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1983: Herman Wouk's 'The Winds of War' Comes to ABC
February 6, 2021  | By David Bianculli  | 461 comments
With only Roots and The Thorn Birds drawing more viewers, The Winds of War — which debuted on this day in 1983 — ranks in the Nielsen ratings as the third-highest miniseries in TV history — and like those other ABC long-form dramas, eventually spawned a sequel, despite the fact that all three projects were envisioned as one-shot deals. (The sequel, in this case, came about because Winds of War had drawn a Nielsen rating of 38.6, a phenomenally high number.) And, as with Roots: The Next Generations, which had a better cast and better script than the original, the Winds of War sequel, War and Remembrance, was a marked improvement on its more popular predecessor.

The first Winds of War miniseries, based on the Herman Wouk novel, was tagged as a possible long-form TV contender as early as 1970, when the novel was still in galley form, but not until 1983 did it reach the small screen. TV's Winds of War starred Robert Mitchum as Navy Commander Victor "Pug" Henry, John Houseman as Jewish intellectual Aaron Jastrow, and Ali McGraw as Jastrow's niece, Natalie; their personal stories were played against the backdrop of historical events leading to World War II. Yet, after eighteen hours of Winds of War, amazingly little had happened. The "conclusion" showed Mitchum's Henry staring out at the sad aftermath of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor — yet as a war drama, Winds of War had been positively pacifistic. None of the major characters had died, three hours went by before the first shot was fired, and party scenes outnumbered battle scenes by more than five to one. ...

ABC presented War and Remembrance in two major chunks, first in November 1988 and concluding in May 1989. By that time, from the first breeze of Winds of War to the last image of War and Remembrance, the ABC telecast of Wouk's World War II saga had taken six years to present (longer than the war it was dramatizing), consumed forty-seven total hours of TV time, and cost an estimated, unprecedented one-hundred-ten-million dollars. Yet though the quality of the mega-miniseries rose with every massive installment, its ratings declined just as measurably, and by the time War and Remembrance was over, so were the boom years for the TV miniseries.

—Excerpted from Dictionary of Teleliteracy: Television's 500 Biggest Hits, Misses and Events

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