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Jewish Journal

Hitler, Still in Development

by Sally Ogle Davis

August 22, 2002 | 8:00 pm

CBS President and CEO Leslie Moonves says major changes are being made to the first draft script of their planned miniseries on the early life of Adolf Hitler.

"The shooting version of the script will differ greatly to the one you read," Moonves told The Journal.

Last week, The Journal obtained a copy of a May 2002 script based on history professor Ian Kershaw's book "Hitler: 1889-1936 Hubris."

CBS' announcement in July that the book -- which deals with Hitler's early life and ends before the outbreak of World War II -- would become a prime time miniseries, triggered lots of reaction from those who are worried that a TV movie about the early years in the life of the Nazi Führer might depict him in a sympathetic light and influence young viewers who are not aware of the historical context of Hitler's monstrous legacy.

Moonves, who has held the top spot at CBS since 1998, stressed that both the network and Canadian-based production company Alliance Atlantis Entertainment, who are making the miniseries, are sensitive to the implications of this story.

"We are speaking to many, many Jewish leaders throughout the country, and people who I am close to and people who I am not," Moonves said, "and there's much discussion going on pro and con. All of it is being taken extremely seriously, and please note that none of this is being treated lightly. There are some rabbis in the L.A. area, and other Jewish leaders that we've spoken to. We do appreciate the dialogue, and some of it will guide us in decisions we're making."

Moonves said he also plans to provide a final shooting script to Rabbi Harvey Fields of Wilshire Boulevard Temple. "He's someone I trust and greatly respect, and his son is also a TV producer, so Rabbi Fields does understand the exigencies of our business, " Moonves said.

Rabbi Fields told The Journal that although he has concerns about the project, "If I saw the script, I would have a lot more certitude in terms of my critical analysis."

The CBS head noted that he agreed with many of the points brought up in The Journal articles on the subject, however he was critical of the unnamed former top network executive who was quoted in last week's article, "Furor of Der Führer," saying that an airing of the film "is going to get people killed."

"If someone makes a ridiculous statement as drastic and offensive as that, they should have to guts to go on the record," he said.

While admitting that the quality of some network television "is not so good," Moonves adds, "I think network TV can hold its head up anywhere in terms of quality and in terms of other media including feature films. The fact that this is a four-hour drama enables us to do things that a two-hour feature film couldn't accomplish."

Moonves said the network has not yet hired an actor to play the young Hitler, and denied reports that several directors in Hollywood had turned down the chance to make the picture.

"We approached one director [Christian Duguay] and he accepted," Moonves insisted.

He also said no actors had turned down the lead role and most of the names that have been mentioned as possible leads [such as Scotsman Ewan McGregor] were not accurate.

"Other actors have been discussed, but not offered the role, because they were tied up on other projects," he said. "More than likely we will go with an actor who is someone we've never heard of."

While the miniseries is expected to air sometime next year, Moonves said no sponsors have yet been approached.

"I do believe there will be people who are willing to support this, although I don't anticipate we will get the normal kind of ads we get for a normal miniseries. This will have to be treated specially as certain projects are treated by the advertising community. But I think responsible advertisers will see the merit of our project."

Moonves admitted he was surprised at the reaction to the news of the miniseries which followed stories in The Journal, the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times.

"But I do understand people's concerns. It's obviously a very passionate subject. One of the things that people fear is the question, 'Are TV network people purely a bunch of oddballs that are just driven by ratings or is there legitimate concern for what they are putting on the air?' I can assure you it's the latter."

Sensitive issues can be handled well on television, he noted, pointing to a recent documentary film on events surrounding Sept. 11 which aired on CBS and will air again around the week of Sept. 11.

"That was the consummate artistic expression done by two young French filmmakers," Moonves pointed out.

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