Love the Kennedys and Nobody Gets Hurt
ONE OF THE STRANGEST ELEMENTS about the aftermath of History’s move was that, having said it wouldn’t air the miniseries, it now had to convince another network to do just that. It owned the domestic rights to air The Kennedys, so if it were to recoup anything from its investment, it would have to sell those rights. But selling the rights to a miniseries that you’ve just said isn’t good enough for your network is no easy thing to do.
HBO and Showtime didn’t want it. HBO is working on another Kennedy drama, and besides, it has a long-standing relationship with documentarian Rory Kennedy, having aired several of her films. In any case, nobody wanted to look like they were picking up History’s sloppy seconds.
Almost all the cable channels, it seemed, had relationships either with the networks or with the Kennedys. One channel that didn’t — The Kennedys’ ultimate savior — was a relatively small cable outfit called ReelzChannel. Prior to this whole saga, you’d probably never heard of Reelz. Based in New Mexico, it airs mostly movies and shows about movies, and it’s privately owned by members of the Hubbard family. “We’re an independent network, and we don’t have to worry about corporate boards,” ReelzChannel CEO Stan Hubbard told me. Hubbard says that politics had nothing to do with his decision, but if the Kennedys were worried about politics, they’d just sent the miniseries from the frying pan into the fire: The Hubbard family, including Stan, have a track record of making substantial contributions to conservative Republican political candidates.
On February 1, ReelzChannel announced that it would air The Kennedys. The series premiere delivered 1.9 million viewers, a record for Reelz. And that is another irony: As was the case with American Son, the controversy over Joel Surnow’s miniseries has quite likely made it better known and more sought out than it otherwise would have been.
Nobody can blame the Kennedy family for caring deeply about how its members are portrayed. But shouldn’t they voice their objections in public? Caroline Kennedy could quite easily make the case that she doesn’t think the miniseries depicts her family fairly. It’s not as if she doesn’t have ample access to the media. She could have said that she didn’t think her brother would have wanted me to write a book about him. Why not let the marketplace of ideas go about its business? All these back-room campaigns, these anonymous machinations, suggest a lack of faith in the American public — maybe even in the Kennedy legacy itself. It is elitist in the worst sense of the word, and it winds up inflicting far more damage to the legacy than any book or movie possibly could.