CNN breaks new ground with 'The Kennedys'

It is arguably the most famous family in American history. Their relationships have shaped national and global events, from the Cold War to the Wall Street crash. And now CNN Original Films presents a unique, intimate and never-before-seen glimpse into the family dynamic of one of the most powerful families of all time with “American Dynasties: The Kennedys.”

We spoke with Lizzie Fox, vice president – Original Series, CNN, and asked her what it was like to pour through rare archival footage to present a fresh look at a family that we all think we know.

Turner: Lizzie, thanks for taking the time to talk with us. How did ‘The Kennedys’ come about?
Lizzie: This idea came internally. It was a Jeff Zucker initiative, in that he really wanted to do something about the Kennedys. There's a strong fascination with this family, and we thought, what's an original way to cover them?

So, we partnered with Raw TV, which is a production company based out of London, and developed a concept with them. We decided to focus on the family dynamic, hence “American Dynasties: The Kennedys.”

We were looking at moments in history where you might not know what happened behind the closed doors and how the relationships of the family members motivated many historical moments. For instance, and we try to cover certain events in history in a different way, and I think one of the prime examples is when J.F.K. is assassinated. Oftentimes in these documentaries, you see what happens in Dallas. What we've done here is, rather than going through the journey that people have seen before, we cut to Hickory Hill, and the phone call that Bobby Kennedy gets when he was told that his brother had been shot. It’s a really chilling moment in that you're getting a new perspective.

T: So, the goal behind creating this series was to tell the story of the Kennedys in a new, unique way?
LF: I think it was exactly that. I think another huge goal was showing family footage that had either never been seen before or showing it in a different sort of perspective. And I think that Raw and the archivists have done a fantastic job in making it feel like an intimate portrait of the family.

T: Pouring through archival footage sounds absolutely fascinating. What was it like seeing this old footage, some of which has never seen the light of day until now?
LF: It was really exciting and almost chilling. If there's archives for our nonfiction storytelling, the more the better. I think a lot of networks use re-creation in a way that's a little too intentional, and it takes you out of the moment. And we always say, if there are archives, that's what we want to show, because why wouldn't you want to capture that and have it on-screen?

T: Where did all of this rare footage come from? Was it difficult to acquire
LF: That was essentially what Raw, the production company, was tasked with. They searched high and low, and they took a lot of time to delve into and find it. They did a fantastic job.

T: Were there any bumps in the road trying to show the world such a personal view of one of the most famous families in American history?
LF: What’s great about working at CNN, is that you have to stay true to the documentary form. It was never our intention to focus on the salacious stories. We focused on what happened, and because we were able to interview people who had relationships with the Kennedys, they had intimate knowledge to give their account. This documentary is not us making things up or providing color.

T: You’ve worked for some pretty creative places, such as The Sundance Channel and IFC. What is it about CNN Original Series that is unique and exciting?
LF: The department was relatively new when I joined. It almost felt like a startup within a larger company. We knew we had a high bar to meet with our programming, because it had to stand up to what CNN represents, and it had to be attractive to the curious viewer who wants to learn while also being entertained.

And we came along at a time when reality TV was at its pinnacle, and we wanted to offer viewers something else. We wanted to go back to the true form of documentary, both with CNN Series and CNN Films, and show that you don't have to produce moments. You don't have to script scenes to make something entertaining or interesting. You can really just be creative and be a good storyteller, but stay true to documentary. And I think that's what we've done.

T: Can you give us the scoop on some possible future projects from CNN Original Series?
LF: We have a few series with talent from CNN, which I think will be exciting in that people will get to see them in a different light. We have a couple of big swings for next year in the history space that we're really excited about. And we're hoping to expand upon our Decades franchise in a way that I think our viewers will really appreciate.

Learn more about ‘American Dynasties: The Kennedys.’