‘The Reagans’ Reveals Nancy’s Significant Role in the Administration & More

The Reagans Showtime
Courtesy of The Ronald Reagan Library Library/SHOWTIME

America’s first celebrity turned commander in chief is put under a microscope in The Reagans, a four-part docuseries on President Ronald Wilson Reagan and wife Nancy. Why now? “The Reagan past was a prologue for our very fraught and frightening times politically right now,” explains journalist and filmmaker Matt Tyrnauer (Where’s My Roy Cohn?).

“I’ve always had a strong sense that Reagan was misunderstood and blindly worshiped by large swaths of society,” Tyrnauer continues, in large part due to his fame in films from Kings Row (1942) to Bedtime for Bonzo (1951). “If he and Nancy Reagan were anything, they were brilliant self-mythologizers, coming out of the schools of Warner Bros. and MGM in the Golden Age of Hollywood.” In one early interview clip, asked if he thinks of himself as a politician, Reagan responds, “No. Ex-actor.”

The series spends the bulk of its time exploring how the couple crafted their public personas to appeal to voters, who first elected Ronald as governor of California in 1966. It’s there that Tyrnauer feels Nancy began her evolution into the image-conscious influence on her husband that would ultimately define her reputation as first lady. “Based on interviews with people who were very close to her, she was much more significant a player than was acknowledged,” he notes. “And I think she hid behind a facade that was very effective for her.” (60 Minutes journalist Lesley Stahl calls her his “consigliere.”)

To lift the curtain on both husband and wife (he passed away in 2004, she in 2016), Tyrnauer assembled a cabinet of former colleagues, allies and experts, including chief political strategist Stu Spencer, onetime secretary of state George Shultz, biographer Kitty Kelley and Dr. Anthony Fauci, who weighs in on the 40th president’s abysmal response to the AIDS crisis. The couple’s own son, Ron Jr., provides perhaps the most meaningful insights into his parents. And they’re not all misty, water-colored memories.

The Reagans Showtime

Credit: Los Angeles Public Library

“He was intelligent,” Ron says, “but…knowing him as well as I do, this is kind of a strange fella to be president of the United States.” As Tyrnauer puts it, “This endeavor is not your typical ‘Let’s wave the flag and celebrate the white-picket-fence America that Ronald Reagan represented.'”

The Reagans, Series Premiere, Sunday, November 15, 8/7c, Showtime