A year after the publication of the best-selling historical biography "Roots: The Saga of an American Family" by Alex Haley, ABC turned the people and setting of the book into a powerful 12-hour miniseries that has stood the test time for its depiction of the slave experience in the U.S.
Although many parts of Haley's somewhat controversial story about his family have been well-critiqued and discredited by historians and others over the years, the essence of the experience of the African slave trade had rarely if ever been covered outside of a smattering of insultingly silly paragraphs in history textbooks about "happy slaves living and working on the plantation" or the occassional documentaries with archival material and photo stills from the era. Previous Hollywood-style treatments were usually derogatory and/or paternalistic. In essence, the subject was taboo and too painful to tackle.
But tackled it finally was, and in a dramatic fashion that has yet to be repeated on television. And with the help of an all-star cast of many of the most popular film and television stars of the day, America was glued to the tube that week in January to see something that had never been shown before.
Having not watched "Roots" in 15 years (I had seen the original airing while in high school in 1977), I watched it again this past week to develop material for this guide. I am still amazed at its power and how it hasn't dated itself. From a critical standpoint, it was able to carefully weave historical fact in with enough fiction to produce the action, adventure, romance, and the touch of comic relief demanded by television audiences - and does so within the framework of the dramatic themes. The result was 9 Emmy awards among a number of other awards, along with some 85 million viewers.
For those who have never seen it, it is supposed to re-air on cable's TV One the 2nd week of April 2007 as part of the 30th anniversary of its original presentation. And if not seen then, it is definitely worth renting, although setting aside 12 hours might be difficult for some, but is definitely well worth it.