In a surprise move, A&E Television Networks has canceled plans to broadcast The Kennedys, the ambitious and much-anticipated miniseries about the American political family that was set to air this spring on the History channel. “Upon completion of the production of The Kennedys, History has decided not to air the 8-part miniseries on the network,” a rep for the network tells The Hollywood Reporter in a statement. “While the film is produced and acted with the highest quality, after viewing the final product in its totality, we have concluded this dramatic interpretation is not a fit for the History brand.”
The multi-million dollar project—History and Lifetime president and general manager Nancy Dubuc's first scripted miniseries at the network and its most expensive program ever—has been embroiled in controversy since it was announced in December 2009. Developed by Joel Surnow, the conservative co-creator of 24, along with production companies Asylum Entertainment and Muse Entertainment and writer Stephen Kronish, the project drew fire from the political left and some Kennedy historians. Even before cameras rolled, a front-page New York Times story last February included a sharp attack from former John F. Kennedy adviser Theodore Sorensen, who called an early version of the script “vindictive” and “malicious.”
History and parent A&E said at the time that the script had been revised and that the final version had been vetted by experts. Indeed, the script used in production had passed muster with History historians for accuracy. Despite the controversy, History was able to recruit a big-ticket cast to the project, announcing in April that Greg Kinnear (John F. Kennedy), Katie Holmes (Jackie Kennedy), Barry Pepper (Robert F. Kennedy) and Tom Wilkinson (Joe Kennedy) would co-star. The actors and CAA, which reps both Kinnear and Holmes, were told this afternoon of the cancellation. Surnow also was told today. No advertisers had registered complaints or concerns with the miniseries, confirms an A&E spokesperson, but the content was not considered historically accurate enough for the network’s rigorous standards. So an air date, which had not been announced but was planned for spring, was scrapped. “We recognize historical fiction is an important medium for storytelling and commend all the hard work and passion that has gone into the making of the series, but ultimately deem this as the right programming decision for our network,” a rep tells THR in the statement.
The miniseries is still scheduled to air in Canada on March 6, and will still be broadcast internationally.
I, for one, personally want to see this, not because I want to see the Kennedys lambasted, but because I wouldn't be at all surprised if Greg Kinnear and Barry Pepper can pull of the best Jack Kennedy & Bobby Kennedy so far portrayed on film.
This whole thing plays like another version of what went down a few years back when CBS tried to put on a Reagan biopic (except that I've not seen any public protestations, so presumably behind-the-scenes pressure was all that was involved). In that case, the movie was moved from broadcast television to cable; here there's not such an easy out for the producers of the series since it was planned for cable anyway. I hope DirectTV does pick it up; it looks pretty good, and with that level of talent I can't see how it can be terrible. At the worst, it would be an interesting failure.
Known mostly for chat shows such as Hollywood Dailies and such on-air personalities as Leonard Maltin and Richard Roeper, Albuquerque-based Reelz is making its first bet on original scripted programming with The Kennedys.
Hubbard said the plan is to air the first two episodes on April 3 and air the rest on successive nights that week. The Kennedys was scheduled to air in Canada beginning on March 6, but Hubbard said part of his deal is that Reelz gets to world premiere the miniseries, so it is unclear when the program will air in other countries.
EXCLUSIVE: Hollywood Reporter Obtains 'The Kennedys'; What the First Episode Reveals
But the episode differs significantly from an early, racier script that has recently popped up online and was criticized last year by a former JFK aide as “malicious” and “vindictive.” The final version is less sensationalistic and controversial, less concerned with the embarrassing aspects of the Kennedy lifestyle and more focused on moving along a compelling narrative.
THR only has viewed one of the eight hour-long episodes, so the rest of the miniseries could be far more incendiary. But the final version of the first episode suggests that History execs and the miniseries’ creators were telling the truth when they said that the entire project had been vetted by historians before shooting began—which, of course, makes the decision to yank the project all the more puzzling. . . . Hollywood Reporter, January 19
‘Kennedys’ Executive Producer: I Was Blindsided by the Controversy
TORONTO -- Michael Prupas, the Canadian TV producer at the heart of The Kennedys, on Monday recalled being blind-sided by the controversy surrounding the political mini-series.
The first time was in February last year when liberal filmmaker Robert Greenwald launched an online website and petition, stopkennedysmears.com, to get the Katie Holmes and Greg Kinnear-starring eight-part biopic canceled by the U.S. History channel. . . .
If anything, Prupas insists he was taken aback by the criticism from the Kennedy family because, being politically liberal himself, he at one time worked at the right hand of former Canadian Liberal Party leader and prime minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau.
Soon after Trudeau stepped down as Canada’s leader in 1984, the former prime minister joined the legal firm Heenan Blaikie, where Prupas was an entertainment lawyer.
And when he helped Trudeau stick-handle a request from the CBC to do a film about his legendary political career, Prupas saw first-hand how political leaders and their families go to great lengths to preserve their historical legacy. . . . Hollywood Reporter, February 7
‘Kennedys’ miniseries producer Joel Surnow rips Democrats for blocking History network airing
America next month will finally see "The Kennedys," the controversial miniseries about the family story behind President Kennedy. But producer Joel Surnow is still sore at Democratic VIPs who he believes blocked the project from airing on the History cable network.
