Love the Kennedys and Nobody Gets Hurt
WITH SPRING FAST APPROACHING, the Kennedy family launched an all-out attempt to derail The Kennedys. While no one has told the full story, I’ve pieced together much of what happened based on several Hollywood Reporter and New York Post articles, plus my own interviews with sources.
According to one source, Gary Ginsberg called several newspaper reporters, talking to them off the record. He claimed to have seen the miniseries and called it a “piece of trash.” Then there’s the story that the literary agent Esther Newberg called Caroline Kennedy’s publisher, Hyperion, in December. Caroline is set to publish what promises to be her biggest book yet: transcripts of interviews her mother granted to Arthur Schlesinger Jr. in 1964. The transcripts come from tapes that would be the basis for a planned one-hour television special on the ABC network, which, like Hyperion, is owned by Disney/ABC — which also has a piece of the History Channel. But Newberg reportedly warned that if History ran its miniseries, Hyperion — and ABC — shouldn’t expect Caroline to do much to publicize her book. (Both Ginsberg and Newberg did not respond to requests for interviews.)
Meanwhile, a source said, executives affiliated with History began getting angry phone calls and e-mails from several members of the Kennedy family, including Bobby’s kids Rory Kennedy and Kerry Kennedy, and Caroline’s husband, Ed Schlossberg. Then came a report that former NBC anchor Maria Shriver expressed her displeasure to NBC Universal’s Jeff Zucker and Jeff Gaspin, who also serves on the board of the Arts & Entertainment Television Networks, the History Channel’s parent company.
According to the Hollywood Reporter, a focal point of the pressure was Anne Sweeney, who is president of Disney/ABC — and who is on the board of the Special Olympics, which was founded by Eunice Kennedy Shriver. Sweeney also goes to the same Los Angeles church as Maria Shriver. Sweeney was the recipient of phone calls from both Caroline Kennedy and Maria Shriver. The gist was that 2011 would mark the 50th anniversary of JFK’s inauguration. Caroline wanted nothing to mar that milestone — and The Kennedys was very much a looming black cloud. If The Kennedys were to air, Newberg reportedly explained, Caroline would not be inclined to help ABC with coverage of either her mother’s taped interviews or remembrances of her father.
On January 7, Surnow got a phone call from History Channel president Nancy Dubuc. Once a big believer in The Kennedys, Dubuc was now bearing bad news: The network would not be airing the series. Surnow told me that Dubuc “didn’t give a reason.” (She declined to be interviewed for this article.)
History released a terse statement saying The Kennedys was “not a fit” for its brand. Then, about two weeks later, the Times’s Dave Itzkoff would publish his report of “an unsuccessful yearlong effort to bring the miniseries in line with the historical record.” Surnow’s frustration was evident when I talked to him. “The story of why they killed it is not true,” he insisted. “That is a lie. It had nothing to do with historical accuracy.” In the same conversation, he said, “I am sure the Kennedy family went as high up the ladder as they could to influence people to do their bidding for them. I think it happened.”