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January 6, 2013

TELEVISION: 'Killing Lincoln' producer stirs tempest in Tea Party

PASADENA, Calif. — John Wilkes Booth "could be the poster child for the tea party," Erik Jendresen, exec producer of National Geographic Channel's "Killing Lincoln," told shocked TV critics at Winter TV Press Tour 2013.

Booth was not mad, and his views were, in fact, pretty common when he assassinated Lincoln, Jendresen said Friday.

"This is not the act of somebody who can easily be dismissed as a psychopath, so that it's easy to understand — 'Oh well, he was crazy.' This is a man who believed what still probably 20 percent of this country still believes."

"Killing Lincoln," a two-hour special, is an adaptation of the book of the same name written by Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly. The NatGeo channel is a co-venture of National Geographic and another division of FNC-parent NewsCorp. called Fox Cable Networks.

Understandably, TV critics wondered what O'Reilly thought about the exec producer's comment. Sadly, O'Reilly was not in attendance. So they asked Jendresen.

"I can't speak for Mr. O'Reilly," he said, accurately.

"If you look at the politics of the time, and the epithets that were being hurled at Lincoln, there is a feeling in the nation that is not dissimilar to the past four years of Barack Obama's presidency — the idea today of this imperial presidency . . . [of] somebody who is essentially going to declare himself king and take over," he continued.

"It's stunning to me to read some of the newspaper articles of the time, some of the contents of the letters and memoirs from the time, and some of the things that were thought about Lincoln in the South are so similar . . . to the dialect of today."

Nearly 30 years after the death of Liberace, TV critics don't seem to know what to make of seeing Michael Douglas play the renowned pianist/flamboyant entertainer — much less Matt Damon playing his lover — in the HBO movie "Behind the Candelabra."

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