Amerika (TV Mini-Series 1987)

Amerika was an American television miniseries that was broadcast in 1987 on ABC. It starred Kris Kristofferson, Mariel Hemingway, Sam Neill, Robert Urich, and a 17-year-old Lara Flynn Boyle in her first major role. Amerika was about life in the United States after a bloodless takeover by the Soviet Union. Not wanting to depict the actual coup, ABC Entertainment president Brandon Stoddard instead chose to set the action of the miniseries ten years after the event, focusing on the demoralized American people a decade after the Soviet conquest. The intent, he later explained, was to explore the American spirit under such conditions, not to portray the conflict of the Soviet takeover. Described in promotional materials as "the most ambitious American miniseries ever created," Amerika aired for 14½ hours (including commercials) over seven nights, and reportedly cost US$40 million to produce. The program was filmed in Toronto, London, and Hamilton, Ontario, as well as various locations in Nebraska – most notably the small town of Tecumseh and Milford, the setting for most of the action of the series. Donald Wrye was the executive producer, director, and sole writer of Amerika, while composer Basil Poledouris was hired to score the miniseries, ultimately recording (with the Hollywood Symphony Orchestra) eight hours of music – the equivalent of four feature films.

At the time it was telecast, Amerika was the most controversial television event ever broadcast by ABC. The network received more mail and phone calls about Amerika before it was on the air than the total pre- and post-broadcast viewer reaction of any other program in the history of ABC, including the end of the world story, The Day After. The critics of Amerika came from all sides of the political spectrum. The liberals feared the program would antagonize the Kremlin, jeopardize arms control and détente. The right thought the miniseries inadequately portrayed the brutality of the U.S.S.R. The United Nations thought the movie would erode its image.

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Excerpt from the novel Amerika by Brauna E. Pouns from a screenplay by Donald Wrye



In the history of human folly, arrogant fantasies of military supremacy and pathetic illusions of national safety have played a crucial role. The Great Wall of China, the Spanish Armada, the Maginot Line-all were thought to be impregnable. All fell. And with them fell not only governments, but ideals, not only nations, but those unique aspects of the human spirit that were embodied in each conquered civilization.

Through most of the 1980s, the United States of America had regarded itself-and was regarded by the rest of the world-as the mightiest and therefore most secure nation the world had ever seen; it seemed to dawn on no one that those two notions did not neces­sarily go hand in hand. The American defense system represented the perfect combination of American skill and American will, of vast wealth and limitless ingenui­ty applied to the problems of survival for this hardiest of peoples. In fact, the U.S. military had evolved the most sophisticated weaponry and communications net­works ever known to man.

With that sophistication, however, came a vast com­plexity, and with that complexity came danger. The taller a building gets, the more it sways in the wind; the longer a bridge, the less it takes to send the whole span crashing. So it was with the American system of defense. Paradoxically, as the system grew more pow­erful, it grew more fragile; as it took on more and more weight and bulk, it came ever closer to teetering. Some few men and women, both inside the government and out, were aware of this. As in ages past, their voices were not heard.

As these voices of caution were ignored in Washing­ton, however, voices of opportunity were listened to closely in Moscow. In the waning days of the 1980s, the leaders of the Soviet Union, beset by paralyzing eco­nomic woes and growing domestic unrest, had less to lose than to gain by gambling on a massive rearrange­ment of the balance of power in the world. Without warning, on a quiet Tuesday' morning, the Russians took the headiest gamble in the history of warfare by launching a nuclear attack against America.

But this attack was no storybook Armageddon of mushroom clouds bursting over cities, of scalded mil­lions murdered in their homes. This was a new sort of war, conceived in shocking simplicity by Soviet scien­tists. The premise: don't attack targets. Attacking targets, after all, even with nuclear missiles, was essen­tially as primitive as throwing stones. What mattered was not the individual bases and silos, but rather the electronic network that linked them as an effective whole. The key, then, was to attack and disable the communication systems among the targets, thereby crippling the entire system.

High in the stratosphere above America, four enor­mous nuclear devices were detonated. On earth, the explosions were heard only as a low rumble. No one was hurt by the blasts, nor did they generate a danger­ous amount of fallout; no one even felt the concussive power of the bombs. But the explosions were "felt" by every computer circuit, every telephone line, every banking system, and every electrical plant from Maine to San Diego. The detonations created a vast electro­magnetic pulse (EMP) that was like a hundred thou­sand bursts of lightning focused insidiously on America's nervous system. Vast stores of computer memory were instantly erased. The coils of electric generators sizzled and seized. Telephones went dead. The Age of Communications ended in a millisecond, and with it ended America's military, political, and economic hegemony.

The conquest of America, incredibly, had been effected without taking a single life. American missiles stood unharmed in their silos, but could not be acti­vated. Around the world, American forces, their ranks undiminished, were at the ready, but could not be issued orders. In Washington, the American president was given an agonizing and humiliating choice: surren­der and agree to unilateral disarmament, the virtual destruction of the dollar, and the essential end of national sovereignty; or resist, fight back with whatever sundered forces could be mustered, and face certain annihilation.

This choice was not a choice at all for a leader who valued human life. With dizzying, incomprehensible suddenness, the United States of America was under the thrall of the Russians.

With Soviet rule came a dizzying torrent of euphe­misms and double-speak. The conquest-by far the most cataclysmic and humiliating event in all of Ameri­can history-was tamely dubbed "the Transition"-as if the shift from capitalism and freedom to communism and subjugation was indeed an inevitable progression. Thousands of loyal citizens were redefined as "subver­sives" and forced to leave the cities, where, in concen­tration, they could be troublesome to the new authorities. They were called Exiles-and it was true that their homeland had abandoned them. The most committed of the Exiles became Resisters-guerrilla fighters who endured the most crushing hardships and dangers in the name of those values that, only yester­day, had been the norm. Under the system of the conquerors, logic was stood on its head and language itself was recruited into the service of erasing history.

But who were these Soviets who were now America's administrators, overseers, bosses? Oddly, they did not conform at all closely to our hysterical, Cold War images of them. They were not beetle-browed commis­sars, nor were they blustering boors who swilled vodka and spouted rigid ideological platitudes. They were modern men and women-cultured, pragmatic, effi­cient, very often charming, and generally humane. They had humor, they had desires, and they had a vision. Their vision was of a world united and running as a single mechanism according to the precepts of Marx and Lenin. To each according to his need; from each according to his ability.

On its face, the prescription was benign enough. Could any thinking person claim that the rhetoric was less dignified or lofty-or even essentially different-­than the thrilling pronouncements of Jefferson and Lincoln on which the American republic had been based? The Soviets came not to conquer by force, but to win a more total victory by imposing an alternate mythology.

They were offering peace. It was a sort of peace that the great majority of Americans--all those who wanted nothing more from their time on earth than to preserve some fraction of the security and comfort they'd known before-accepted with appalling ease.

It was a sort of peace against which some few Americans-keeping alive the spark of freedom in its armor of defiance-vowed to wage the most intimate and sacred form of battle.

This is the story of three men, each of whom fought for his vision of what the New America might become.

Devin Milford-once a candidate for president, now stigmatized as a criminal-was the defiant one, a man who insisted that the real world of politics and power conform to his ideal of a united America.

Peter Bradford was the pragmatic one, an honest man committed to the principle of compromise and to practical approaches to problems that could not really be solved.

Andrei Denisov was the complex one, the enemy and not the enemy, the KGB colonel who harbored a love for America that the Americans themselves had lost.

Most important, this is the story of a people searching for their noblest selves under circumstances that had long been feared, but never truly imagined.

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