For “24” executive producer Howard Gordon, who’s busy writing TV pilots and has just released a political-thriller novel, “Gideon’s War,” it’s been difficult watching his former colleague, “24” co-creator Joel Surnow, trying to find a new home for his miniseries “The Kennedys.”
“I’m really dismayed by it,” Gordon tells Zap2it, “really dismayed by it.”
Originally set to air on History channel, the lavish, eight-part treatment of the American political dynasty is now a ship at sea with no U.S. port in sight.
Earlier in the month, A&E Television Networks, the parent company of History, announced that it would not air the mini — which stars Greg Kinnear and Katie Holmes as John F. and Jackie Kennedy — in the spring as planned. In a statement, History praised the film’s quality but said, “this dramatic interpretation is not a fit for the History brand.”
After the home of “American Pickers,” “Ice Road Truckers” and “MonsterQuest” rejected his project, Surnow began shopping the miniseries around. So far, Showtime, Starz, FX and DirecTV are among those that have declined to pick it up — despite all the free publicity (and likely audience interest) generated by the controversy.
Reports have circulated that members of the Kennedy clan — including JFK’s daughter, Caroline Kennedy, and former California first lady Maria Shriver — objected to what they perceived as the script’s treatment of the family and put pressure on network bosses to take a pass.
The project has been mired in controversy since being announced in late 2009. Surnow’s right-leaning politics are well-known, and to some, that disqualified him tackling the subject matter.
“I honestly have no idea,” says Gordon when asked about what caused all this. “I assume that the Kennedys did what they could to put the kibosh on it, and that it got some traction.
“I think it feels to me like censorship. But Joel is trying to deal with it — this is my sense — from a business perspective, just get it out there. I don’t think he wants to take it to the media. He just wants to have people see it.
“It’s terrible. It’s really a shame.”
Any writer would not like to think that larger forces can prevent a project from being seen.
“It’s a little maddening,” Gordon says. “It feels like a kind of censorship. I don’t understand it. I need to find out more; it’s terrible.”
Whatever versions of the script people have seen, “The Kennedys” itself is not yet finished. On Jan. 27, director/producer Jon Cassar (“24”) said on Twitter that he was “doing the last ADR session” (ADR involves replacing or adding dialogue for various creative or production reasons).
The Hollywood Reporter has seen the first hour and pronounced it “brisk” and “entertaining.”
Asked if he’s seen “The Kennedys,” Gordon says, “I’ve seen pieces of it, and it looked good; it really did. It’s really unfortunate, really bad.”
This is not the first time a dramatic TV treatment of an American president has run into trouble.
In late 2003, Showtime aired a movie called “The Reagans,” after original broadcaster CBS dropped it, saying at the time that it did not offer “a balanced portrayal of the Reagans for CBS and its audience.”
“The Kennedys” is still scheduled to in March in Canada and later internationally, but as of this writing, does not have an American broadcast home.