Dueling Versions of What Happened to “The Kennedys”

KENNEDYS-articleLarge There is now a debate over the debate over the Kennedy legacy.

Ever since History channel dropped “The Kennedys,” the prevailing wisdom has been that, despite the cable channel’s explanation, the real reason was that Caroline Kennedy pressured ABC, which then pressured corporate half-sibling A&E, into dropping it. Kennedy had leverage: a book deal with Disney imprint Hyperion that was based on interviews her mother gave to historian Arthur Schlesinger in 1964.

The New York Post today elaborated on how it all went down, going so far as to charge that Kennedy “blackmailed” ABC into exterting pressure to drop the project.

But the New York Times on Tuesday has a different take, one right in line with History’s explanation for dropping the project at the last minute. Two prominent historians, Steven Gillon and Robert Dallek, were brought in after concerns were raised about the project’s historical accuracy last year, based on a leaked early draft of a script. Scenes were cut, but not enough for Gillon and Dallek to say that it meant the channel’s standards. History’s governing board voted to pull the plug.

Dave Itzkoff writes that “people familiar with the discussions of the History board say that when it convened at the end of 2010, its unease about the accuracy of “The Kennedys” was more than sufficient to turn it against the project.”

As I have written before, what is interesting is how many Kennedy projects surfaced in the 1980s and 90s, some with questionable accuracy, but generated little attention from principals. Depending on where it lands in the U.S., if it does at all, the controversy surely will help it.

Disney co-owns A&E, but they have experience at political hot button projects. In 2006, “Path to 9/11” stirred up past Clinton administration officials, who criticized its portrayal of their response (or non response) to terrorism. ABC ran the miniseries, but with last-minute edits, a disclaimer and without commercials.

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