"I truly believe that this project would have seen the light of day on History Channel if the exact same film had been produced by Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg," said Surnow, a co-creator of the spy caper "24" who is well-known in Hollywood for his conservative views. . . . Los Angeles Times, March 10
'The Kennedys' producer on losing History Channel: 'It felt like discrimination' -- EXCLUSIVE
Didn’t historians vet the miniseries? “History has in-house historian Steve Gillan, who was there from the beginning and he vetted the script at every step at the way. After he was done, they brought in another historian named Robert Dallek who was highly respected and who has written books on the Kennedys. Historical accuracy is not the issue here. It has nothing to do with why this miniseries got canceled. Every script was approved. Every cut was approved. There was never any conversation like `we have a problem with this or that, let’s change it.’ This simply had to do with things other than what was said in the press release. In terms of trying to follow the story of historical accuracy, that’s not where this story lives. This story is about why a miniseries got canceled because of the political bent of some of the people involved. Or in this case one person’s involvement. . . . Entertainment Weekly, March 19
Producer Joel Surnow Says 'Kennedys' Was Nearly Killed Because of His Political Views (Exclusive)
Joel Surnow was in the middle of a tennis game when he first realized The Kennedys might be in serious trouble. It was May 2010, and the Emmy-winning 24 producer was taking a break from preparing his ambitious $30 million miniseries about America’s political dynasty, a lavish production that was to signal both a new chapter in Surnow’s career and a bold move into scripted programming for the History channel. Stung by criticism from Kennedy family allies about a leaked early draft of the script, Surnow and his creative team were collaborating with History’s in-house advisers to ensure that the eight-part piece of historical fiction didn’t skew too far from the facts. But on that May afternoon, less than a month before shooting was scheduled to begin, the tenor of the relationship changed. . . . Hollywood Reporter, March 22
I'm about halfway through [finally!] watching the series on NetFlix, and...well. I like the acting, but I can't find it in me to be too impressed. There's a certain amount of cliche (I don't know that JFK suddenly decided to "speak from the heart" in the middle of a political talk, but I sure as heck know that Willie Stark did, and so did every other politician in every other political movie) and the soundtrack is annoying--neither striking nor invisible, it just manages to force itself onto the consciousness with a kind of dull monotony. I also don't recall being so actively bored by a title sequence in, like, ever.
That said, Kinnear, Pepper and Holmes are very good. And Wilkinson steals the show in the first episode; his relief when he gets news of JFK's rescue is the best thing in the series so far.
I'm about halfway through ... and...well. I like the acting, but I can't find it in me to be too impressed.
That about sums it up.
It's got some memorable moments. And I'd still argue that it's the best cast of the Kennedys that exists so far on film. Each of the actors have a few scenes that they just knock out of the park.
But, and it's still hard to explain, there is just something wrong with the script. I don't even think it's a partisan demystification of the family - both Jack and Bobby are heroes by the end. That's not the problem. But it suffers (maybe from the same sort of thing that too many other biopics suffer from, The Iron Lady as another recent example) from a sort of contrived melodrama. If you are telling the story of JFK, you don't need to contrive anything. His life is already dramatic and fascinating and interesting and moving enough as it really was. Shallow speculation over how much JFK was trying to overcompensate for his big-brother's shadow is as boring and uninteresting as speculation over how far Margaret Thatcher's Alzheimer's disease took her in her last years. Sometimes it's as if the script writers just don't give a damn about history in spite of the fact that history is something to be loved.
But, and it's still hard to explain, there is just something wrong with the script. I don't even think it's a partisan demystification of the family - both Jack and Bobby are heroes by the end. That's not the problem.
Oh, not at all. It would probably be a better series if it were a partisan takedown.
But it suffers (maybe from the same sort of thing that too many other biopics suffer from, The Iron Lady as another recent example) from a sort of contrived melodrama. If you are telling the story of JFK, you don't need to contrive anything. His life is already dramatic and fascinating and interesting and moving enough as it really was. Shallow speculation over how much JFK was trying to overcompensate for his big-brother's shadow is as boring and uninteresting as speculation over how far Margaret Thatcher's Alzheimer's disease took her in her last years.
"Contrived melodrama"--yes. But a contrived melodrama could be entertaining if done right. This strikes me as more like contrived dull melodrama. And none of the melodrama really illuminates the characters at all. Everything skates by so quickly--Joe comes out and is JOE KENNEDY, Jackie comes out and is JACKIE, Jack is JFK (first reluctant, and then determined, and then angsty over the Bay of Pigs fiasco, etc etc etc). It's "The Holy Family" Vidal wrote about--frozen forever exactly as we expect them to be. And it's not just the Kennedys. J. Edgar Hoover (admittedly a real-life bad guy anyway) is so cartoonishly stock that I'm surprised he wasn't twirling a mustache. The characters hit the mandatory notes, deliver the expected character-beats, and then move on. They're less like living characters and more like gods.
That's it--this is so far from being a take-down piece that I might even (at this point) suspect it of being a hagiography. The family drama is, at this point, as much a part of the Camelot mythology as, well, Camelot. The truly iconoclastic version would have depicted them as an essentially undramatic family.
Not to say there's not some great moments. The scene where Rose catches Joe with what's-her-face in the second episode is another very good (and actually kind of interesting) scene.