For those of you new to planet Earth, Surnow’s the Executive Producer of “The Kennedys,” a $30 million, eight-part miniseries that just completed a successful cable run on the Reelz Channel. It starred Hollywood heavyweights Greg Kinnear, Barry Pepper, Tom Wilkinson, and Katie Holmes and was originally set to air on the History Channel, until a last minute decision was made by the parent company’s board (Hearst, ABC Disney, NBC Universal) that the series didn’t meet History Channel’s standards.
Here in an excerpt from the interview.No one bought that excuse for a second because at the center of this political storm sat Surnow, one of the rare, openly conservative players in Hollywood.
BH: Did the same people who said, “This script is approved. Go ahead and shoot it,” are they the same ones who later turned around and said, “We don’t want to air it. It’s not right for our network”? Is that a fair representation?
JS: No. The History executives and historians were the ones who approved the script. The ones that said we don’t want to air it were the people above History – the corporate board.
BH: So the board had never approved the script, but the History executives had?
JS: The board doesn’t get involved in stuff like that. That wouldn’t be a function of the board. However, having said that, I’m sure that History felt a great deal of pressure to ensure the board what they were putting on the air was historically accurate.
BH: Certainly. Especially with the level of scrutiny you were under. And and I agree that’s a good process and probably makes for better storytelling, and you mentioned that one thing you had to prove to a historian was that a gun was part of the White House decoration.
JS: That was when we were shooting, that was the dailies. There was a rifle on the Oval Office wall, and [the historians] were microscopically looking at dailies. They saw [the firearm] and said, “We don’t want JFK sitting in front of a rifle – it’s sending the wrong message.” And then we had to dig into the pile to find the photographs to find JFK sitting in front of a rifle.
BH: So they were scrutinizing dailies, as well?
Go read the whole thing its a fascinating read.JS: Absolutely. They not only approved the script, they approved the shows – the cuts of the show.