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A&E says star-studded Kennedy miniseries fails History test

Lisa de Moraes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 8, 2011; C09

PASADENA, CALIF.

It's always such a pity when a media company spends a small fortune to present three of its TV networks' upcoming programs to TV critics at the Winter Press Tour, and then the whole investment gets blown out of the water - in this case, when word got out that the company had pulled its wildly controversial John F. Kennedy miniseries, which features an all-star cast including Greg Kinnear and Tom Cruise's Wife.

So, sadly, critics will quickly forget Heidi Klum's riveting story about putting fake boogers up her nose for her new Lifetime show, "Seriously Funny Kids." Also lost in the shuffle: the thoughts of Hayden Panetierre, star of Lifetime's "The Amanda Knox Story," regarding whether she thinks Knox really did kill her college roommate in 2007. And forget about ever hearing details of how very different "Prison Break" is from A&E's "Breakout Kings," even though both are from some of the same behind-the-camera guys.

That's because word spread about two hours after those presentations concluded that parent company A&E Television Networks had pulled the plug on "The Kennedys" miniseries, having discovered it was "not a fit" for its History Channel, where it was slated to air in the spring.

"Upon completion of the production of 'The Kennedys,' History has decided not to air the eight-part miniseries," the network said in a statement, adding that "while the film is produced and acted with the highest quality, after viewing the final product in its totality, we have concluded this dramatic interpretation is not a fit for the History brand."

News of the cancellation was first reported in the trade paper Hollywood Reporter.

This miniseries had been a boil on A&E's backside since it was first announced just more than a year ago. Sure, it had an incredible cast: Kinnear had agreed to play President John F. Kennedy, Katie Holmes would take on Jackie O., Barry Pepper was signed to play RFK and Tom Wilkinson would play dad Joe Kennedy.

The project hailed from "24's" conservative creator, Joel Surnow, and was much lambasted by Kennedy historians, including former John F. Kennedy adviser Theodore Sorenson, who called the script he'd seen "vindictive" and "malicious." That script was revised, according to the network.

"We recognize historical fiction is an important medium for storytelling, and commend all the hard work and passion that has gone into the making of the series, but ultimately deem this as the right programming decision for our network," the company said in its statement.

The miniseries is still scheduled to air internationally, THR reported. But, it now has no home domestically.

On the bright side, when CBS yanked its controversial miniseries about President Ronald Reagan in 2003 - that time, complaints from conservatives did it in - it finally ran on CBS's premium cable network Showtime.

'Girls' and gamesmanship

Those sly foxes at HBO. At virtually the exact moment Veena Sud was waxing enthusiastic to TV critics at Winter Press Tour 2011 about AMC - home of her new whodunit "The Killing" (based on the popular Danish TV series "Forbrydelsen") - being a network "for every writer in this town, pretty much where you want to be," HBO was e-mailing to the TV critics in the room the news that it had just picked up a new comedy series called "Girls," created by and starring "Tiny Furniture" filmmaker Lena Dunham.

"Girls," the premium cable network said, is a comic look at "the assorted humiliations and rare triumphs of a group of girls in their early 20s."

Dunham wrote and directed the pilot, which she exec-produces with Judd Apatow, among others. Joining Dunham on the cast of "Girls" are Jemima Kirke ("Tiny Furniture"), Allison Williams ("American Dreams"), Adam Driver ("You Don't Know Jack") and Zosia Mamet ("Mad Men").

HBO had no more details.

From 'Jersey' to Joan

The third-season debut of "Jersey Shore" copped MTV's biggest audience ever - 8.4 million viewers - Thursday night.

But there's more. The debut delivered more viewers ages 12 to 34 than any other non-sports program on cable or broadcast for this entire TV season to date.

It's no wonder that the season debut attracted such a gimongous audience. In the episode, a new roommate, Snooki's pal Deena, was introduced; Snooki turned an even more horrifying shade of orange; and Sammi and Jenni took some swings at each other.

How timely, then, that Joan Rivers was asked what she thought of "Jersey Shore" during a Friday Q&A session for her new WE network reality TV series, "Joan & Melissa: Joan Knows Best?" at television's Winter Press Tour 2011.

"I'm still aspirational in my own way - and you'll see this on our new network, RENT," Rivers said, poking fun at Oprah's new Oprah Winfrey Network, called OWN. "I just don't want to watch people that live in trailers. That's reality I don't like."

One critic noted politely that Snooki has already been on Joan's other show, E!'s "Fashion Police."

"And we hope Snooki will come and visit us" on Joan's new show, Joan said. "Are you kidding? We're whores. I can't wait for Snooki to show up at the door."

"We're chasing those numbers," admitted WE President Kim Martin - unusual candor for a network chief.

As news of Oprah's epic Thursday press-tour filibuster continued to spread far and wide, it became the stuff of legend. Joan and her daughter, Melissa, certainly used their Q&A session to hone new Oprah Press Tour material.

"I wish we had started this half an hour earlier, so we could have seen the end" of Oprah's press tour session, Rivers told TV critics the morning after Oprah's appearance had sent them into a Twitter frenzy. Unfortunately, the ordeal was still too fresh for critics to be able to laugh.

And the invitation extended to Snooki - which had come out of a question put to Joan and Melissa as to whether they were fans of reality TV in general. The question also took them to The Oprah Place.

"Oh, yes, I say: 'Read less, watch more TV. Because it pays the bills,' " Melissa quipped.

"Tell them about your grandmother, who said that reading was the devil's work," Joan cackled.

Oprah had regaled critics with stories from her childhood, including her grandmother's having refused to get her a TV because, she said her grandmother had said, it was "the devil's work."

"Yeah, reading was the devil's work - but those people moving in that thing in the box . . . watch that! That's important and that will feed your brain - and your soul," Melissa snarked, also channeling Oprah's endless patter from the OWN presentation.

And when a critic asked Joan how she felt about not being eligible for an Oscar for the documentary "Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, " Joan noted that a British documentary competition had decided the film was not "socially relevant" enough to be considered.

Had she known, Joan explained, "I would have carried a kid with me. . . . I'd go to Angelina Jolie's, get a net, and carry a [poopy] little kid around for a while and it would have meant more. . . . That's our motto, by the way: You Can't. You Can't. You Can't."

One day earlier, Oprah had explained to critics, among countless other things, that she's all about "You Can. You Can. You Can."

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