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Los Angeles Documentary and the Production of Public History, 1958-1977$
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Joshua Glick

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780520293700

Published to California Scholarship Online: September 2018

DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520293700.001.0001

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Roots/Routes of American Identity

Roots/Routes of American Identity

(p.153) 6 Roots/Routes of American Identity
Los Angeles Documentary and the Production of Public History, 1958-1977

Joshua Glick

University of California Press

Bicentennial events in Los Angeles spoke to black mayor Tom Bradley’s plan for shaping the city into a business-friendly, multicultural metropolis—a plan that would reach fruition in the next decade. This chapter looks at Wolper Productions’s principal role as architect of a patriotic culture of national commemoration. Without a cinematic record of early American history, the studio turned to “docudrama” as the solution to a narrative problem of documentary historiography. Combining the form and style of period fiction with the truth-telling charge of documentary, docudramas such as Sandburg’s Lincoln (1974) and I Will Fight No More Forever (1975) were a novel kind of prestige programming. Docudrama could command high ratings and claim the pedagogical intent of educating viewers. Wolper Productions made network series and specials on American Indians, African Americans, and eighteenth- and nineteenth-century political leaders, which culminated with the studio’s twelve-part miniseries Roots (1977).

Keywords:   prestige programming, docudrama, miniseries, commemoration, Roots

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