African-American Studies

The Unexpected And Unparalleled Success Of 1977's "Roots"

In 1977, television executives doubted that a miniseries with black protagonists and white villains could net good ratings. They approached advertising for "Roots" cautiously and pessimistically, highlighting the presence of famous white television actors who actually played secondary characters in the program. It's rumored that airing "Roots" on consecutive nights was also a tactic to guard against losses, one that would allow ABC to pull the show before sweeps week started. However, "Roots" was an unprecedented success: about 85% of American homes with televisions tuned in for all or some of the miniseries. In 2016, its finale still holds the record for the second most watched series finale in American history. Not only did the program succeed, but it brought the horrors of slavery and ongoing racial injustices to the forefront of the country's consciousness.

Written by Curiosity Staff February 3, 2016

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