Executive Producer Roger Saudek
Inspired by the book by John F. Kennedy
Not many presidents have gotten credit for a TV show. And likely John F. Kennedy is the only one.
Kennedy won a Pulitzer Prize for his Profiles in Courage, a volume of short biographies of eight U.S. Senators who took a stand for doing what was right even though it ruined them politically.* After Kennedy’s death, Roger Saudek, producer of the NBC prestige project, Omnibus, convinced NBC that the book was the perfect basis for a weekly anthology series.
Seven of the eight senators from the book were profiled, as were others who were not senators, but who suffered consequences for their principled stands on important issues.
The actors involved were pretty impressive: Walter Matthau, Rosemary Harris, David McCallum, Wendy Hiller, Peter Lawford, Robert Hooks, Carroll O’Connor, George Grizzard, and many others. The two shows that still stick in my mind was the story of Edmund G. Ross, who prevented Andrew Johnson’s impeachment,** and Woodrow Wilson and his fight to put Louis Brandeis on the Supreme Court as its first Jewish justice.
The show wasn’t just dry history, but didn’t really catch on with audiences. It got an Emmy nomination, but was cancelled after one season.
It’s hard to find examples of the show online, though there are a couple at archive.org. Given its age and the fact that its in black and white, it probably doesn’t have much of a market, but I think the principles of political courage are still important today.
Thanks to Joseph Harder for the suggestion.
*These days, there is some question as whether Kennedy deserves sole credit. It was acknowledge from the start that he worked with Theodore Sorensen. It’s clear that Kennedy chose the subjects and oversaw it, though Sorensen claimed he did most of the actual writing.
**Alas, further historical research indicates that Ross was less interested in the principle as he was the money he was bribed for his vote.