In a revealing Question and Answer exchange on March 24 with Dave Itzkoff of the New York Times, both the producer and the writer of “The Kennedys” vigorously countered charges that the project had strayed from the historical record.
The controversial miniseries about the famous political family was dropped by the History Channel in January amid reports that members of the Kennedys had tried to halt it. ReelzChannel, another cable network, picked up the series and will run it starting April 3.
In the interview, producer Joel Surnow and writer Stephen Kronish–both veterans of the popular television show “24”–explore the usual flash points that arise in any artistic endeavor that seeks to recreate history, particular of events still relatively recent: Political and ideological leanings of the creators; the use of composite characters and imagined dialogue; the compression and rearrangement of time to accommodate the demands of the mythic structure an audience subconsciously expects.
Kronish rejects the notion that a liberal should not be allowed to write about conservative icons, and vice versa.
Both Kronish and Surnow agree that biopics by necessity have to use some reconstruction for gaps in the historical annals. But they insist that the scenes created for their series had links to documented incidents, even if the exact words used and reactions of the participants were not recorded verbatim.
Surnow denies the History Channel’s assertion that the “dramatic interpretation” of the miniseries ultimately delivered “is not a fit for the History brand.” He said that all eight scripts for the series were approved by the historian hired by the network to consult on the project.
The Itzkoff interview with Surnow and Kronish is sobering reading for any historical novelist or screenwriter who hopes to recreate an event from American history that is still charged with political overtones.