The 1997 satirical comedy movie Wag the Dog, which starred Robert De Niro and Dustin Hoffman (yielding him an Oscar nod), is probably best remembered for elevating its titular idiom – referring to “the tail wagging the dog” – to prominence in pop-culture, specifically in the way those behind the scenes in power manipulate the populace. However, it appears that HBO is dusting off this once-popular property for a television series.
According to THR, HBO has tapped the original Wag the Dog director Barry Levinson to oversee a television series adaptation of the 1997 film, reinvented contemporarily for our especially potent political era in which concepts such as “fake news” and “alternative facts” counter/complement one another. The HBO series will see incoming scribe Rajiv Joseph (Army of One, Draft Day) write a script adapting the Oscar-nominated 1997 film script written by Hilary Henkin and David Mamet, based off the conspiratorial book American Hero by Larry Beinhart. Levinson, the directorial legend of numerous iconic hits, who won an Oscar in 1989 for Rain Man and a 1992 nod for Bugsy, is onboard HBO’s Wag the Dog as an executive producer alongside writer Rajiv Joseph, Tom Fontana, Jason Sosnoff, Berry Welsh and film star Robert De Niro through Tribeca Productions. Former Hillary Clinton political operative David Brock is onboard as a consultant. According to HBO:
“[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.”
1997’s Wag the Dog depicted a secret effort to distract the public from a presidential sex scandal by a calculating spin doctor (De Niro) and vain Hollywood producer (Hoffman), creating a fictional war in Albania, supplemented with effects-fabricated footage and a blue-screen-concocted ordeal of a beautiful young woman (Kirsten Dunst). However, the op goes awry when the duo unknowingly hire an insane criminal (Woody Harrelson) to pose as a heroic veteran of the fake war. The timing of the film’s January 1998 release was shockingly prescient, since then-president Bill Clinton’s Lewinsky scandal arrived a month later, followed afterwards by the U.S. bombing of a Sudan pharmaceutical factory, purportedly under suspicion of the presence of nerve gas and connection to Osama bin Laden. Check out the original trailer below.
Wag the Dog will hardly be the first political satire television series for HBO, with its current hit comedy Veep and the 2015 single-season Tim Robbins/Jack Black-starring comedy The Brink. The premium cable outlet will also somewhat delve into this arena – with star Robert De Niro and director Barry Levinson, no less – for the upcoming biographically-based TV movie The Wizard of Lies, focusing on the fall of the notorious Ponzi-schemer Bernie Madoff, which premieres on May 20.
It will certainly be interesting to see what ultimately emerges when the classic satire of Wag the Dog gets put through a modern, post-Internet, 24-hour news cycle, social media lens, boosted by the signature HBO no-holds-barred style.