|Cast of 'Roots' Then and Now|
|By LUCHINA FISHER (@luchina)||Nov 6, 2013, 12:50 PM|
Thirty-six years after "Roots" made history, capturing a record 37 Emmy nominations, as well as the nation, with 100 million viewers for its final episode, the History Channel is remaking the iconic miniseries.
According to Deadline.com, History has purchased rights to the original 12-hour miniseries from Mark Wolper, the son of David Wolper, the producer of the original ABC miniseries, and the estate of author Alex Haley, who wrote the book on which the series was based: "Roots: The Saga of an American Family."
"We would like to revive that cultural icon for a new audience," History's general manager Dirk Hoogstra told Deadline.com.
When the original miniseries first aired for eight nights in January 1977, producers feared it would flop and featured familiar white TV actors in prominent secondary roles and in network previews to assuage white viewers. Instead, it turned out to be a hit, attracting nearly 85 percent of all television households for either part or all of the series. The final episode remains the third most watched telecast of all time.
The original featured an all-star ensemble cast, including Ed Asner, Cicely Tyson, Robert Reed, Lloyd Bridges, George Hamilton, Maya Angelou, Richard Roundtree and even O.J. Simpson. It also launched the careers of a young Tracey Gold and a 19-year-old theater student who had never acted on film before, LeVar Burton.
Burton, who played the series' protagonist Kunta Kinte, told New York magazine when rumors of a possible remake first surfaced, "My initial reaction was, 'Why?'"
"But, look, the bottom line for me is if one soul is moved irrevocably toward the side of humanity, then it's worth it," he said.
Click through to see what happened to Burton's career and those of his fellow castmates since the original "Roots" aired.
Burton earned an Emmy for Best Actor in a Drama Series for his first screen role. He reprised the role of Kunta Kinte in the 1988 television film "Roots: The Gift." He later earned 12 Emmy awards as the host and executive producer of "Reading Rainbow," PBS' longest running children's programs. Burton, 56, is also known for his role as Geordi La Forge on "Star Trek: The Next Generation" series and feature films. He's been directing since the 1990s.
Known previously for his work on stage, Louis Gossett Jr. earned an Emmy for his role as Fiddler, the slave who helps Kinte adjust to his new life, and attracted a whole new audience. His first big-screen role as drill instructor Emil Foley in the 1982 film "An Officer and a Gentleman" won him an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, making him only the third African-American actor to win an Oscar. The 77-year-old actor's career has spanned six decades and includes films such as "The Deep," "Jaws 3-D," "Enemy Mine" and the "Iron Eagle" series.
John Amos was already well known to TV audiences for his roles as the weatherman on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and hard-working dad John Evans on the series "Good Times" when he portrayed the older Kinte. Since then, Amos, 73, has starred in a number of television series and films, including "The West Wing," "Two and a Half Men," "Coming to America," "Die Hard 2" and "Madea's Witness Protection."
Broadway performer Ben Vereen wanted the role of Kinte's grandson Chicken George but his agent thought he was wrong for it. "He told me, they are looking for actors, they don't want a song-and-dance man," Vereen told "The View" in February. Vereen later fired his agent after "Roots" producer Stan Margulies walked into one of his shows and told him he wanted Vereen to play Chicken George. Since then, Vereen, 67, who is Usher's godfather, has had a number of screen roles, including the short-lived detective series opposite Jeff Goldblum, "Tenspeed and Brown Shoe," "Star Trek: The Next Generation," where he played Burton's father, and "How I Met Your Mother."
Tony Award-winning singer and actress Leslie Uggams nearly lost the role of Kizzy, Kinte's daughter and Chicken George's mother, after five auditions when the makeup for her screen test was so bad she "looked like a mummy." Uggams, 70, told "The View" in February, "I was in tears." Thanks to some quick thinking by her husband, she got acclaimed makeup artist Stan Winston, who had done Cicely Tyson's makeup for "The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman," and Uggams finally won the role. Following "Roots," the actress made guest appearances on "The Muppet Show" and "Magnum, P.I." and had a recurring role on "All My Children," before returning to Broadway.
Another Broadway veteran, Sandy Duncan, played Missy Anne Reynolds, the daughter of the plantation owners who grows up alongside Kizzy. In one memorable scene, long after Kizzy has been sold away from the plantation and both women are elderly, Duncan denies knowing a "darkie by the name of Kizzy," and Kizzy then spits into Anne's cup of water without her realizing. After Duncan's Emmy nominated role, the 67-year-old actress made several appearances in film and television, most notably as the face of Wheat Thins crackers. In 1987, she took over Valerie Harper's role in "Valerie's Family," which was later retitled "The Hogan Family."
Cuban-American actor Georg Stanford Brown was best known for police drama "The Rookies," when he was cast as Tom Harvey, the son of Chicken George and great-grandson of Kunta Kinte in "Roots." He reprised his role of Tom in the 1979 sequel "Roots: The Next Generations." The 70-year-old actor and ex-husband of "Cagney and Lacey" star Tyne Daly, later co-starred in Showtime series "Linc's" and FX's "Nip/Tuck."