Exactly HOW Accurate Must Historical Content Be These Days?

Here's what one media executive said about the decision of A&E's History not to air the miniseries "The Kennedys" : "They say 'it is not a fit for the History brand.' But somehow 'Ice Road Truckers' and 'Pawn Stars' are? Give me a break."

For History, there would seem to be accuracy issues here, especially in light of the channel's name. But that's not really the complete story.

From the point of view of some media buyers, it would seem the overall subject matter of "The Kennedys" is much closer to the network's original brand theme than modern-day big rigs slipping and sliding on roads in Alaska and the northwest regions of North America.

Surely we all know there many versions of historical events. The subjects of "The Kennedys" have had scores of conflicting stories told about them. History (the channel) has every right to dismiss this movie for a number of reasons. Still, TV viewers are savvy that Hollywood movies and content based on real lives can be played fast and loose. So why the controversy over this particular topic?



I haven't seen the movie. If there are legal disputes, if someone's credibility or station in life has been maligned and hurt, that person should have his or her day in court. Maybe legal documents are forthcoming.

"The Social Network," running in movie theaters recently, did have the real-life Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook shaking his head, noting, calmly, that there are many inaccuracies. That said, Zuckerberg didn't go beyond that. He shrugged it off, took it as a Hollywood version of his public self, and even allowed himself to be part of the reality/fictional fun bit of entertainment by showing up during a "Saturday Night Live" episode.

Whatever problems History had with the producers' ultimate product, it did accept how TV content can now be structured. Its statement concerning "The Kennedys" included this: "We recognize historical fiction is an important medium for storytelling..."

Once History said "no" to the show, ReelzChannel moved in, grabbing the rights for the movie. But now those executives say many advertisers are not buying the event -- they've sold only 20% of its inventory so far.

When History had the rights and was planning to air the miniseries, media buying executives said the network did strike a number deals with marketers but that there was no content problem or other concern.

"We were considering buying it, and they told us they had advertisers," one media buyer told TV Watch, adding there never was a concern over the show's content.

All this is backed up by what an A&E representative told The Hollywood Reporter, that in fact there were no advertiser issues concerning the show. But the rep added that "the content was not considered historically accurate enough for the network's rigorous standards."

In the old days racy language and sexy visuals would get you into trouble. Before that, interpretation and accuracy issues could give someone pause. Now it seems admittedly fictional accounts of historical figures can be a concern.

3 comments about "Exactly HOW Accurate Must Historical Content Be These Days? ".
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  1. Thomas Siebert from BENEVOLENT PROPAGANDA, March 17, 2011 at 3:01 p.m.

    While programs like "Ice Truckers" and "Pawn Stars" might not be appropriate for History, there's a big difference between disposable entertainment product like that and allegedly historical drama like "The Kennedys."

    It's true that once-respectable cable networks looking to elevate entertainment and discourse -- like History or A&E -- have become crap while chasing ratings and reality programming. But there's an even further fall when you start programming bullsh!t neocon propaganda to sully a liberal icon on a channel supposedly dedicated to history.

    The Kennedy family story has enough drama and a fascinating balance of good deeds and wicked ones. Enough to fill hundreds of books and thousands of hours of documentary programming. We don't need Greg Kinnear and Mrs. Cruise to turn it into a hyperbolic soap opera for it, and we certainly don't need anything related to the Kennedys that was produced by the guy who made American torture palatable for the masses with "24."


  2. Charles Rosin from Live Dibs, March 17, 2011 at 3:50 p.m.

    Wayne --

    I read you every day and heave learned much from you.
    In the 80's I wrote a lot of mow's for the networks based on/inspired by real events.

    Putting together the annotation of sources was often more difficult than the script itself -- because you needed two credible sources for each point made as well as a time line that corresponds to the way the events really transpired.

    Joel Surnow, the exec producer of the Kennedy project does not have to adhere to the same kind of standards and practices that fueled quality TV movies during the network era. Mr. Surnow, the co-creator of "24", is also a committed conservative activist along the lines of Roger Ailes and Rush Limbaugh, which might be a problem for cable channels if they believe that Mr. Surnow intentionally distorted the facts and the context in which events occurred to score political points.

    I am actually heartened that some gate keeper somewhere still is trying to enforce a set of standards when called for.

    btw, since long time ""24" executive producer Howard Gordan was not involved with the project, my hunch is "The Kennedy's" might not have justified institutional support because on a creative level it just might not be that good.

    Netflicks anybody?

  3. T Y from Freelance Producer / DP, March 17, 2011 at 4:05 p.m.

    Because many television viewers use docudramas like this for their source of history, I think it is important to question why a (reasonably) reputable cable network was planning to run a film that was designed from the start to be a hatchet job on the Kennedys. Also, I would hope that History would not do overtly fluff pieces for either party.

    To answer the original post's title question, I would hope for some basis in historical fact in docudramas more than just character names.

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