With heroic disdain for cheap reality shows and tawdry sexcoms, a big television network schedules a dramatic miniseries that takes a critical look at a popular presidency. Rapacious corporate interests intervene, pressuring the network to cancel it. What happens next?
Well, if the popular president is named Reagan, then America's political progressives revolt against censorship, insisting that the marketplace of ideas can't be ravaged by megacorporate leviathans. Another network steps up -- the series airs! The First Amendment triumphs.
But if the popular president is named Kennedy, the story ends differently. Very differently. Suppression of political criticism becomes corporate good citizenship. Other networks sniff that the show just isn't right for them. And progressives triumphantly take to the Internet to brag about their role in ideological repression: ``We Won! Thanks to you The History Channel has canceled The Kennedys miniseries!''
The Kennedysreportedly is harshly critical of the political dynasty, taking a tough look at the way patriarch Joe Kennedy used his bootlegging wealth to buy influence as well as the compulsive womanizing of his presidential son, John. I say ``reportedly'' because we haven't seen it and perhaps never will.
The show -- developed by Joel Surnow, who produced the hit series 24 -- with a heavy-hitter cast led by Katie Holmes and Greg Kinnear was canceled by The History Channel this month before a single one of its eight episodes aired. Not because it was crummy: The History Channel admitted in a statement on the cancellation that ``the film is produced and acted with the highest quality.'' The problem, the network said, was that ``this dramatic interpretation is not a fit for the History brand.
If you're wondering why a TV network would sink $25 million into a show, reviewing scripts and daily shooting for 13 months before deciding that it's ``not a fit,'' let me suggest a couple of reasons.
The History Channel is owned by Arts & Entertainment Television Networks, which, in turn, is owned by the Walt Disney Co., NBC Universal and Hearst. Trade publications have reported that all these entities have been lobbied heavily by the Kennedy family, using both economic pressure and personal connections to get the show killed.
Disney's Hyperion publishing division, for instance, is planning to release a collection of unpublished interviews with Jackie Kennedy. Her daughter, Caroline, is scheduled to edit and promote the book. When Caroline asked Disney for its help in quashing the miniseries, it was pretty clear what would happen to the Jackie book if she didn't get her way.
Meanwhile, Maria Shriver, a niece of JFK, leveraged her personal influence with NBC bosses for whom she long worked as a journalist. Shriver is also a pal of Disney/ABC Television Group President Anne Sweeney, who serves on the boards of directors of both AETN and the Special Olympics, founded by Shriver's mother.
If an interlocking set of personal and corporate interests were working in this way to kill a TV series critical of a conservative political figure, the chattering classes would fry their laptops denouncing it as censorship. That's exactly what they did in 2003 when CBS, facing protests from supporters of Ronald Reagan, killed a miniseries that portrayed the former president as a bumbling, homophobic boob. In the outcry that followed, CBS' corporate cousin Showtime aired the show and was roundly huzzahed for its heroic independence.
Not this time. Barely a peep has been heard on behalf of The Kennedys getting a forum where it can be judged by an audience of people who don't share its name. Other networks have quailed before the family's economic and public-relations clout. Just as The History Channel did, they steer clear of actually criticizing the show on any grounds that could be debated, simply resorting to the vague defense that it doesn't match their ``brand.''
The latest copout came from Showtime, so bold when it came to airing criticism of a conservative, so lickspittle when a liberal is involved. David Nevins, the network's programming boss, said he had seen The Kennedys and wasn't interested, even though it was ``well acted . . . well-made and very watchable.'' The only problem was that ``it didn't really feel Showtime.''
This is a network whose lineup includes a show about a heroic serial killer (Dexter), a heroic drug-dealing soccer mom (Weeds) and, soon, a heroic Hitler and Stalin. Showtime later this year is airing a 10-part ``documentary'' by leftist nutbag Oliver Stone titled Secret History of America. In multiple interviews last year, Stone promised his show would finally do right by Hitler and Stalin, who he complained ``have been vilified pretty thoroughly by history'' because of ``the Jewish domination of the media.'' If that's what feels Showtime, maybe the producers of The Kennedys should count themselves lucky.