Kennedy mini-series draws fire even before filming

By A. James Memmott

February 18, 2010 at 11:10am

In military terms, it would be a preemptive strike.

A yet-to-be filmed History channel mini-series on John F. Kennedy is under attack from historians and former Kennedy associates.

As reported by The New York Times, the critics contend that “The Kennedys” is historically inaccurate. They also argue that the series is inappropriate in its emphasis on the former president’s sex life.

The series is being developed by Joel Surnow, the creator of the television series “24″ and a conservative who has long prided himself on being politically out-of-step with the rest of Hollywood.

When the series was announced in December, Surnow argued that it is not an attack upon Kennedy.

He noted that Stephen Kronish, the screenwriter, is a liberal Democrat. And he also stressed that the project emphasizes Kennedy’s personal relationships rather his political decisions.

“This is a family story,” Surnow told the Times in December.

Maybe so, but documentary filmmaker Robert Greenwald contends that Surnow and Kronish have neglected key moments of the Kennedy presidency in favor of telling a sleazy story.

Greenwald concluded this after reading copies of the eight-part series’ script given to him by friends.

To make his case against the series, he created Stop Kennedy Smears, an online video and petition that opposes the History channel’s decision to air the series.

The video features Theodore C. Sorensen, a former Kennedy adviser, and several historians, including Nigel Hamilton, a Kennedy biographer.

In the video, Sorensen calls the screenplay a “one-sided right-wing script.” He goes on to say that “every single” conversation between him and Kennedy depicted in the script “never happened.”

Hamilton worries that schoolchildren will assume the series is accurate because of the channel that’s airing it.

“Why feed this kind of garbage in something called a History channel?” he asks in the video.

Kronish, the screenwriter, told the Times that the scripts are not completed but that he has based them on published accounts that he assumes are factual. He did allow that some details were changed for the sake of drama.

The controversy over the series is fueled in part by Surnow’s reputation as an outspoken supporter of conservative causes.

A graduate of UCLA’s film school, Surnow, 55, got his break in 1984 when he became a writer on the television show, “Miami Vice.” Later, he was the supervising producer for “The Equalizer,” another television series.

He worked on the Emmy-winning “24″ for seven years before leaving in 2008.

In a 2007 profile of Surnow in The New Yorker, Jane Mayer chronicles the debate over the depiction of torture in “24.”

Opponents contended that the show was a tacit endorsement of the Bush administration’s use of torture in interrogations. Supporters said that torture was basically a plot device.

“Torture? It’s just a television show! Get a grip,” said conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh, a Surnow friend.

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