8 Things You Didn’t Know About ‘Roots’

ROOTS, (key art), 1977
Everett Collection

When the word “miniseries” is mentioned, at or near the top of famous titles that come to the minds of many people of a certain age (and maybe even some younger folks) is 1977’s Roots, based on Alex Haley’s bestselling work of “faction.” Airing on ABC over eight consecutive nights in January of that year, it featured an incredible cast of established, recent and soon-to-be stars as it unfolded a gripping, often-tragic story that needed to be told (and heard).

While Roots is one of those far-reaching classics where a person might know a lot about it even without having seen it, there are several fascinating elements behind its production and its impact that even those who have watched and enjoyed it may not have been aware of. Here are eight of them:

Had many Emmy nominations

Scenes from the 70th Emmy Awards Governors Ball and 2018 Creative Arts Governors Ball press preview at L.A. Live Event Deck on September 6, 2018 in Los Angeles, California

Roots was the first show of any type to receive at least 20 major Emmy nominations, and the first to be nominated for every Emmy acting category. Adding in the Creative Arts Emmy nods it received, Roots earned 37 total nominations, which is still a record among limited series. It ended up winning nine.


ROOTS: THE NEXT GENERATION, seated from left: Beah Richards, Stefan Crutchfield, Ticker Thompson, standing from left: Stan Shaw, Debbi Morgan, Kristoff St. John, Dorian Harewood, Irene Cara, 1979,

ABC/courtesy Everett Collection

The seven-part sequel miniseries Roots: The Next Generations aired on ABC from Feb. 18-24, 1979, and traced the lives of Kunta Kinte’s descendants from 1882-1967. As such, the only actors who reprised their roles from the original series were Georg Stanford Brown as Tom Harvey and Lynne Moody as Irene Harvey.

Baby Kunta Kinte was a singer

Tajh Abdul-Samad, who portrayed baby Kunta Kinte, grew up to form the successful 1980s group The Boys with his two older brothers and his younger brother. The Boys had two No. 1 hits on the U.S. Hot R&B chart in the late ’80s — “Dial My Heart” and “Lucky Charm” — and they hit No. 1 on that chart again in 1990 with “Crazy.” Known as Suns of Light since 1999, the group is still together, though they have not released an album since their third one in 1992.

More sequels

ROOTS: THE GIFT, Levar Burton, Louis Gossett Jr., 1988

Everett Collection

LeVar Burton and Louis Gossett Jr. reprised their respective roles as Kunta Kinte and Fiddler in the 1988 TV movie Roots: The Gift, which aired Dec. 11, 1988, on ABC. The film’s story took place between the events of the second and third episodes of Roots and was set during Christmastime 1775.

Sandy Duncan was ashamed

ROOTS, Sandy Duncan, 1977

Everett Collection

While she earned an Emmy nomination for portraying Missy Anne Reynolds, a slaveowner, star Sandy Duncan did not realize how villainous her character would end up being when she first read for the part. In fact, Duncan was so turned off that, in a 2016 interview with Today, she revealed that she still had not been able to watch the miniseries.

Started some careers

ROOTS, third from left: Todd Bridges, 1977.

Everett Collection

A couple of young future sitcom stars had early appearances in Roots: Todd Bridges, who would costar in Diff’rent Strokes beginning later the following year, appeared as Bud Harvey; Tracey Gold, who would costar in Growing Pains starting in 1985, played the young version of Duncan’s character, Missy Anne Reynolds.

Biggest mini-series

ROOTS, Levar Burton, 1977.

Everett Collection

On the list of the all-time most-watched broadcasts in U.S. television history, the final episode of Roots that aired Jan. 30, 1977, is tied with the 1983 TV movie The Day After at No. 17. Excluding Super Bowls and news coverage, and just factoring in primetime scripted programming, those titles are tied at No. 2 behind the 1983 final episode of M*A*S*H.

Almost shut down Vegas

ROOTS, John Amos, Leslie Uggams, 1977.

Warner Bros Television/Courtesy Everett Collection

No one knew just how popular and huge a cultural phenomenon Roots was going to be. Costar John Amos, who earned an Emmy nomination as the older Kunta Kinte, told Mashable in 2016 about how he knew it was reaching large audiences: “When I found out we had just about closed the casinos in Vegas, that’s when it hit home just what kind of impact the show was having. Because nothing stops the casinos in Vegas.”


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