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New Docuseries Peeks Behind the Curtain of the Reagan Family and How They 'Set the Stage' for Politics Now

People logo People 10/22/2020 Sean Neumann
Ronald Reagan et al. sitting on a table: Photofest From left: Ronald and Nancy Reagan in the 1950s © Provided by People Photofest From left: Ronald and Nancy Reagan in the 1950s

Documentarian Matt Tyrnauer says that, as the old adage goes, “the past is prologue” and he believes his new docuseries on Ronald Reagan’s presidency proves just that.

The four-part The Reagans debuts on Showtime on Nov. 15 and will air in the wake of the Nov. 3 election that determines whether the country will have another two-term Republican president with showbiz roots, in Donald Trump.

“So much of what took place and was brought into American politics by the Reagans has a direct correspondence to what we’re living through today,” Tyrnauer, 52, tells PEOPLE. “It was thought highly unlikely and even absurd that a former movie star would or could be elected the president of the United States.”

In hindsight, Tyrnauer says it makes perfect sense given that the 20th century was “the century of movies and mass communication.”

The former Vanity Fair correspondent-turned-documentary director says his new series on Reagan — featuring interviews with son Ronald Reagan Jr. and the late president’s longtime adviser Stuart Spencer — reveals just how much the late governor-turned-commander-in-chief and the former First Lady Nancy Reagan worked to spin public perception in their favor.

Ronald Reagan, Nancy Reagan sitting on a table: From left: Ronald and Nancy Reagan in the 1950s © Photofest From left: Ronald and Nancy Reagan in the 1950s

“The Reagans were so good at portraying a president and a first lady and so good at staging a presidency in every meaning of the word,” Trynauer says. “I think people were taken in by it.”

RELATED: Ronald Reagan's Son Says Trump's Children Have 'No Qualifications Whatsoever' to Work in White House

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a person standing in front of a building: Courtesy of the Ronald Reagan Library From left: Ronald and Nancy Reagan © Provided by People Courtesy of the Ronald Reagan Library From left: Ronald and Nancy Reagan

Through frank interviews with the Reagans’ 62-year-old son and Spencer — his 93-year-old former political aide, who Trynauer says helped take Raegan from “B-list” Hollywood fame to the White House — viewers will see how the first couple’s glorified public appearance was orchestrated to a “dangerous degree,” according to the director.

Showtime says the four-part series (watch an exclusive trailer above) will give an in-depth look into "the lives, careers and legacies of Ronald and Nancy Reagan as defining figures of the late 20th Century in America."

“The Reagans were masters at playing roles and spinning myths, because they had been actors,” Trynauer says.

“Those myths have been propagated” — to the worse, in Trynauer's view — “and I think it really set the stage for this country accepting a reality TV star who is totally unqualified to be president as our current president,” he says.

a group of people sitting at a table: Courtesy of the Ronald Reagan Library President Ronald Reagan (left) meets with the press in 1981 © Provided by People Courtesy of the Ronald Reagan Library President Ronald Reagan (left) meets with the press in 1981

RELATED: Republican Governor Casts Write-In Vote for Ronald Reagan in Swipe at Donald Trump

Trynauer says his four-part episodic series will re-examine President Reagan's two terms in office and explore how his path to the White House laid the groundwork for the country’s political future.

“I don’t think that we think of the Reagan Era as shattering norms, but I think it did,” Trynauer says. “I think people will be very surprised to see to what extent it did and hear from people who were present at the time who are willing to admit it.”

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