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'Kennedys' creators says nominations a vindication

Ten Emmy nominations offered sweet vindication to makers of "The Kennedys," the miniseries that was abruptly dropped last winter by the History channel before eventually being aired on the little-known ReelzChannel network.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Ten Emmy nominations offered sweet vindication to makers of "The Kennedys," the miniseries that was abruptly dropped last winter by the History channel before eventually being aired on the little-known ReelzChannel network.

"It's a big vindication. Huge," said Joel Surnow, producer of the eight-part series that aired in the U.S. this spring.

Surnow said he believed industry insiders who vote on Emmy nominations were sending a message on artistic freedom with the nominations, "in conjunction with the fact that they actually think the show is good."

Along with a nomination for best TV movie or miniseries, three stars of the production were singled out for their work: Greg Kinnear, who played President John F. Kennedy, and Barry Pepper, who portrayed Robert Kennedy, were both nominated for best actor; Tom Wilkinson, who portrayed family patriarch Joseph Kennedy, received a supporting actor nomination.

History made the series, which also starred Katie Holmes as the first lady, and it was the cable network's most expensive production ever. But in January, the network said after seeing the completed work that it was "not a fit."

Even before it was finished, Kennedy family loyalists complained about alleged historical inaccuracies and tried to get it shut down. They were nervous about the participation of Surnow, a political conservative. Also, an executive at one of History's parent companies, Walt Disney Co., has been on the board of an organization started by Kennedy's late sister, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, and Hyperion, a Disney-owned publisher, is putting out a book in the fall based on interviews given by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.

Stan Hubbard, CEO of ReelzChannel, said he was "thrilled" that the people who made the movie had their work validated by their peers.

"I don't know if it was anyone out there trying to send a message, but I think it would have been a hard thing to vote for if this were an abomination of history or Kennedy-bashing in any way," he said.

Between 2 million and 2.5 million people saw each episode of the series. Because of the exposure, Hubbard said ReelzChannel has doubled the size of the audience it gets on a regular basis since before "The Kennedys" aired.

"Had this been on a broadcast network, it would have had 20 million viewers a night," Hubbard said. "It was that good and it was that compelling."

ReelzChannel has the contractual freedom to rerun the series and is planning to air "The Kennedys" again in November. Hubbard said his team will talk about moving that rerun up closer to the Emmys, which will be telecast Sept. 18 on Fox.

He said he hopes the Emmy nominations will impress potential advertisers, many of whom were reluctant to buy time when "The Kennedys" initially aired because of the controversy.

The History network, which had seven nominations for its "Gettysburg" special, had no comment Thursday on the good Emmy day for "The Kennedys." Surnow said he had nothing but good things to say about the people at History who helped him develop and make the series, and who he believes had nothing to do with getting the project scuttled.

History can still profit from the film, though, since it owns or jointly owns rights to broadcast it overseas. History also has the right to release a DVD of the miniseries domestically, where it is expected to be out sometime this fall, spokesman Michael Feeney said.

The growth in the number of television shows made in the past decade has also meant a growth in the number of potential Emmy Awards snubs, and several shows and performers were overlooked on Thursday. They include:

—Kyra Sedgwick of TNT's "The Closer." She won the Emmy for best actress in a drama last year and wasn't nominated for the same award this year. The series concludes next year.

—Katey Sagal of FX's "Sons of Anarchy," who has yet to receive an Emmy nomination as best actress. The show itself was shut out, too.

—The New Orleans-based series "Treme" and its memorable music, which didn't get any of HBO's 104 nominations.

—Jeremy Irons of Showtime's "The Borgias."

—Vampires and zombies. Popular supernatural series "True Blood" on HBO and "The Walking Dead" on AMC were shut out of major awards.

—The Emmys themselves. In the category of outstanding special class programs, the Oscar, Golden Globe, Grammy and Tony awards shows were all nominated. The Emmy Awards were not.


AP Television Writer Frazier Moore contributed to this report.