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Miniseries on Kennedys overcame long odds to score big in Emmy nominations

July 14, 2011 |  3:47 pm


After being discarded like yesterday's trash by the History Channel and avoided like the plague by other networks, the controversial miniseries "The Kennedys" got some vindication Thursday in the form of 10 Emmy nominations.

"The Kennedys," which ended up running on the tiny Reelz Channel, was nominated for best miniseries. Actors Greg Kinnear, Barry Pepper and Tom Wilkinson were also nominated for their portrayals of John, Bobby and Joe Kennedy Sr., respectively.

Reelz, which premiered “The Kennedys” in April, said it would rerun the miniseries in November.

“I was surprised,” said Joel Surnow, executive producer of the eight-hour program. “I frankly didn’t think we’d be recognized for lots of reasons, none of them having to do with the quality of the show.”

A big-budget extravaganza tracing the rise of one of America’s most powerful families, “The Kennedys” was met with heavy resistance before it had even started shooting. Early scripts were criticized by former colleagues of President John F. Kennedy as well as self-appointed guardians of his legacy, and stories citing concerns over the historical accuracy of the program and motivations of the producers started to appear on a regular basis.

In January, as pressure grew on the History Channel, which spent millions on the program, from allies of the Kennedys over whether the miniseries would be fair and accurate, the network jumped ship, saying, “This dramatic interpretation is not a fit for the History brand.”

Surnow, a creator of the Fox hit “24,” was particularly singled out as being unfit to produce “The Kennedys” because he is politically conservative.

“It doesn’t feel good to hire a group of people and put them through the enormous effort of production and go through all we had to go through and have to tell people that, because I’m friends with Roger Ailes and Rush Limbaugh, all their work is not going to be seen,” Surnow said.

After being dropped by History, the producers had to scramble and initially could find no takers. The pay-TV channel Showtime, which several years earlier bought a movie about Ronald and Nancy Reagan that CBS had dropped after backlash from their supporters, took a pass as did several other networks. Ultimately, Reelz, a cable network that primarily carries movies, struck a deal to acquire the rights to the $30-million project.

“None of the big networks that should have had ‘The Kennedys’ would go near it. Being an independent network gave us the freedom to do it,” Reelz Chief Executive Stan E. Hubbard said.

The fears about being associated with “The Kennedys” didn’t end when it finally ran. Hubbard said Reelz had to promote the miniseries to Emmy voters itself after being unable to land a big Hollywood public relations firm to coordinate the campaign.

“They wouldn’t touch this thing,” Hubbard said.

-- Joe Flint


History Channel pulls plug on Kennedy miniseries

Kennedy miniseries sets ratings record for Reelz

Photo: Greg Kinnear as President John F. Kennedy. Credit: Zak Cassar / Kennedys Productions