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Pressure from the Kennedy family played a key role in the History channel’s decision to pull the plug on its controversial miniseries The Kennedys.
As The Hollywood Reporter first reported, the eight-part miniseries, starring Greg Kinnear and Katie Holmes and masterminded by conservative 24 co-creator Joel Surnow, was abruptly yanked from the History schedule Jan. 7 before a planned airdate in the spring. In a statement to THR, a rep for History parent A&E Television Networks said that “after viewing the final product in its totality, we have concluded this dramatic interpretation is not a fit for the History brand.”
None of History’s advertisers or sponsors complained about the miniseries. But behind the scenes, members of the Kennedy family strongly lobbied AETN to kill the project since it was announced in December 2009, according to a source close to the situation. In recent weeks, those efforts intensified.
AETN is owned by a consortium including the Walt Disney Co., NBC Universal and Hearst. The source said that Disney/ABC Television Group topper Anne Sweeney, who serves on the AETN board and is said to hold tremendous sway over its decisions, was personally lobbied by Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of John F. Kennedy and Jackie Kennedy. Caroline Kennedy has a book deal with Disney’s Hyperion publishing division, which announced in April 2010 that it will publish a collection of previously unreleased interviews with the late Jackie Kennedy timed to the 50th anniversary of the first year of JFK’s presidency this fall.
Caroline has agreed to edit the untitled book, write an introduction and to help promote it, including making an appearance on Disney/ABC’s Good Morning America, among other outlets.As part of the promotion for the book, Caroline is expected to reveal some of the 6.5 hours of previously unheard audiotapes of the former First Lady that form the basis of the book.
But that level of cooperation might have been unlikely if History had gone ahead with the Kennedys project, which was championed by AETN president and CEO Abbe Raven and History and Lifetime president and general manager Nancy Dubuc.
Kennedy scion Maria Shriver also has close ties to NBC Universal, where she worked for years as an employee in its news division. She is said to have voiced her displeasure with the project to outgoing NBCU execs Jeff Zucker and Jeff Gaspin. Gaspin serves on the AETN board, as does Scott Sassa for Hearst.
Shriver also is a friend of Sweeney, who serves on the board of the Special Olympics, founded by Shriver’s mother, Eunice Kennedy Shriver. Sweeney and Shriver both attend the same church in the Los Angeles area, and a source said Shriver criticized the Kennedysproject to Sweeney after a leaked early script was attacked in the New York Timesas “vindictive” and “malicious” by a former JFK aide (though the final shooting script is said to have been vetted for accuracy by History’s in-house historians).
A rep for Sweeney referred THR to the AETN statement. AETN declined to comment further.
The Kennedys is still scheduled to be broadcast in Canada on March 6 and will air in foreign countries as well. AETN has allowed producers Asylum Entertainment and Muse Entertainment to shop the miniseries to another U.S. network. Producers have targeted Showtime, which in 2003 broadcast the controversial presidential project The Reagansafter CBS refused to air it.
Showtime topper David Nevins, who worked on 24 when he ran Imagine Television and is close with Surnow, is said to be watching the miniseries this weekend.
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