Bill O'Reilly's Killing franchise has made a killing for National Geographic Channel. The cable network's first three movies based on O'Reilly's books— Killing Lincoln, Killing Kennedy and Killing Jesus—were its most-watched programs of all time. Now, National Geographic looks to keep the ratings streak going with a fourth O'Reilly adaptation, Killing Reagan, which debuts Sunday at 8 p.m.
The movie, which like all of National Geographic's new specials and series features a reduced ad load, is a bit of a departure from the earlier O'Reilly films in that its subject was not actually killed.
"There may be a certain part of the audience that may assume this film, given the subject matter, to be something that it's not," said executive producer David Zucker. "It's not a biopic; it's a political film. We look at it as more of a historical snapshot. You've seen how fascinated audiences became with the O.J. Simpson story, and I think it is always instructive, if not fascinating, to have a chance to engage that even with people that you may not have necessarily a natural affinity for. Obviously many do, but we're hoping that people will get past the headline of the title and see if there's something more that they can experience and learn from it."
O'Reilly, who is an executive producer on Killing Reagan, has had "consistent" involvement throughout the four films, said Zucker. He reads scripts and drafts, watches early cuts and touts the films as they premiere, including praising Killing Reagan on The O'Reilly Factor. ("Good movie; you're gonna like it. You'll learn stuff about the Reagans you didn't know.")
"The process with him has been a very reasonable one and a very valuable one," Zucker said. "Having written the books, he obviously has some particular insights and some particular points of focus that he wants to make sure we're cognizant of, but he engenders a lot of trust in us and the creative team we've put together. So, typically with the scripts and the cuts, he'll be in some ways giving us a godfatherly point of view, sometimes very specific, sometimes a little more conceptual. He's been very enthusiastic with the results, and as a result, it's made for a very comfortable kind of relationship we've had through them all."
During production of Killing Reagan, O'Reilly spent one day on the show's Atlanta set, which he discussed during a July interview with Adweek: "I went down and talked to Rod Lurie the director and said, 'Are you guys gonna depart from the script? The script was very good, very tight; are you going anywhere else?' They said, a few places, and we sit down and talk about it. That's what the executive producer does."
While National Geographic has tapped Killing Patton for its next O'Reilly project, the network could have a bigger challenge if it takes on the sixth and most recent book in O'Reilly's Killing series, Killing the Rising Sun, about the final months of World War II in the Pacific. (O'Reilly, who has a deal to write three more books in the Killing franchise, told Adweek, "They're all war books.")
While Killing the Rising Sun would seem to be a more ambitious project than a two-hour movie, "our focus right now is on Killing Patton," said Zucker. "It would be nice to continue the franchise with him, but in some ways, it's too far for us to project out and probably too far for Nat Geo to project out. We'll probably engage that discussion when we get Patton further along if that's something he wants to pursue. Ultimately, it's his decision."