Roots, January 23 – 30, 1977

Written By: Greg Howell - May• 21•18

        Roots is the dramatic television event that truly changed America. Overnight, a national diaglog was created regarding the historical treatment of African Americans, and white America had to face head-on the horrible truth about their past and anecstors.

ABC’s nervousness about the miniseries Roots was solely financial. Suspecting the series would bomb and displace the newly crowned #1 network, ABC rethought the plan to run Roots weekly. All other miniseries, such as successful Rich Man Poor Man series, had run weekly, but ABC decided to run the series for 8 consecutive nights, just prior to the start of February ratings sweeps. Obviously, ABC’s nervousness stemmed from the series’ portrayal of positive, black characters and their heroic survival despite cruelty from white antagonists. The epic miniseries traced the life of enslaved Africans to America, concluding in the post-civil war era.

As Americans tuned into the show in record numbers, each day seemed to bring new light to the plight of civil rights and equality for all. Each day for white America was a time of evaluation, shame, humility, and ultimately, spiritual growth and national healing. Roots was the rare drama that actually changed perspectives.

ABC earned the highest ratings in history at the time, and held the top 8 places in the national ratings Top Ten list. Later in the year, Roots won 30 Emmy Awards. The concluding episode was witnessed by 100 million viewers, and was the highest American television audience of all time. Roots held that distinction for another 6 years, until the final episode of M*A*S*H aired in 1983.

While a few critics dismissed the event as soap opera, Roots aspired to greatness and significance, and it succeeded. The miniseries was based on author Alex Haley’s popular book of the same name. The epic concluded in 1979 with Roots II.

 

Sources:

Museum of Broadcast Communications

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