Hollywood Flashback: In 1977, 'Roots' Broke Records

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Best lead actor Gossett Jr. kissed supporting actress winner Olivia Cole backstage at the Emmys on Sept. 11, 1977.

The eight-part miniseries adaptation of Alex Haley's novel garnered 37 noms, still a record today, and won nine Emmys at the 29th annual primetime awards.

Oddities abounded at the 29th Primetime Emmys in 1977, from Robert Blake serving as co-host to Lindsay Wagner winning the first — and last — Emmy for The Bionic Woman. The final season of The Mary Tyler Moore Show had a strong showing that night, but nothing could rival ABC’s Roots. The eight-part miniseries adaptation of Alex Haley’s novel — which was watched by 36 million and helped the country confront its legacy of slavery and racial oppression — garnered 37 noms, still a record today, and won nine Emmys. Many of its stars faced off in acting categories:

Accepting his award for outstanding lead actor over castmates John Amos, LeVar Burton and Ben Vereen, Louis Gossett Jr. noted that his own roots “continue from Africa to Georgia, South Carolina and all the way to New York.” Ed Asner, in a controversial turn as a sympathetic slave-ship captain not found in the source material, bested co-stars Moses Gunn, Robert Reed and Ralph Waite. And Olivia Cole beat peers Sandy Duncan and Cicely Tyson for her performance as Mathilda, a devoutly religious slave. The legacy lives on: History’s recent remake drew a robust (for 2016, at least) audience of 5.3 million. It remains to be seen if Emmy will smile upon it again.

This story first appeared in a special Emmy issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

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