that it was a public health situation that would imperil the film industry’s chance to regain its footing after the pandemic, Aron swallowed hard and did the right thing.
Bakish, Redstone, and Showtime ought to do the same. Aside from Daniels as Comey and Gleeson as Trump, Holly Hunter plays former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates, Michael Kelly is former FBI Director Andrew McCabe, Jennifer Ehle is Patrice Comey, Scoot McNairy is former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, Jonathan Banks is former National Intelligence Director James Clapper, Oona Chaplin is former FBI lawyer Lisa Page, Amy Seimetz is former FBI lawyer Trisha Anderson, Steven Pasquale is former FBI agent Peter Strzok, Peter Coyote is Robert Mueller and Kingsley Ben-Adir is President Barack Obama. Steve Zissis, Shawn Doyle, Brian d’Arcy James, Dalmar Abuzeid William Sadler, Richard Thomas, T.R. Knight, Joe Lo Truglio, Spencer Garrett, Michael Hyatt, Damon Gupton and Seann Gallagher also star.
The Comey Rule is exec produced by Shane Salerno, Alex Kurtzman, Heather Kadin and Ray. The series was produced by CBS Television Studios in association with Home Run Productions, The Story Factory, and Secret Hideout.
According to Showtime, the series is an immersive, behind-the-headlines account of the historically turbulent events surrounding the 2016 presidential election and its aftermath, which divided a nation. It’s not a biopic, but is instead the story of two powerful figures, Comey and Trump, whose strikingly different personalities, ethics and loyalties put them on a collision course. It’s described as an insider’s journey down the corridors of power, where decision-makers struggle to apply old norms to a dramatic new paradigm in the face of Russia’s deep and unprecedented penetration into American politics, with our nation’s rule of law hanging in the balance. Each character’s actions in these historic months made the careers of some, destroyed the careers of others and helped shape the incendiary political landscape we live in today. Part one of the series examines the earliest days of the Russia investigation, the FBI’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails and their impact on Election Night 2016, when Donald Trump stunned the world and was elected president. Part two is a virtual day-by-day account of the tempestuous relationship between Comey and Trump and the intense and chaotic first months of the Trump presidency – where allies became enemies, enemies became friends and truth depended on what side you were on.