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History Network pulls plug on Kennedy miniseries

January 7, 2011 |  8:35 pm

The Kennedys may have no one left serving on Capitol Hill, but the family still has enough clout to keep a miniseries about their political dynasty from airing in the United States.

In a statement, the History Channel said it has decided not air "The Kennedys," an eight-part miniseries about the family that starred Greg Kinnear as President John F. Kennedy, Katie Holmes as his wife Jacqueline "Jackie" Kennedy and Barry Pepper as his brother Bobby Kennedy. 

"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 network said in a statement. 

The History Channel had not set a date for the miniseries to air. It was expected to run later this spring, and is scheduled to premiere in March in Canada.

The concern from both the Kennedy family and their associates about this miniseries from Joel Surnow, a creator of the Fox action show "24," was no secret. Heavy lobbying by the family and friends of the family played a key role in getting the project yanked, people close to the situation said.

People close to the Kennedys got their hands on an early script for the program and immediately blasted it. The late Theodore Sorensen, a senior advisor to President Kennedy, called the draft he saw a "one-sided right-wing script" that was "vindictive" and "malicious" in a short film about the project made by Robert Greenwald, a documentary filmmaker.  Some people even managed to see the first few episodes of the completed program.

Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of the late president, also made an effort to get the project stopped in its tracks. She lobbied Anne Sweeney, a top television executive at Walt Disney Co., one of the three companies that co-owns History Channel. The other two companies that own the network are NBC Universal and Hearst Corp.

Kennedy has ties to both Sweeney and Disney. She has a book deal with Disney's publishing unit Hyperion, which is set to publish a book of previously unreleased interviews with the late Jacqueline Kennedy this fall. Caroline Kennedy is to edit and write the introduction for the book, and is likely to help promote it.

On a more personal level, Sweeney is on the board of the Special Olympics, which was founded by Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the president's sister.

Maria Shriver, the daughter of Eunice Kennedy Shriver, also has connections to NBC Universal, having had a long relationship with the company as a reporter and anchor for NBC News.

Although History Channel has passed on the project, it will air elsewhere around the world and could find a new home in the United States should another television outlet strike a deal with the producers, Aslyum Entertainment and Muse Entertainment.

In a statement, the two companies said, "We are proud of the work all of our talent put into the making of The Kennedys and the painstaking efforts that went into creating a drama that is compelling while rich in historic detail. Although we regret this does not fit into the History Channel’s plans, we are confident that television viewers in the United States will join viewers from around the world in having an opportunity to watch this series in the near future."

History Channel also has sister networks it could run the series on including Lifetime and Lifetime Movie Network. However, it seems that the parent companies of all those channels are looking to move on despite all the money invested in the project.

This is not the first time a political family was able to persuade a network to not run a program. Several years ago, the Reagan family and friends of the former president were instrumental in getting CBS to not carry its movie about his life. It did eventually run on Showtime, the pay cable channel that is in far fewer homes.

-- Joe Flint

 

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