‘The Kennedys’: After the Debate, the Debut

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When the first episode of “The Kennedys,” the costly and controversial mini-series about that American political dynasty, makes its debut on Sunday, a chapter in television history will be closed, but a debate about the balance between accuracy and creative license in historical dramas will be renewed.

Arriving on television shortly after an Oscars race between “The King’s Speech” and “The Social Network,” movies that put their own spin on real-life events, “The Kennedys” employs many of the same narrative devices. In chronicling the presidency of John F. Kennedy, it compresses time, consolidates characters and invents dialogue for moments never recorded by history’s pen.

It also dwells on the sexual appetites of the Kennedy men, the use of prescription drugs by the president and his wife, and Joseph P. Kennedy’s interactions with the Mafia, in ways that, depending on your point of view, expose the flaws of historical figures or besmirch the legacy of an American hero.

That would be complicated enough, even without two additional factors. The producer of “The Kennedys,” Joel Surnow, a co-creator of the Fox action series “24,” is an outspoken conservative. (He says that despite his personal politics, the mini-series depicts the family “in an honest yet really reverential and patriotic light.”)...

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