How PBS’s Hillary Clinton Film Hopes to Avoid Backlash to CNN and NBC Films

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Hillary Clinton TV projects have had a bad track record lately: Conservative backlash helped kill planned films about the former Secretary of State at both CNN and NBC.

PBS is accustomed to being dragged into political fights — just look at Mitt Romney’s surprise attack on Big Bird in the 2012 election. But with its upcoming look at Clinton’s accomplishments, the public television network hopes to avoid the objections that buried the other networks’ projects.

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Clinton is one of many women featured in six upcoming “Makers” documentaries coming to PBS this summer. The films highlight women’s achievements.

“I think our trademark is historical context,” said Dyllan McGee,the Emmy award-winning filmmaker behind the project. “We’re looking at where Hillary falls in the line of politicians. What is her role and who has come before her? So it’s not just Hillary’s story. It’s a broad context.”

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That differentiates PBS’s project from the CNN and NBC ones, which focused specifically on the former New York senator and first lady. The PBS project also features Sens. Barbara Mikulski and Olympia Snowe.

Snowe is a Republican, which may dispel complaints that the film is biased toward Democrats. Republicans’ main complaints about the Clinton films was that they would have focused on her just ahead of the 2016 campaign, in which she may be a presidential candidate. Republicans argued that that would give her an unfair advantage.

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McGee said it was unclear whether the PBS project would face a backlash, despite its different approach.

“We’ll see. We haven’t finished the film yet,” she said.

Clinton is one of many women highlighted in the latest series of “Makers” films, which started last year. A panel Wednesday at the Television Critics Association winter press tour featured comedian Kathy Griffin, astronaut Peggy Whitson, and former CIA operations officer Valerie Plame, all of whom are featured in the films.

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The three are featured in the new documentaries along with many others, including astronaut Mae Jemison, war correspondents Molly Moore, Clarissa Ward, and Christiane Amanpour, actress Jane Fonda, comedian Sarah Silverman, writer-actress Lena Dunham, producer Shonda Rhimes, astronaut Mae Jemison, and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg.

Plame, famously outed as a CIA operative in a column by Robert Novak, said that in much of the world, “women are wallpaper,” barely noticed by men. That can be helpful to spycraft, she said.

“You can move around in a lot of places without anyone looking askance at you,” she said.