1977 | United States

Based on the novel by Alex Haley, Roots chronicled the 100-year history of a black family, from capture in Africa by slave-traders to eventual emancipation in post Civil War America. 

The series picked up the action around 1750 with the capture of Kunta Kinte (LeVar Burton), and followed him on his journey to the US where he was forced to adopt the new name of Toby (now played by John Amos). Later, his daughter, Kizzy was raped by her white plantation owner and gave birth to a son, who was eventually known as Chicken George. George's son, Tom then fought in the American Civil War before moving to Tennessee to be 'freed'. However, freedom involved very few civil rights, grim poverty and poor education. 

5 years later, Roots: The Next Generationpicked up the story once again, this time around 1880 and continued through to the late 1960's, finishing with Alex (James Earl Jones), a noted writer returning to Africa to discover his roots. The impact that the original series had on the American television audience was nothing short of phenomenal, with over half of the country's population tuning in to the last episode and eventually earning over 30 Emmy Awards. 

Roots was the show that established the consecutive-night mini-series as a staple diet for television viewers for years to come although, initially, TV executives were much more apprehensive about broadcasting the series. ABC programming chief Fred Silverman hoped that by airing the series on consecutive nights should it prove to be a flop it would cut the network's losses--and get Roots off the air before too many viewers had taken notice of it. But take notice of it they did. The series drew rave reviews from black and white critics alike even if some of them suggested that as a version of true history, the series was questionable to say the least, and that most of America watched in order to repent the sins of their ancestors. Even if true, the fact remains that Roots was the most convincingly honest depiction of slavery that had been seen on our TV screens before.

Published on January 25th, 2019. Written by Laurence Marcus for Television Heaven.