In January, History Channel dropped the $25 million production it had optioned two years earlier, saying in a statement, "After viewing the final product in its totality, we have concluded this dramatic interpretation is not a fit for the History brand."
Showtime, FX and Starz all passed on the eight-part drama before ReelzChannel, an Albuquerque-based digital outlet available in about 60 million homes, picked up the U.S. rights, reportedly for a fraction of the cost. "The Kennedys" will also air in over 30 countries, including on Britain's History Channel, in the coming months.
Much like John F. Kennedy's assassination, conspiracy theories abound for why the series was dropped by History, whose parent company A&E is owned in part by ABC's parent company, Disney. But criticism about its historical accuracy hounded the project long before filming began.
Among the critics is liberal filmmaker Robert Greenwald, who led a campaign called "Stop Kennedy Smears" with several prominent historians and JFK adviser Theodore C. Sorensen.
Before his death in October, Sorensen, who saw a version of the screenplay in 2010, said, "Every single conversation with the president in the Oval Office or elsewhere in which I, according to the script, participated, never happened."
"It wasn't merely stupidity or getting facts wrong," Greenwald told ABCNews.com. "They are in fact making things up from whole cloth."
His biggest objection, he said, is that the drama reduces President Kennedy's driving motives to "power and sex."
Muse Entertainment and Asylum Entertainment, the series' producers, defended "The Kennedys" in a statement earlier this year: "We are proud of the work all of our talent put into the making of 'The Kennedys' and the painstaking efforts that went into creating a drama that is compelling while rich in historic detail."
While most critics have panned the series, calling it "hamfisted," "cheesy" and "shallow," the New York Post critic Linda Stasi praised it as "one of the best, most riveting, historically accurate dramas about a time and place in American history that has ever been done for TV."
Is "The Kennedys" historically accurate or making up the facts? We asked historian David Nasaw, the Arthur Schlesinger Jr. professor of history at the City University of New York, to fact-check a few of the series' scenes.
1. While ambassador to London, Joseph Kennedy Sr., played by British actor Tom Wilkinson, fondles his secretary while dictating a note to President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1938. He suggests that in order to keep the peace in Europe, certain concessions be made to Hitler.
Critic Stasi wrote in her review that the drama rightly portrays Joe's "anti-Semitic, Hitler-apologist stance."
Nasaw, who is currently working on a biography of the Kennedy patriarch, said: "Joe was certainly not a Hitler apologist. He, like everybody else in England and the U.S. in '38, would have preferred to come to some sort of agreement with Hitler rather than go to war."