NEW YORK — The ReelzChannel television network says it scheduled a pro-Sarah Palin documentary on the same weekend as HBO’s “Game Change” debut strictly for business considerations, not political ones.
“The Undefeated,” a Palin documentary by conservative filmmaker Stephen K. Bannon, will have its television premiere on Sunday. It will come 23 hours after HBO opens “Game Change,” based on the 2008 campaign book by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, and starring Julianne Moore as Palin.
Stan Hubbard, ReelzChannel CEO, said he licensed “The Undefeated” for the same reason that his network aired “The Kennedys” miniseries last spring after it was dropped by the History channel — to draw attention to a nearly 6-year-old network with a low public profile. ReelzChannel is in 62 million homes, a little more than half the country.
“For a young network, public relations is important to us, which is why we hunt for opportunistic things,” Hubbard said.
Hubbard said he found the former Alaska governor and 2008 GOP vice presidential candidate a fascinating figure, but he wasn’t trying to lionize her.
“If HBO wanted to swap movies this weekend, I’d do that in a second,” he said.
Palin supporters have attacked “Game Change,” although it’s unclear whether any of them has seen it in advance. “The Undefeated” maker Bannon called it a “fictionalized hit-piece” and has praised ReelzChannel’s “courageous” decision to air his movie.
“Game Change,” co-starring Woody Harrelson and Ed Harris, actually strives for a balanced portrait, showing Palin overwhelmed at times after being thrust onto the presidential ticket and lashing out at some McCain aides but connecting with audiences and performing on big stages better than many critics and supporters expected.
“The Undefeated” focuses first on Palin’s life as mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, as that state’s governor and on the 1998 campaign.
The writer and director of “Game Change” both welcomed “The Undefeated” onto TV.
Writer Danny Strong said he was happy for Bannon: “It’s hard for a documentary to get any kind of play. I’m not concerned at all about comparisons to our piece. I just think it’s another story, another element of her life.”
Director Jay Roach said that any time a film can add to the conversation it’s good. “I’m happy that the two films might stir it up a little bit,” he said.
Since ReelzChannel announced last month that it would air “The Undefeated,” Hubbard said he’s gotten about an equal number of letters from people thanking him for the decision or saying they’d never watch ReelzChannel again.
“When you say ‘Sarah Palin,’ nobody sort of shrugs,” he said. “Everybody loves her or hates her. There’s no middle ground. She’s so relevant because she’s so intriguing.”
He said he would not have sought out “The Undefeated” if Palin were seeking the presidency now, because then the argument that showing it was a political statement would carry more water.