ABC was terrified of airing Roots, its adaptation of Alex Haley’s 1976 novel Roots: The Saga of an American Family. The novel was an unflinching look at the life and experiences of Kunta Kinte, an 18th century African man sold into slavery, and his eventual descendants. Afraid that audiences would rebuff such a graphic depiction of slavery, ABC executives cast high profile white actors in roles (including Robert Reed from The Brady Bunch and Ed Asner from The Mary Tyler Moore Show) that were expanded on from the novel (which entirely focuses on black individuals) and aired the series on consecutive nights as opposed to weekly, to diminish any financial losses.
Roots premiered to record-breaking ratings and its finale is, to this day, still the third highest rated television episode of all time, and is also the second highest rated TV finale, behind the M*A*S*H finale. Roots became a phenomenon, and created new dialogues between black and white Americans. The series was also critically acclaimed, earning 37 nominations at the Primetime Emmy Awards. Many major figures in the black community lauded the series, including both Maya Angelou and civil rights leader Roger Wilkins, the latter of which said of the series that “the story of Kunta Kinte filled blacks at all levels with great pride and chased the shame.” Roots is the greatest miniseries of all time thanks not only to its popularity and quality, but also to its ineffable position in the American popular culture as a startling, landmark depiction of a horrendous part of human history.

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