The eight-part series was already complete, and starred Greg Kinnear and Katie Holmes as President John F Kennedy and his wife, Jackie.
But during production, critics, including former Kennedy administration aide, the late Theodore Sorensen, attacked the scripts as inaccurate. The role of producer Joel Surnow, a political conservative, also drew suspicion from fans of the Kennedy family.
“We have concluded this dramatic interpretation is not fit for the History brand,” the network said in a statement.
Liberal filmmaker Robert Greenwald was behind a petition drive to have the series shelved. A website, stopkennedysmears.com, was set up featuring a short film that attacked the mini-series.
Greenwald said more than 50,000 people had signed his petition.
“I’ll never understand why the History Channel let it get as far as it did – they’re intelligent people over there – but we’re pleased that they came to this decision,” he said.
His YouTube film quoted Sorensen, a former adviser to Kennedy who died last October, calling a script he had seen of The Kennedys vindictive and malicious. Sorensen said some scenes in the script depicting him meeting with President Kennedy did not occur.
Greenwald said he had been slipped a copy of the script while the film was at the casting stage. It included a “dramatisation” of some of the scenes, including one where President Kennedy supposedly told his brother Robert about why he needed to have sex with different women.
It’s not clear whether that scene, or indeed others that were depicted, ever made it into the final film.
Messages left with Surnow’s agent and lawyer were not immediately returned.
Greenwald’s website campaign attracted hundreds of comments from both Kennedy supporters and critics.
One post commented: “The History Channel has? become a false irrelevant bit of low budget entertainment filler. They don’t vet the material they put their names on.
History, in its statement, said the decision was made after viewing the series in its totality.
“We recognize historical fiction is an important medium for storytelling and commend a
ll the hard work and passion that has gone into the making of the series, but ultimately deem this as the right programming decision for our network,” History said in a statement.
Spokesman Michael Feeney said there would be no further comment.
History is owned by the A&E Television Network, itself owned jointly by NBC Universal, the Walt Disney Company and the Hearst Corporation.
It’s not clear who made the decision to pull the plug on The Kennedys, given the joint ownership.
A top Disney executive, Disney-ABC Media Networks co-chairwoman Anne Sweeney, is also on the board of directors for the Special Olympics, the organisation started by the late Eunice Kennedy Shriver, President Kennedy’s sister.
Although History is not airing it, The Kennedys is expected to be seen elsewhere around the world. History does not control rights to the film outside of the United States and the company that does, Muse Entertainment, has sold rights to various other networks. It is scheduled to air on 6 March in Canada, for example.
The film would have aired in the US during the 50th anniversary of the start of the Kennedy presidency.
The move is reminiscent of the CBS decision, in 2003, to axe a mini-series based on the life of President Ronald Reagan, which had also attracted political controversy prior to airing. The series was later aired on the Showtime pay cable network.