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Jon Cassar Sets the Record Straight About 'The Kennedys'

by Chris Jancelewicz, posted Apr 12th 2011 1:00PM

Jon Cassar, director and producer of seasons 1–7 of '24,' took on a new beast when he wrangled the miniseries 'The Kennedys' onto prime time as director. Inherently contentious and polarizing, documenting the Kennedy family for TV was bound to be a button-pusher and divider of critics. 'The Kennedys' did just that; TV pundits fall on one side of the fence or the other, and viewers either love it or hate it.

AOL Television caught up with Cassar to set the record straight about numerous rumors dogging the production and presentation of 'The Kennedys,' from the allegedly doctored viewer numbers to why the History Channel pulled out at the last minute.

TV Squad: Why 'The Kennedys'? What drove you to this project?
Jon Cassar: My fascination with the Kennedys was part of the reason for my involvement. My father was very into the Kennedys -- so much so that, for a family vacation, we went to Virginia to visit JFK's grave.

There have been many rumors about why the History Channel didn't pick up this series. What's the real story behind that?
We don't really know what the real story is. We know just about as much as everybody else knows. We have one press release, and no other insider information besides that. People have rumored that it's gone up the ladder a bit, into the corporate world, right up to Disney -- again, these are all rumors. No one has proven anything yet. Me, the executive producers ... no one has any idea.

Some people have even gone so far as to say the Kennedys themselves got involved.
They're truly just rumors. I haven't read anything that's proven it, so it's just conjecture.

You can understand how people would naturally go there, though – assume that the Kennedys had a say in this ...
Oh, sure. And the timing was really strange, because we were finished four of the episodes. Not only were they shot, the editing, music, sound effects were all done. It was ready to go. We were halfway through it when they shelved us ... OK, they didn't shelve us, let's get that clear. They didn't say, 'No one's ever going to see this show!' They said, 'It doesn't fit us, we're ready to sell it.' We knew somebody out there would be very attracted to this and buy it, and Reelz [in the U.S.] and History TV [in Canada] did just that.

Is there any sort of message or anything you're trying to convey with this series?
Politically, no. What attracted me to the story was because there was a human side I'd never seen before. You've seen all the TV movies, you've seen all the feature films -- no one ever humanizes these people. Reading this script, right from the beginning, realizing that Jack [Kennedy] was going through the chronic pain that he was going through, and he was still this amazing president -- that was amazing to me. I thought, What a story! You look for this kind of stuff when you're writing a fictional story; in this, you don't have to look for it. It's real, it's there, it's already built in! The Kennedys were unbelievable.

The sternness of Joe Sr., the rivalry between the brothers -- where did you find that stuff out?
It's all documented. Look, two conversations between guys in an office, that's not in a book, but the books can tell you what the people around them at that time were saying. We can base those scenes on that kind of information. If you were a Kennedy, and you came in second, you were punished. It goes to show you the competitive environment these kids were brought up in. At those infamous Kennedy football games? People would get hurt all the time! They played at 100 all the time.

What sort of research process did you and your writers go through?
The main writer, Stephen Kronish, was fascinated with the Kennedys from when he was very young, and supposedly has an unbelievable collection of books on the family. He was our expert right away. From the History Channel point-of-view, they wanted everything double-sourced and triple-sourced. If we found something in one book, they wanted us to find it in one or more other books.

The Kennedys are very polarizing, even at the best of times. Were you anticipating any backlash?
No doubt, it was controversial right from the beginning. The producer, Joel Surnow, is a renowned conservative, so everyone thought it was a slam job. Then Robert Greenwald started his Stop the Kennedys Smears campaign because he thought that exact thing. I really didn't think 'The Kennedys' was going to be as polarizing as it's turned out to be. I think we're already victims of what's happening in America today anyway; nothing happens in America nowadays where one side doesn't go all the way to the left, and one side goes all the way to the right. No one meets in the middle anymore.

We're an exact representation of that -- reviews for 'The Kennedys' are either one side or the other. People say we're the best or the worst. I know we fall somewhere in between.

Did any cast member go above and beyond the call of duty for their role?
They all did, but Barry Pepper did an amazing job. He had an iPod, and everyone thought he was just listening to music, but it was actually full of wall-to-wall Robert Kennedy speeches. He listened to them right up to the point when I said 'Action!' and then he'd just throw it in his pocket and shoot the scene. He did a crazy amount of research and study.

