Just after 12:30 p.m. Central Time on November 22, 1963, whatever shred of innocence America still maintained was lost with the assassination of President John F. Kennedy Jr. That's according to Clint Hill, the Secret Service agent assigned to Jackie Kennedy who rushed to aid her in the instant after the assassination.
Sixty years after the tragedy, it remains an indelible moment in American history like Pearl Harbor and 9/11 that is imprinted on the minds of those who lived through it. And for those who didn't, an onslaught of new documentaries marking the 60th anniversary seeks to reexamine all the implications of Kennedy's life and death.
National Geographic returns to its One Day in America docuseries franchise with the three-part JFK: One Day in America (now streaming on Disney+ and Hulu). This new installment, which follows the Emmy-winning 9/11: One Day in America, goes minute-by-minute on the day of the assassination to talk with those who were present as a means of chronicling how the otherwise mundane re-election campaign stop became an unfortunate chapter in history books. The series was made in partnership with The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza in Dallas, and features interviews with people like Hill, who are among the last surviving eyewitnesses of the assassination. Hill's testimony is emotional to say the least, having been the closest to the Kennedys when shots rang out.
The History Channel, meanwhile, is going even grander in its commemoration with an eight-part documentary series, Kennedy, which charts the future president's life from birth to meteoric rise to tragic infamy. The comprehensive series, narrated by the reassuring cadence of Peter Coyote and featuring talking heads like longtime John F. Kennedy Library Foundation board member Conan O'Brien (yes, that one!), goes deep on the Kennedys and the man who rose from a family of nine to be a generation-defining political star. All episodes of the series will air on The History Channel at 8 p.m. across three nights — Nov. 18, 19, and 20.
But what, specifically, does each of the series actually offer the casual history lover? No JFK binge is the same and fortunately neither are these docuseries. So here is a guide to what series to watch for all interests.
If you find that you don't know much about John F. Kennedy's upbringing as the second of nine children, The History Channel's Kennedy is the place to start. The series spends much of its first episodes scaling the Kennedy family tree to understand the future politician's early years, from nearly fatal health issues (he was so ill as an infant he received last rites) to his adolescence as a gangly party boy and eventual military man. It also places him in the context of his father's own political career working for Franklin Delano Roosevelt's administration. While the Kennedys have a reputation as a silver-spoon brood, their history is a bit more complicated, as "Kennedy" aims to illustrate.
In hindsight, much of Kennedy's life gets overshadowed by its untimely end. But one key focus of The History Channel's Kennedy is the path he takes to the White House. Charting his military career during World War II (which claimed his older brother Joe Jr.) to his rise through the political system in Congress, the series populates the picture of a man many people think they know through the highlight reels of his life. Kennedy staked his career and his name on seismic issues like advancing civil rights and the space race. Many laughed at his progressive ideals, and even more clung to them because they were the first time someone fought for their future.
One of the most famous American love stories certainly gets its due in History Channel's Kennedy, spending time with John and Jackie as they go from young political couple to global icons. Getting to know the pair as they came together and even as they became strained by life and loss is an invaluable piece to understanding the two people who got into the backseat of that Lincoln Continental limo in Dallas. Kennedy's deep dive into the relationship is excellent, but JFK: One Day in America also provides some fascinating insight into how the pair interacted with each other on the day of the assassination.
Did you know Jackie didn't initially involve herself in her husband's campaign activities on November 22, 1963? It was her first campaign event since the death of their infant son Patrick in August 1963, and she hadn't planned on attending the morning's campaign breakfast at the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce. But after the president sensed the crowd's hunger for even a sight of Jackie, he beckoned and she answered to ravenous applause. It would be the first time she appeared in the now-famous raspberry Chanel outfit. JFK: One Day In America trusts that its audience knows the couple's history to fully grasp the weight of that morning, which would be one of their final moments. Speaking of…
This is where JFK: One Day in America really stands out. By design, Kennedy is interested in the man. But JFK: One Day in America is interested in the moment. Starting off with some brisk table setting, the series gets right into the day's events in Dallas on November 22, 1963. The aforementioned breakfast. The hysteria over Jackie's initial absence. The motorcade right through Dallas. The shots heard through history. In almost painstaking detail, the series walks viewers through a day and night that felt like it would never end, as the world grappled with their shock and Dallas engaged in a manhunt. With voices like the surviving Secret Service agents and the garbled audio of the Kennedys as they first settled into the ill-fated car ride, the detail with which the series takes viewers through the tension-building trip through Dallas and everything that followed will likely be a chilling watch any year, let alone an anniversary.
Kennedy covers the assassination as well, but naturally it comes as the final chapter to the story it is telling. Even as the youngest president ever elected, Kennedy lived a long career that was cut down in what some argue was its prime, as illustrated in the series' eighth and final episode.
The final chapter of Kennedy's life can't be told without the inclusion of Lee Harvey Oswald, the man charged with shooting him. A significant portion of the second and third episodes of JFK:One Day in America focus on the man behind the trigger. In a way, it is Oswald's story moving into the wee hours of November 23, 1963, when his swift arrest led to the Dallas Police holding a remarkable press conference after midnight with the murder suspect and the media. As Bill Mercer, a former news anchor featured in the series, says, "Can you imagine doing that today with a person arrested for murder?"
The series also shows footage of Jack Ruby, the local nightclub owner lurking in the hallways of the police station the night of the press conference. Ruby shot and killed Oswald in that very building the next day.
Perhaps even more persistent than the infamy of the JFK assassination is the proliferation of conspiracy theories surrounding it. Neither Kennedy nor JFK: One Day in America pay much mind to the decades of talk that he was killed by the mafia, the Soviet Union, or even his own government for being too progressive. If viewers want more of that, they should watch director Oliver Stone's JFK Revisited: Through the Looking Glass from 2021. Stone directed the Oscar-nominated 1991 film JFK, which chronicles the conspiracy theories that ran rampant after the assassination. The film, narrated by Whoopi Goldberg and Donald Sutherland, disputes parts of the investigation following Kennedy's assassination, including Oswald's involvement.
Even director Rob Reiner and journalist Soledad O'Brien are leading a new charge to ask the question, "Who Killed JFK?," a 10-part podcast being produced through iHeartRadio. With 60 years of time and reckoning, America still has questions about what happened on November 22, 1963.
JFK: One Day in America is now streaming on Disney+ and Hulu.
Kennedy airs on The History Channel at 8 p.m. across three nights – Nov. 18, 19 and 20.
JFK Revisited: Through the Looking Glass is now streaming on Paramount+.