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Wednesday, November 6th, 2013




Premieres Monday and Tuesday, November 11th & 12th from 8:00 - 10:00pm on WTVP-HD 47.1.

Senator John F. Kennedy in Boston, 1957.

AMERICAN EXPERIENCE presents JFK, a new four-hour, two-part special premiering in November 2013 in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of the president’s death. Forever enshrined in myth by an assassin’s bullet, John F. Kennedy’s presidency has often defied objective appraisal. This new portrait, part of the Peabody Award-winning AMERICAN EXPERIENCE series, The Presidents, offers a fresh assessment of the man, his accomplishments and his unfulfilled promise. Produced and directed by Susan Bellows, JFK features interviews with Kennedy family members and historians including Robert Dallek, Robert Caro, and Evan Thomas. JFK premieres on AMERICAN EXPERIENCE on Monday and Tuesday, November 11th & 12th from 8:00-10:00pm on WTVP-HD 47.1.

JFK provides a fresh look at an enigmatic man who remains one of the nation’s most beloved and mourned leaders. Beginning with Kennedy’s childhood years as the privileged but sickly second son of one of the wealthiest men in America, the film explores his early political career as a lackluster congressman, his successful run for the U.S. Senate, and the game-changing presidential campaign that made him the youngest elected president in U.S. history. With the benefit of recently opened archives, the film recounts his struggles with life-threatening illnesses and his efforts to keep them hidden from the public. JFK offers new perspectives on his complicated private life, including his relationship with his wife, his close connection to his younger brother, Robert, and his complex bond with his powerful father. It also reevaluates Kennedy’s strengths and weaknesses in the Oval Office as he navigated some of the most explosive events of the 20th century: the disastrous failure at the Bay of Pigs, the urgent demands of an increasingly impatient civil rights movement, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the escalating conflict in Southeast Asia.

JFK is the 17th program in AMERICAN EXPERIENCE ’s The Presidents series, which has won dozens of awards, including Emmys, Peabodys, and duPont-Columbia Journalism Awards. Says Executive Producer Mark Samels, “With our presidential biographies, we strive for a better understanding of the men who have held the office. While we’re interested in the decisions they made, we also want to know why they made them — what in their lives led to a particular worldview? What shaped these men and how did those factors in turn shape our country?”

“John F. Kennedy is an iconic figure in American politics, known for his soaring rhetoric and the youthful energy and glamour he brought to the presidency,” says filmmaker Susan Bellows. “However, he wasn’t a born politician, and he struggled with debilitating health challenges throughout his life. Our film looks at his journey to the Oval Office, the ambition that propelled him there, and how he navigated one of the most pivotal eras in American history.”

JFK, presented by AMERICAN EXPERIENCE, is part of a series of specials airing in November to commemorate the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s death. This collection provides viewers with a comprehensive slate of programs that deliver fresh, unbiased perspectives on a defining historical moment of the 20th century. This programming is part of an ongoing collaboration among PBS documentary, science, news and public affairs programs to bring audiences trustworthy, factual content tied to relevant national conversations.

Complete information on AMERICAN EXPERIENCE’s The Presidents can be found at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/collections/presidents/.


Episode Descriptions

JFK - Part One
Part One follows JFK’s rise to power from his birth to his election as president in 1960 — the youngest man ever to be elected to the office. With illuminating interviews from family members, including sister Jean Kennedy Smith, niece Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, historian Robert Dallek and author Robert Caro, this episode offers new insight into Kennedy’s early years, from his transformation from a sickly youth to Washington’s most eligible bachelor to the nation’s president.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy is one of nine children born to one of the wealthiest men in America. Unlike his robust siblings, he is haunted by a mysterious illness. Finally diagnosed with Addison’s disease, he will spend his life in and out of hospitals and in constant pain.

Jack Kennedy first bursts onto the national stage as a war hero through his courageous rescue of his PT-109 crewmen. When his older brother, Joe Jr., is killed in the line of duty in 1944, the family’s political hopes shift to Jack. Despite the odds, he wins his Grandfather Fitzgerald’s old Massachusetts congressional seat. From that point on, Kennedy rises in power and influence, unseating Senator Henry Cabot Lodge in a surprising victory and then put forward as a possible vice presidential candidate in 1956.

