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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