The Kennedys yanked by the "History" Channel: 'not a fit for the History brand'! (Plus, they've got several episodes of Pawn Stars already in the vault.)

After all the sturm und drang last winter about the alleged historical inaccuracies of the “History” Channel’s planned miniseries The Kennedys because of the political sympathies of the creators, the “History” Channel itself has pulled the plug on the show (via The Daily Beast.)  The Hollywood Reporter says that a network rep released a statement that “upon completion of the production of The Kennedys, History has decided not to air the 8-part miniseries on the network. . . . 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.” 

Developed by Joel Surnow, the conservative co-creator of 24, along with production companies Asylum Entertainment and Muse Entertainment and writer Stephen Kronish, the project drew fire from the political left and some Kennedy historians. Even before cameras rolled, a front-page New York Times story last February included a sharp attack from former John F. Kennedy adviser Theodore Sorenson, who called an early version of the script “vindictive” and “malicious.”
History and parent A&E said at the time that the script had been revised and that the final version had been vetted by experts. Indeed, the script used in production had passed muster with History historians for accuracy.

“History historians?”  WTF?  How bad does it have to be to not be fit to share the same channel as Ice Road Truckers?

Anyhoo–lest you think this was some rinky-dink production with actors you’ve never heard of in bad Kennedy wigs and bad Kennedy accents, let me tell you that you couldn’t be more wrong.  This was a multi-million dollar production that featured Greg Kinnear, Katie Holmes, and Tom Wilkinson in bad Kennedy wigs and bad Kennedy accents!  You think I’m being unfair?  Check this out:

Now, that’s some seriously low-quality fake Kennedy hair and fake accents. (Is that why “History” nixed it?) Hasn’t everyone figured it out already that only the Kennedys of that generation spoke like “the Kennedys,” and they’re all dead. They had an accent all their own, and no one has ever convincingly faked it.

Fortunately, the show will still air later this winter in Canada and worldwide.  A note to all of my Canadian friends:  please set your DVRs to record it, and I’ll bring the popcorn!  (Go ahead–re-read my post from last winter, in which I predicted the bad accents and the excellent entertainment value in all of that historical incorrectness.  Awesome!!!)

17 thoughts on “The Kennedys yanked by the "History" Channel: 'not a fit for the History brand'! (Plus, they've got several episodes of Pawn Stars already in the vault.)

  1. The last biography of JFK that I read left the impression that he was one sick dude–both physically, and psychologically with respect to his attitude (and actions) toward women. If this show respects these aspects, then it is probably more historically accuracy than the hagiographies that were produced by the likes of Arthur Schlesinger. Anyhoo, I saw somewhere that this series may end up on Showtime, as its predecessor featuring the Reagan family did after it was pulled by CBS because of protests from Reagan fans.


  2. Dr. Koshary: now that you mention it, whoever voices Diamond Joe does the best fake-Kennedy accent I’ve ever heard! (Maybe because the voice actor–Hank Azaria?–is going for over-the-top rather than verisimilitude.)

    I’ll have to take others’ word on the merits of Pawn Stars and Ice Road Truckers. I just saw those titles in the Hollywood Reporter story last night, and had to laugh.

    It’s perfectly fine with me if the “History” Channel wants to provide more entertainment than history. It’s really OK–just drop the pretense that it’s about historical accuracy or responsibility. Either that, or get better “History historians.”


  3. And Jack: no plans yet for Showtime to air the movie, but I’m sure it will be available on NetFlix next fall. And I’ll be first in line to have it in my queue!

    I’m actually partial to the unheroic view of JFK, although I don’t think he was so much psychologically “sick” as he was a wealthy and powerful man of his day. He partook of the traditional prerogatives of men in his position–which to me is unsurprising, but then Americans are loathe to admit that their favorite Presidents were men of their time. (Witness the controversy over acknowledgement of Sally Hemings’s ongoing relationship/connection to Thomas Jefferson.)


  4. Historiann, I am sure Kennedy did “partake of the traditional prerogatives of men in his position”; however, you would not know this from reading Schlesinger or the other “great” historians of the time. And I don’t think that Presidents like Truman or Eisenhower partook of these perogatives. Roosevelt, however, is another story — but in his case, however much it was downplayed, at least folks knew about his physical problems (though not his indiscretions). Kennedy was presented as the picture of health — playing football with his brothers, etc.–and the perfect husband in a perfect family. What sticks in my craw is how fundamentally dishonest the historians of Camelot were. Schlesinger surely was in a position to know what was going on, yet he ignored it.


