Barry Levinson’s classic big-screen political comedy Wag The Dog is coming to the small screen. The 1997 film told the story of the joint efforts between Hollywood producer Stanley Motss (Dustin Hoffman) and political strategist Conrad Brean (Robert De Niro) to distract the general public from a presidential sex scandal by drumming up a fabricated war. Though not a huge hit at the box office with $64.3 million worldwide, the film has endured over time as a well-acted and sharply written piece of political satire.
Wag the Dog was remarkably prophetic, as it was collecting Academy Award nominations for Hoffman and screenwriter David Mamet around the same time that news broke of the scandal involving ex-White House intern Monica Lewinsky and then-President Bill Clinton. Times were certainly different back then for news and media consumption, as the internet was still just beginning to boom. With an eye toward the age of social media and “fake news,” Levinson is teaming up with HBO to translate Wag the Dog to the small screen.
As reported by THR, Levinson and HBO are developing a half-hour scripted comedy series based on Wag the Dog, with Levinson attached to direct the pilot episode should it get to that point. De Niro is attached as an executive producer, while Rajiv Joseph (Army of One) is tabbed to write the pilot episode. Political operative David Brock, who famously switched sides from the Republican party to the Democratic party in the 1990s and played an integral role in Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, is reportedly attached to the project as a “consultant.”
The film and its adaptation are named after the common phrase “wagging the dog,” which describes the deliberate use of public distractions to divert unsuspecting victims from stories of greater importance. THR credits renewed interest in Wag the Dog to recent comparisons between the film and President Donald Trump, whom political pundits have accused of bombing Syria as a means of distracting from scrutiny over his alleged ties to Russia. Here’s how HBO is describing the new adaptation:
“[Wag the Dog is] an ode to the classic film but moving the weapons of mass distraction beyond politics and into business, entertainment and, yes, nonprofits. In the 21st century with the tools of social media at their hands, nothing is off limits to a small group of operators when it comes to manufacturing reality. Fake news is so yesterday.”
Politics is at the center of several popular modern TV series, like Netflix’s dark drama House of Cards and HBO’s sharp-tongued comedy Veep. Considering the talent involved and the classic source material, HBO has a good chance to score another winner with its Wag the Dog adaptation. Success is far from guaranteed — especially considering HBO’s canceled series The Brink, which aired for one season and was renewed for a second before the network reversed course and gave it the axe. But the prevalence of “fake news” in today’s polarized political climate makes the story of Wag the Dog intriguingly relevant nowadays, which could make for some great TV.