Sunday, April 22, 2018

Profiles in Courage (TV)

Executive Producer
Roger Saudek
Inspired by the book by John F. Kennedy
Starring Various
IMDB Entry

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 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.


Mike Doran said...

- The producer's name was Robert Saudek, not Roger.

- The Profiles In Courage series was proposed, and the deal made with NBC, in early 1963 - while John F. Kennedy was still alive.
Since it was generally acknowledged that JFK was going to run for reelection in '64, part of the deal was that the series would not go on the air until after the election.
After JFK's assassination, NBC held to the deal, and Profiles premiered on November 8, 1964.
The figures who weren't in the book were all personally approved by JFK before his death;
an on-screen message appeared after each of those episodes, verifying this fact.
I know all of this because I've got a "collector's" DVD set of the whole series, which is a prized possession of mine.

Mike Doran said...

Back again, with something I forgot to mention yesterday:

It was my understanding that the produces of Profiles In Courage only intended to do one season's worth of episodes - twenty-six shows in all.
Recalling that John Kennedy was in on the conception of the series (see above), and that he approved the additional 'profilees', there was some question as to how involved he would have been with any subsequent follow-up seasons; had he been re-elected in '64, such involvement might have been proscribed by his Presidential duties.
When Kennedy was assassinated, there was some talk at NBC about dropping Profiles ..., but the Kennedy family insisted on going ahead as planned.

You may recall that each episode ended with a quote from the book, spoken by John F. Kennedy (who recorded it just before his death):

"These stories of past courage can teach, they can offer hope, they can provide inspiration.
But they cannot supply courage itself.
For this, each man must look into his own soul."

That's from the DVD set; I took it down just to make sure.