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It looks like Roots is making a comeback in the form of a remake. The 12-hour 1977 miniseries earned itself 37 Emmy nominations and 9 wins. History’s plan to remake the series apparently involves trimming it down by a few hours, to an 8-hour adaptation of the original miniseries and the book on which that miniseries was based. Given the resurgence of interest in the history of slavery, as demonstrated through films like Django Unchained, and more recently, 12 Years a Slave, not to mention the ongoing interest in remakes for TV and movies these days, the timing seems about right to tackle this ambitious project and who better to do that than History?
Roots begins by introducing us to Kunta Kinte (LeVar Burton), a teen living in Africa who’s captured and sold to a slave trader, after which he ends up in America. The story follows Kinte’s story and the generations that follow, leading up to the Civil War. In addition to Burton, the cast includes John Amos, Ben Vereen, Louis Gossett, Jr and Vic Morrow.
Deadline says History acquired the rights to the miniseries from Mark Wolper, the son of Roots executive producer David L. Wolper. The channel has also acquired the rights to Roots: The Saga of an American Family, the book that inspired the original miniseries. At this point, Mark Wolper is on board to executive produce and History is about to start talks with writers for the project, which Deadline says will use both the miniseries and the book for its source material.
The original Roots miniseries was a massive ratings hit, and it earned numerous nominations and awards, including the mentioned Emmys, as well as a Golden Globe. Admittedly, I’ve never actually watched all of Roots — it aired before my time — though I’m vaguely familiar enough with the miniseries, as I remember it rerunning when I was a kid (and my father being determined to get every hour of it on tape). Given the acclaim of the original, there might be an argument that the miniseries doesn’t need a remake, as that argument is pretty standard for just about any remake scenario. With that said, History’s decision to revive the story “for a new audience” will likely bring some attention to the original, and that’s not such a bad thing.
As Deadline points out, the series re-ran on BET last December for the miniseries’ 35th anniversary and drew an audience of 4.1 million viewers for the opening two parts. Taking into account the success of Hatfields & McCoys and Vikings, History could be poised for another ratings winner if they promote this project right (and hopefully re-air the original). But that’s thinking a bit far ahead. For now, it sounds like they’re still getting their ducks in a row to get this project produced. It’ll be exciting to see who they cast for this project, if they’ll aim for newcomers or if we’ll be seeing some big names attached for lead or supporting roles.