Saturday, March 28, 2020

BOTNS Investigates: Part 2 on the Facts of Life meets Amerika

Only in the magical world of 1980s television could Australia collide with a Soviet-occupied United States with an assistance from Edna Garrett and her plucky band of Eastland alumni! Yesterday we looked at an NBC promo for its original telefilm The Facts of Life Down Under (calling it a "telefilm" gives me way more joy than it should), a spot mocking the competition: night one of ABC's sprawling, much-hyped miniseries Amerika:

I had forgotten all about this event, which starred Kris Kristofferson, Robert Urich, Mariel Hemingway, and many more in a 7-part depiction of America in 1997, 10 years after a Soviet conquering of the nation (just how they did it is unexplained in the movie).  It was a big deal at the time, though.  Before we look more into it, let's address the fact that the great David Letterman made the definitive statement on the TV night of February 15, 1987 with the piece that leads off this clip:

Amerika did indeed beat The Facts of Life Down Under in the ratings on Sunday night, but as the night went on, it wasn't exactly dominant and even got beat by NBC's Thursday night lineup. Ratings went down as the event progressed, and it was not a flop, but was nowhere near the success its massive budget and hype would have led ABC to envision.

As ABC's special Viewpoint town hall-type show with Ted Koppel shows, the program drew controversy and criticism, and if it seems quaint now that a TV miniseries should draw such debate, remember this was 1987 and the Cold War was still a strong presence in everyday life. One noted US/Soviet "expert," Ted Turner, was disgusted by what he saw (a little bit) and ripped it on ABC. His own TBS announced it would offer an "alternative viewpoint" in its programming the week of Amerika.

According to the 1987 UPI article linked above, Turner thought the movie was "redneck" and was peeved by the notion of any kind of occupation of either superpower by the other.

One of my favorite contemporary clips reporting on the controversy is this CNN bit reporting on Chrysler chairman Lee Iacocca's move to pull ads from the broadcast because the programming is too intense and not conducive to selling automobiles:

Amazing info from Wikipedia: ABC instigated the miniseries in part in response to an op-ed piece by Ben Stein (yes, that one) in the wake of The Day After. Stein suggested ABC make a movie dramatizing the threat of the Soviet Union by showing the effect of an occupation on the American people.

This is all pretty heavy! I think I'm ready for another look at The Facts of Life Down Under:

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