There has allegedly been some discrepancy with the viewer numbers from the premiere (Sunday, April 3 on Reelz). Do you know anything about that?
I saw that. I'm not sure what that is. I don't know anything about that, quite honestly. People estimate what they think they're going to get based on some early projections, and sometimes it's really off, sometimes it isn't. It happens all the time. That's all it was. I don't think anyone was trying to cheat. In fact, we got over 2 million with all the repeats.

What are you up to next?
I'm doing the Spielberg/Fox show 'Terra Nova,' shooting in Australia. It's with all the people I worked with on '24.' Sci-fi, dinosaurs, time travel -- just like 'The Kennedys'!

'The Kennedys' airs on Sunday night at 9PM on History Television in Canada and aired on Reelz in the U.S.

Follow me on Twitter at ChrisJ_AOL.

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Entertaining and worth watching! Better than all the other crap on television.

April 18 2011 at 2:20 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Tommy Zinck

I read an article in the newspaper that an R.C.M.P. officer kicked a paraplegic in the head! So what else will these creeps try to do???The next thing is that you'll probably hear is that they assassinated the Prime Minister.They've done everything else in the book of criminal law, that dirties the law that they stand for.So nothing surprises me,what they'll think of next to screw up of their infamous way of living.Now they go to schools to brain wash kids to become a cop.So you see how they manipulate people, to hide their real image of the disgrace that they've committed in their dirty past.As a matter of fact...One R.C.M.P. bitch took a women in the cells area, and kneed her several times to bring her to the ground. While the rest of them held her to allow her to do this dirty act!!! So is this is what you want your kids to be when they grow up?Be able to break the law ,and try to get away with it?Well...That's is what is going on today folks.You see it on T.V. and also in the news.To you cops out there...THE CAMERAS ARE EVERY WHERE ....MAYBE YOU'LL BE NEXT TO BE CAUGHT!!! (HARPER'S LAW,A POLICE STATE)

April 17 2011 at 7:16 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Tommy Zinck

You know what?You people make me sick...Only a part of you people know the dirt behind the Kennedy clan!! Their father was a bootlegger, who sold liquor during the depression days! Both brothers jumped in the sack with Marilyn Munroe. It was then that she sang Happy Birthday to John Kennedy.Many,many people have claimed that it was the Kennedy's that had Marilyn Monroe murdreed because she knew too much about their personal life,and could discrace their whole family at the snap of her finger.So to get rid of their problem with her,as she called both brothers constantly.It was then, that they devised a scam on how to get her out of the way for good!! So Marilyn's window was opened when the police went there,and that's when the cover up began of her obnoxious death certificate began.The Knnedy's were also involve with top crime syndicates to do dirty work for them.So read your history... Before you can call these creeps heroes of their country because they were not!!! They did more dirty work behind closed doors than you can imagine.The Lord hates murderers!That's why HE got rid of them all because none of them were anygood!!! READ YOUR HISTORY PEOPLE???

April 17 2011 at 6:35 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

The Kennedy's casting was excellant. The show totally changed my opinion of Robert. I viewed Robert as a carpet bagger until I watched the show. It seems from the show he was very smart and a hell of a decent guy. I liked Jack because he was a war hero but as a person he is far the lesser of the two brothers. Great acting on everyones part. The old man was a sleeze bag and got exactly what he deserved.

April 13 2011 at 10:35 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Historically, it was as I remembered. I thought the actors portrayed everyone very well. Watching Joe Kennedy's suffering reminds us of our behavioral consequences. I am sure it was difficult to decide what to include in this mini-series but they highlighted the period well.

April 13 2011 at 10:17 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

I totally enjoyed the series, I thought it was well done and the acting was excellent, including Katie Holmes as Jackie, she portrayed her very well. Greg Kinnear did a great job as JFK. Such a truly tragic story.

April 13 2011 at 10:14 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply


April 13 2011 at 9:55 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

Oh Jack had cronic pain alright until he got to Marilyn Manroe's house!!!

April 13 2011 at 9:39 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
Barry Connelly

Katie Holmes was just lame as Jackie, wooden as my mom say's. Katie just never showed a high end of who was a very brilliant lady...too bad as the rest of the show was fun to watch.

April 13 2011 at 8:38 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

the truth about the Kennedys is that they love to spend OTHER people's money...true politicians! and any father who forces a lobotomy on his daughter because she embarrasses the family? disgusting!

April 13 2011 at 8:14 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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