'The Kennedys' miniseries: Where JFK meets Michael Jackson
Two big new miniseries, 'The Kennedys' and 'The Borgias,' take on historical figures. But in the end, their story lines might tell us more about the present day than they do about history.
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However, the objections to these shows are not as big as say, the fracas that surrounded the 2003 CBS mini-series “The Reagans.” The broadcaster shuffled that one off to its in-house cable network, Showtime, after advertisers bailed. Neither “The Kennedys” nor "The Borgias” has seen advertisers quailing or any equivalent mainstream angst over historical fidelity.Skip to next paragraph
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JFK, Michael Jackson, and painkillers
What may be more interesting about the two series is how they reflect the sensibilities of the present day. President Kennedy is persistently depicted using prescription medications – up to 17 at a time – and even employs a unlicensed medical practitioner to administer regular injections. At one point, the first lady also uses the shadowy “Doctor Feel Good,” to help her get through her busy schedule.
“We just lost Michael Jackson from overuse of prescription painkillers,” she says. “That speaks to our current concern about overprescribing controlled substances,” adding “this generation of college students is more medicated than any in history.”
And of course, the modern sex-abuse scandals inside the Catholic church are still very potent today.
The shows also reflect a media landscape infused with “reality” television, says Matthew Belloni, news director for The Hollywood Reporter. “There is an appetite for seeing unvarnished, real views of historical figures."
This move to ever-edgier content is also part of life in the multichannel universe, says Robert Thompson, founder of the Bleier Center of Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University in New York. “My channel guide currently offers more than 2000 channels,” he notes with a laugh. Off-the-cultural-radar channels such as Reelz must find the show that will make people say, 'Where do I find that channel in my system?' ”