His campaign for president is the first to be waged on television, a distinct advantage for the telegenic candidate. Despite his lack of legislative achievements and his Catholicism — which many Americans see as a negative — Kennedy wins the election on the promise that he will stand up to the Soviets and protect American preeminence in the world.


JFK - Part Two
Part Two follows Kennedy into the White House, through his assassination and the unfulfilled promise of his presidency. Offering fresh assessments of the successes and failures of his tenure, this episode features frank appraisals by administration officials, including John Seigenthaler, Thomas Hughes and Harris Wofford, civil rights leaders Andrew Young and Julian Bond, and journalists Evan Thomas and Richard Reeves.

In 1961, the most challenging issue facing the new administration is the spread of communism and continuing Cold War fears. Only a few months into his first term, Kennedy launches the Bay of Pigs invasion, an unmitigated disaster that teaches him a powerful lesson. Nikita Khrushchev proves a stubborn foe, and Kennedy takes a stand against the spread of communism in a country few Americans have ever heard of — Vietnam. Kennedy faces Khrushchev again in the Cuban Missile Crisis, ignited when Soviet warheads are spotted in Cuba. Negotiating his way out of the crisis proves to be one of Kennedy’s finest hours, and he spends the rest of his term working for nuclear disarmament.

Health issues continue to plague the president and pain is a constant companion. Glamorous first lady Jackie captivates the world on her travels, while rumors of the president’s womanizing continue in Washington.

On the domestic front, civil rights prove tricky for the administration, as they rely heavily on the support of Southern Democrats. Forced to intervene when Freedom Riders take direct action in Southern states, the administration sends in federal marshals to ensure their safety. But it is only later, when Governor George Wallace of Alabama refuses to allow African-American students in the state university, that Kennedy brings the issue to the nation, calling for the passage of a civil rights act.

Looking ahead to the next election, Kennedy knows he must win Texas to have a second term. So he takes a fateful trip to Dallas, with Jackie accompanying him on her first domestic trip. It is there that an assassin’s bullet ends his life, forever enshrining him in myth.




About the Participants

Sally Bedell Smith is a journalist and best-selling author whose books include Grace and Power: The Private World of the Kennedy White House.

Julian Bond is the former chairman of the NAACP. He was a founding member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in 1960, and the organization’s communications director from 1961 to 1966.

Robert A. Caro is a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner and author of the four-volume biography series The Years of Lyndon Johnson — The Path to Power, Means of Ascent, Master of the Senate and The Passage of Power.

Robert Dallek is a historian and presidential scholar. He is the author of numerous books, including An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963, and Camelot’s Court Unabridged: Inside the Kennedy White House, to be published by HarperCollins in October 2013.

Michael Dobbs is a journalist specializing in the Cold War and the author of a comprehensive account of the Cuban Missile Crisis, One Minute to Midnight: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and Castro on the Brink of Nuclear War.

Thomas L. Hughes is the former Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence and Research during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. He also served as counsel to Senator Hubert Humphrey from 1955-1959.

Jean Kennedy Smith is John F. Kennedy’s last surviving sibling. A former United States Ambassador to Ireland, Smith is the founder of Very Special Arts (VSA), an internationally recognized nonprofit dedicated to creating a society where those with disabilities can engage with the arts. In 2011, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend is the eldest child of Robert F. and Ethel Kennedy. A former lieutenant governor of Maryland, she is an attorney, author, and serves on the boards of several non-profit institutions.

Tim Naftali is the former director of the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum and author whose books include One Hell of a Gamble: Khrushchev, Castro, and Kennedy, 1958-1964.

David Nasaw is an author, biographer and historian whose works include The Patriarch: The Remarkable Life and Turbulent Times of Joseph P. Kennedy.

Richard Reeves, senior lecturer at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California, is an author and syndicated columnist. His books include President Kennedy: Profile of Power and Portrait of Camelot: A Thousand Days in the Kennedy White House.

