TV: First the Reagans, Now the Kennedys -

TV: First the Reagans, Now the Kennedys


Well, this is some strange news. The History Channel in the U.S. put a lot of money into The Kennedys, an eight-part miniseries that shot in Toronto last year. Now they’ve announced that they won’t air it. And the reason they’re giving — that it’s a “dramatic interpretation” of history and therefore “not a fit for the History brand” — seems to raise more questions than it answers. Like, how can they order a dramatized version of history and then be surprised that it is, in fact, a dramatized version of history?

The series is one of the first big post-24 projects for that show’s creator, Joel Surnow, and it was expected that his politics would influence the way the Kennedys were portrayed. But this isn’t The Reagans, where a major media campaign helped to call negative attention to the project and scare CBS out of airing it; this one was hardly on anyone’s radar, except for a few Kennedy people like the late Ted Sorensen, who criticized the portrayal of his former boss. I heard a few things about the series, but nothing incendiary.

Of course, even though we now know things about him that Vaughn Meader didn’t tell us about, Kennedy is still a genuine cult figure in the U.S., with a following among older liberals that matches the Reagan cult among younger, more conservative Americans. These cults don’t necessarily have much relationship to accomplishment — Lyndon Johnson accomplished the most liberal goals of any U.S. President after FDR, and he’s no cult favourite — but it might explain something. You can make a nasty movie about many political figures — like George W. Bush or Tony Blair or Jimmy Carter — without huge repercussions, but the Kennedys may still be considered sacrosanct.

Since, according to the article, History TV is still scheduled to air the show in Canada on March 6, we’ll get a chance to see for ourselves what in the final version could have spooked the U.S. network out of airing it; I have to admit that for the first time, I’m genuinely interested in seeing it, just to find out what happened.

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TV: First the Reagans, Now the Kennedys

  1. These cults don't necessarily have much relationship to accomplishment

    That may be true of Kennedy, who only served as president for three years, but I can't see how it can be true of Reagan, whose domestic and international accomplishments were seismic in scope.

    I agree that being able to watch the final product will determine the merits of any backlash from the left on this documentary. I never saw the Reagan film, but the perception among conservatives early on was that it was blatant Hollywood lefty attempt to broadcast a laughable caricature of one of the greatest American presidents of the 20th century. Whether or not the final product proved those fears to be true, I really don't know.

  2. I actually saw the Reagan movie, and thought it was soapy, but entertaining, and reasonably true to the facts. Though I will admit that I am A.) old enough to have voted for Reagan, and B.) didn't vote for him, didn't like what he did, and can't believe how sacrosanct he has since become, given how controversial he was in his own time. I can't expect everyone to share my opinion of him, but I know many people did–and I don't believe all those people just changed their minds and came to accept his transcendent greatness.

    For what it's worth, I'm not much of a fan of JFK, either. I agree with the premise that both men have been turned into idols by their most fervent fans, which does not help us see either of them for what they really were, warts and all.

    But I have two other thoughts about this particular news. First, The History Channel has for some time been moving away from actual history programming, in favor of things like "Ice Road Truckers." I wonder if they thought the controversy less worthwhile in the light of this apparent move to re-brand their channel. Second, I wonder if the problem might be partly one of quality. Perhaps, on seeing the finished product, History execs determined that the show was not likely to draw sufficient ratings even with the possible, temporary boost the controversy might bring, and that–again–it just wasn't going to be worth the trouble.

    I'll be interested to see what you have to say after viewing it.

    • Ronald Reagan won two landslide election victories. He won states that are now considered permanently Democratic blue like New York. His approval ratings are still extremely high. Obama supporters try to compare their guy to Reagan, whose domestic and international achievements were significant, to say the least. The idea that his reputation is a matter of revisionism is preposterous. You may not like him. A whole lot of Americans did and still do.

      • That doesn't mean revisionism wasn't at work
        Iran Contra will always cloud his period in charge.

  3. Americans glorify their presidents beyond all recognition. None of them were saints…all of them were human and all of them made mistakes.

    Some of them were ill, mentally or physically.

    I much prefer the Canadian method of treating leaders realistically.

    • Some of them were ill, mentally or physically.

      Yeah, it's not like Canada has had long serving prime ministers who talked to their dead moms via their dogs, is it.

      In fact, Canadians tend to despise their leaders. I don't see how that's something to aspire to.

      • Yes, they were. But we don't glorify them, or pretend they are something they are not, and never were.

        There is no revisionism or beatification.

        • What do you call Pierre Trudeau? Lester Pearson? Mention these names in a Liberal crowd and you're bound to hear an orgasmic scream or three.

          In fact, it's been my observation that the left worships its political leaders. They're always looking for the next messiah, then act like disillusioned cult followers when they end up getting an Obama.

          • No, everyone is aware of both their faults and good points.

            Your observations have always been skewed.

          • After your sycophantic post above you say the left glorifies its leaders?
            Down in the US every single republican nominee invokes the name of Reagan (pbuh), listen to Fox and hear how often his memory is uttered in hushed tones among the faithful.
            Even "W" gets his groupies who insist we won't appreciate him until a decade or so has past then we'll recognise his greatness. And don't forget the cult of Palin.
            All sides have their favourites and all sides have faults, it has been my experience that the left tends to build em up and pull em down, once the right have canonised you, you are off limits.

          • What I said about Reagan was an objective assessment, just as I would describe Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a Democratic lefty, as probably the greatest president of the 20th Century. Reagan would be second.

            Conservatives trash Palin all the time. In fact, I think the left is far more obsessed with her, and threatened by her, too.

  4. Ronald Reagan, like him or no, was a highly polarizing figure now and in his lifetime. This is not a matter of opinion.

    "The Reagans" was actually a very mild brew, but the rightwing noise machine was able to spook CBS.

    The Kennedy situation seems different. There have already been docudramas on the Kennedys that showed them in a less than flattering light. That is nothing new. However, the creator of this show does seem to have had an agenda and it will be interesting to see if Sorenson and the family did have something to be upset about.

    Although there were complaints about this show, there is no left wing noise machine comparable to the righties in the US, so without Caroline and Maria Shriver Schwarzenegger pulling strings this show might well have gone forward on the original channel.

    • Reagan wasn't a polarizing figure. He won 49 of 50 states in his reelection. It's just people like you who don't like him, want to see unflattering movies about him, but want to shield the Kennedys. Thank you.