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During the peak of popularity for the television mini-series during the 1970s, the epic seemed for a while to become more the property of the small screen than the big. Two of the most popular mini-series also dramatized family stories. Rich Man, Poor Man, based on Irwin Shaw's novel, aired in 1976, and its popularity led television historians Tim Brooks and Earl Marsh to speculate that “if it had not been overshadowed so quickly by Roots, Rich Man, Poor Man would probably be ranked today as the biggest dramatic spectacular in the history of television.” The entire saga runs for 720 minutes and follows the fortunes of two brothers, Rudy (Peter Strauss) and Tom Jordache (Nick Nolte), through their checkered careers. (A television series followed without Nolte, called Rich Man, Poor Man—Book II.) Other stars appearing in the large cast of the original mini-series were Susan Blakely, Edward Asner, Dorothy McGuire, Ray Milland, Kim Darby, Van Johnson, Dorothy Malone, and Andrew Duggan.

The master of all epic mini-series, Roots, based on Alex Haley's novel, aired its first installment on January 23, 1977. This generational saga of the descendants of slave Kunta Kinte (LeVar Burton) begins in 1750 in Gambia, West Africa. The story maps the development of this family tree from Africa to a slave plantation in America to 1820s England and back again to America for the Civil War. At the conclusion, the great-grandson of Kunta Kinte hopes for a better future after the end of slavery. Shown on consecutive evenings, Roots was truly an event, attracting 100 million viewers for its final episode. Appearing in its large cast are Cicely Tyson, Maya Angelou, O.J. Simpson, Moses Gunn, Edward Asner, Ralph Waite, Louis Gossett, Jr., Vic Morrow, Robert Reed, Chuck Connors, Sandy Duncan, Ben Vereen, and Lloyd Bridges.

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