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After a three-week journey, The Kennedys has found a home.
The controversial miniseries will world premiere on April 3 on the ReelzChannel, The Hollywood Reporter has learned.
Producers of the ambitious project from 24 executive producer Joel Surnow and writer Stephen Kronish have struck a deal with the independent, family-owned cable network to air the 8-part miniseires, which was abruptly yanked from the History channel on January 7 amid pressure from the Kennedys over its depiction of the political family. At the time, History owner A&E Television Networks told THR that “after viewing the final product in its totality, we have concluded this dramatic interpretation is not a fit for the History brand.”
But it is certainly a fit for ReelzChannel, a 4-year old independent cable channel owned by Minnesota-based Hubbard Communications that is available in 60 million homes nationwide on services including DirecTV, Dish Network, AT&T, Time Warner Cable, Comcast and Charter Communications.
Sources say the company stepped up with a big financial commitment for the lavish $30 million miniseries starring Greg Kinnear and Katie Holmes and produced by Asylum Entertainment and Muse Entertainment.
In an interview with THR, ReelzChannel CEO Stan Hubbard would not reveal the pricetag, but he said he hopes the attention surrounding the project will bring new viewers to his network and help it win carriage from such cable systems as Cablevision and Cox, which currently do not carry the channel.
“We think it will drive ratings and put a spotlight on this network that has never been on it before,” Hubbard said. “We’re going to do a full-blown marketing campaign.” Plans are already in the works for in-theater ads, TV spots, online and a print campaign, he added.
Known mostly for chat shows such as Hollywood Dailies and such on-air personalities as Leonard Maltin and Richard Roeper, Albuquerque-based Reelz is making its first bet on original scripted programming with The Kennedys.
Hubbard said the plan is to air the first two episodes on April 3 and air the rest on successive nights that week. The Kennedys was scheduled to air in Canada beginning on March 6, but Hubbard said part of his deal is that Reelz gets to world premiere the miniseries, so it is unclear when the program will air in other countries.
The pickup ends a dramatic, weeks-long saga for The Kennedys, which was dumped by History after being championed by AETN president and CEO Abbe Raven and History and Lifetime president and general manager Nancy Dubuc, who greenlit the project as History’s first effort at scripted programming. But the project drew fire from Kennedy associates from the moment it was announced in December 2009. An early draft of the script was called “vindictive” by a former advisor to John F. Kennedy.
Producers then took the project several networks. Showtime, Starz and FX passed but Showtime CEO Matt Blank, a friend of Hubbard’s, reached out to him after watching the miniseries and liking it but determining that it wasn’t a fit for Showtime. The arrangement with ReelzChannel has been in the works for at least two weeks (a recent blog report suggesting Tribune might nab the project was erroneous), and Hubbard blessed the deal after watching the miniseries last weekend.
AETN is owned by a consortium including NBC Universal, the Walt Disney Co. and Hearst Communications, whose executives were lobbied to kill the project in the weeks leading up to the Jan. 7 announcement, according to THR sources.
Hubbard said he pounced on the opportunity to pick up the project.
“One of the benefits of being an independent network is that you can be an independent voice and you don’t have to worry about corporate pressure or political pressure,” Hubbard said. “This is a project that deserves to be seen.”
Muse and Asylum said in a joint statement: “The producers of The Kennedys welcome the news that American audiences will have the opportunity to view our highly anticipated series starting April 3.
“In creating the dramatization of the Kennedy family story, which involved compressing time lines and creating dialogues, we meticulously researched all story and visual points and made sure they were supported by multiple respected and objective sources. We accurately and authentically recreated each of the events that occurred. Anyone who watches the show will agree that the Kennedy family emerges from our treatment as a legendary American Family, who made an enormous contribution to the world and to their country, but were beset by epic tragedies,” the statement concluded.
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