‘Kennedys’ Executive Producer: I Was Blindsided by the Controversy

Courtesy of The History Channel
"The Kennedys"

Michael Prupas, the Canadian TV producer at the heart of miniseries, still doesn't know why History canceled the controversial political biopic.

TORONTO -- Michael Prupas, the Canadian TV producer at the heart of The Kennedys, on Monday recalled being blind-sided by the controversy surrounding the political mini-series.

The first time was in February last year when liberal filmmaker Robert Greenwald launched an online website and petition, stopkennedysmears.com, to get the Katie Holmes and Greg Kinnear-starring eight-part biopic canceled by the U.S. History channel.

“Part of the problem was there was a portion of the script that got leaked by someone that was copying an early version. And they decided to come after us. They tried to paint us as doing a salacious depiction of the Kennedy presidency,” Prupas said of the Greenwald-led campaign.

Then, on Jan. 6, came a call out of the blue from the History channel indicating the network was yanking The Kennedys and was planning to sell the U.S. rights onto another broadcaster.

“We all had been working quite closely with the people in the [History] network, and we got a sense that this announcement came about as a surprise to them as well,” said Prupas, president and CEO of Montreal-based Muse Entertainment, which co-produced The Kennedys with Asylum Entertainment.

Prupas won’t explain why the History channel canceled the series, and has no direct comment on speculation that hostility from the Kennedy family and its loyalists encouraged the network to axe it.

At the same time, the Muse exec ventures that “securing the notes of a meeting of the board of directors that occurred before the announcement that our program did not fit the History brand, that would be a way to get an answer to the question.”

And while defending the historical authenticity of The Kennedys, Prupas also refutes any suggestion that 24 creator Joel Surnow, known for his conservative leanings, fashioned a vindictive portrayal of the Kennedys when he helped produce the mini-series.

“I think this is completely unfair to Joe. Yes, he has political views. But at no time did we ever consider this as an attempt to destroy the image of the Kennedy family, or the Kennedys. It was about telling a great Shakespearean story. And Joe felt the same way,” the Canadian TV exec said.

If anything, Prupas insists he was taken aback by the criticism from the Kennedy family because, being politically liberal himself, he at one time worked at the right hand of former Canadian Liberal Party leader and prime minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau.

Soon after Trudeau stepped down as Canada’s leader in 1984, the former prime minister joined the legal firm Heenan Blaikie, where Prupas was an entertainment lawyer.

And when he helped Trudeau stick-handle a request from the CBC to do a film about his legendary political career, Prupas saw first-hand how political leaders and their families go to great lengths to preserve their historical legacy.

“When you get involved in this realm of political biography of the recently deceased, or still living-persons, the controversies come to the surface quickly,” he insisted.

“There’s no politician in the world, apart from perhaps some of the kings in the Arabian states, who do not have vociferous and aggressive criticism of the things they did during their careers, and who have fears that the criticism may not be portrayed in the correct way later on,” Prupas added.

The last month for the Muse exec has mostly been taken up helping History shop and eventually secure a sale of The Kennedys to Reelzchannel.

In the end, the History Channel has retained the U.S. DVD rights to The Kennedys in the U.S. market, and still holds the Latin American TV rights.

Prupas insists Muse and Asylum did not suffer financially by the mini-series shifting from History to Reelzchannel. 

“Our contract contains no allegation on the part of anyone that there has been of breach of contract. History is respecting their contractual obligations to us,” he insisted. 

Still, once bitten, twice shy Prupas said he won’t quickly leap into another politically-charged docu-drama anytime soon.

“If I ever got involved in a project with such a highly-political party, perhaps I’d be a little more squeamish, certainly,” he said.