  5. Schlesinger was a courtier, not a historian, IMHO. I don’t think we’re in danger of ever seeing a historian in that proximity to power for a long time!

    I met him in the early 1990s while a grad student. He was not at all of interest to us as a historian, but rather as a “Camelot” insider. It was right around the time of the 30th anniversary of the Cuban Missle Crisis. As I recall, most of the questions people asked of him were about his proximity to power and what he saw and heard. Like a courtier, he answered our questions without revealing anything we didn’t already know.

    If you want to read some really mean stuff about Schlesinger, read what Gore Vidal has to say about him!


  6. Historiann historians can ably fill the gap where the Company compan-ians leave off. There *was* one stand-up comedian–such as it was–back in that day named Vaughan Meader, whose brief meteoric career as a funnyman was as accidentally brief and meteoric as Camelot itself, and who managed to bring off the “Jack” act pretty well. But as I say, it was back in the day and such as it was, and audience expectations weren’t so high as after SNL came along. I keep looking around the AHA thinking some young guy with the name badge “Schlesinger IV” will be earnestly rushing from event to event, trying to bring the family brand back into the actual history corral.


  7. I’m constantly bemused how much “Art” has disappeared from A&E television. I guess I shouldn’t be, with history being notably absent from History Channel offerings.

    But I’ll make sure to record this travesty and watch it on your behalf, Historiann. (The things I do for my deprived colleagues in the states, eh?)


  8. Re: Vaughn Meader – My parents had the “first family” parody album. My sisters and I would listen to it all the time. It was great for yucks, and my mom thought it was still hilarious, even as she remembered the tragic murders of Jack and Bobby Kennedy.

    I think one of the things that historians of any given era miss is the way both the mythic and comedic dimensions are present and deeply entangled. In social memory, and indeed in historical scholarship, they are separated out (Reagan is another example…) The camelot/Schlessinger and First Family/Meader narratives co-exist. I think that without the Vaughn Meaders, the Schlessingers will become insufferable.

    (I’d go find a suitable reference from Hayden White’s Metahistory… but thats too much work and I have to go finish caulking the kitchen back-splash.)


  9. I have a love/hate relationship with the history channel.

    One hand, there are some really awesome documentaries that they have done over the years that I love. Many productions on the American Revolution, the Civil War, the Jacksonian Era, WWII, French Revolution, etc. etc. I find to be great works. They are both informative and entertaining, but most importantly reachable to both those who already have knowledge on the subject to those who are just learning the material.

    On the other hand, they then go off and do things like History with Aliens (did the Aliens build the pyramids?). Granted, they will spend ten minutes in the end to show you that all the ‘theories’ they discussed are total bullshit but the lay person may come out thinking that this is a legitimate debate and only the government won’t allow the truth to come out.

    As far as the Kennedys go I need to see it first but I like a lot of the actors. I do like ‘warts and treatments’ but I will hope the series is not just over glorifying the warts!


  10. “As far as the Kennedys go I need to see it first but I like a lot of the actors. I do like ‘warts and treatments’ but I will hope the series is not just over glorifying the warts!”

    Sorry, I wrote that in a hurry what I meant to say was:

    “As far as the Kennedys go I need to see the series first, but I like a lot of the actors. I do like ‘warts and all treatments’ but I will hope the series is not just over dramatizing the warts!”


  11. Complete aside:

    _Ice Road Truckers_ has one of the more geographically revealing histories in recent popular culture. It was shown all over the world before it was shown in Canada, where the show takes place, probably because Canadians don’t find it all that remarkable that truckers drive on frozen rivers to deliver goods to the far north. It’s still far more popular in, for example, Brazil, than it is in Canada. But the imagery used on all the advertising (the trucker going down into a frozen lake) is completely misleading, as that’s never actually happened: even in advertising, the History channel is making things far more visually exciting (television-friendly?) than they actually are.

    Anyway, it will be interesting to see if “The Kennedys” is less controversial in Canada because it’s not a Canadian story. Going back to lurking now–and I look forward to the rest of the thread on Anthony Grafton’s piece.


  12. Pingback: Hoarder Barbie, plus some other updates | Historiann

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