The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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'Kennedys' series nixed: Who says Kennedy family doesn't have as much clout as ever?

January 10, 2011 | 12:27 pm

JFK We don't like to think of America being run by an oligarchy of well-connected, super-rich insiders. It's hard to imagine that if the History Channel were airing a miniseries about Jimmy Hoffa or Barry Bonds that it would have suddenly killed the project after being lobbied by Hoffa's kids or Bonds' lawyers. But when it comes to a miniseries about the political ascent of John F. Kennedy, the History Channel's parent company, A&E Television Networks (AETN), has pulled the plug, saying the project's "dramatic interpretation is not a fit for the History brand."

That's the sacred brand that has offered such weighty fare as "Sex in the Ancient World," "The Bible Code: Predicting Armageddon" and "Pawn Stars."

Of course, if you've been reading the news coverage in our paper ("History Network pulls plug on Kennedy miniseries") and the Hollywood Reporter, which broke the story, you know that AETN isn't telling it like it is. After all, the History Channel's programmers knew exactly where the project was going when they read and approved the scripts last year, which were produced by "24's" Joel Surnow, a prominent political conservative. So it was hardly a suprise that the miniseries took some narrative liberties with the historical record, like about a thousand other miniseries that have been aired over the years. I read the scripts myself, and though they didn't always paint a handsome portrait of the Kennedy family's political manuevering, I could find little evidence of any conservative score-settling.

It looks like the real reason AETN got cold feet was lobbying from Caroline Kennedy, who has a big book deal with Hyperion, a division of Disney, which is a co-owner of AETN. Not to mention another Kennedy family member, Maria Shriver, who has worked for years for NBC News, whose parent company, NBC Universal, is another AETN co-owner. Shriver is also friends with Disney-ABC TV chief Anne Sweeney, who serves on the AETN board. Both Shriver and Caroline Kennedy voiced their displeasure with the project early on.

Though no one has produced a smoking gun, it seems clear that the Kennedy family's influence had a big impact, just as the Reagan family's unhappiness over a TV movie about Ronald Reagan played a significant role in its being yanked from the CBS schedule. It eventually aired on Showtime, which might be a likely stop for the rejected Kennedy miniseries as well. But considering the exceedingly low intellectual IQ of most of the offerings on the History Channel, it's hard not to come to the conclusion that the decision to ax the Kennedy miniseries had a lot more to do with insider clout than good programming judgment. 

-- Patrick Goldstein

Photo: President John F. Kennedy delivers his inaugural address on Jan. 20, 1961, in Washington. Credit: Associated Press

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