John Seigenthaler is a journalist and writer whose political life included serving in the Kennedy administration as an administrative assistant to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy. During the Freedom Rides of 1961, Seigenthaler assumed the role of chief negotiator for the administration.

Evan Thomas is a journalist and best-selling author whose works include Robert Kennedy: His Life. He currently teaches journalism at Princeton University.

Harris Wofford served as John F. Kennedy’s special assistant to the president on civil rights. A former Pennsylvania senator, Wofford is the author of Of Kennedys and Kings: Making Sense of the Sixties.

Andrew Young served as executive director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) from 1964 to 1970, and was a close friend of and advisor to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Since then, Young has served as the mayor of Atlanta, a congressman from Georgia’s fifth congressional district, and United States Ambassador to the United Nations.


About the Filmmakers

Produced and Directed By
Written By
Edited By
Cinematography By
Narrated By
Original Music By


Susan Bellows
Mark Zwonitzer
Jon Neuburger
Glenn Fukushima
Buddy Squires
Allen Moore
Michael Chin
Oliver Platt
Joel Goodman

Susan Bellows (Producer and Director) is an award-winning producer and writer with more than 20 years’ experience producing national programs for public television. Bellows is currently the series producer for AMERICAN EXPERIENCE. Since joining the series seven years ago, she has provided editorial support and guidance to its broadcast and new media work. Previously, Bellows served as senior producer for the Peabody and Emmy-Award winning series Africans in America. Her other producing credits include films for The Great Depression, for which she received an Emmy nomination, and America’s War On Poverty, both productions of Blackside, Inc. Bellows also co-produced New Worlds, New Forms for the WNET-produced series Dancing, an eight-hour landmark series on dance forms around the world.

Mark Zwonitzer (Writer) has created award-winning programming for PBS for nearly 20 years as a writer, director and producer. His most recent work for AMERICAN EXPERIENCE includes Triangle Fire, Robert E. Lee, After the Mayflower and Trail of Tears, part of the We Shall Remain series. Zwonitzer’s previous films for AMERICAN EXPERIENCE include Mount Rushmore, Joe diMaggio: The Hero’s Life, Transcontinental Railroad, The Massie Affair, and Jesse James. He has received the duPont-Columbia Award, the Peabody Award, the Writers Guild Award, the Japan Foundation’s President’s Prize, and an Emmy nomination for Walt Whitman. His book, Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone: The Carter Family & Their Legacy in American Music, was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, and an American Library Association’s Booklist Editor’s Choice.

Mark Samels (Executive Producer) was named executive producer of AMERICAN EXPERIENCE, PBS’ flagship history series, in 2003. Under Samels’ leadership, the series has been honored with nearly every industry award, including the Peabody, Primetime Emmys, the duPont-Columbia Journalism Award, Writers Guild Awards, Oscar nominations, and Sundance Film Festival Audience and Grand Jury Awards. Samels also serves on the Board of Governors at the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. Prior to joining WGBH, Samels worked as an independent documentary filmmaker, an executive producer for several U.S. public television stations, and as a producer for the first co-production between Japanese and American television. A native of Wisconsin, he is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.




For 25 years, AMERICAN EXPERIENCE has been television’s most-watched history series. It has been hailed as “peerless” (Wall Street Journal), “the most consistently enriching program on television” (Chicago Tribune), and “a beacon of intelligence and purpose” (Houston Chronicle). On air and online, the series brings to life the incredible characters and epic stories that have shaped America’s past and present. Acclaimed by viewers and critics alike, AMERICAN EXPERIENCE documentaries have been honored with every major broadcast award, including 30 Emmy Awards, four duPont-Columbia Awards, and 16 George Foster Peabody Awards, one most recently for three films representing the series’ body of work: Freedom Riders, Triangle Fire, and Stonewall Uprising.

Exclusive corporate funding for AMERICAN EXPERIENCE is provided by Liberty Mutual Insurance. Major funding provided by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and Public Television Viewers. AMERICAN EXPERIENCE is produced for PBS by WGBH Boston.




For further information contact Linda Miller, WTVP Vice President of Programming, at (309) 495-0591 or linda.miller@wtvp.org



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