An interview with Emmy-winner Mark Herzog, co-executive producer of the CNN documentary series, "The Seventies."
After the critical success and blockbuster ratings of its documentary series, “The Sixties,” what could CNN do for an encore? “The Seventies,” obviously, an eight-part series premiering Thurs. June 11 at 9 p.m. ET.
The same creative team responsible for chronicling the triumphant highs and devastating lows of the 1960s, including executive producers Tom Hanks, Gary Goetzman and Emmy-winner Mark Herzog, turn a similar panoramic eye on the “Me Decade.”
How does one begin to tell the story of a decade? “The Seventies: One Nation Under Change” builds on events set in motion in the turbulent 1960s. “No other time in recent history had there been such monumental change,” observed Herzog in a phone interview with Millionaire Corner. “We wanted to continue the discussion and show that what was started in the 1960s came to fruition, or society had to deal with, in the 1970s.”
The premiere episode, “Television Gets Real,” marks a sea change when television, formerly derided as a “vast wasteland”, began to tackle social and political issues. Future episodes will focus on Watergate and the federal lawsuit to get President Richard Nixon to surrender his audiotapes; the Vietnam War; cults and serial killers, ranging from the Manson Family to Ted Bundy; the battle of the sexes and the rise of the women’s movement; terrorism at home and abroad; and music, spanning rock and disco to New Wave and punk.
As with “The Sixties,” “The Seventies” features a wealth of archival footage and interviews as well as new interviews with witnesses to the period, including Tom Hanks, Dan Rather, Bob Newhart, Valerie Harper, Charles Manson prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi (who passed away this week), John Dean, Pat Buchannan, journalist and author Gay Talese, Billie Jean King, and Neil Sheehan, the New York Times reporter to whom Daniel Ellsberg gave the Pentagon Papers.
As with “The Sixties,” it was a challenging balancing act in attempting to take the full breadth and measure of a decade in eight hours (excluding commercials). “As producers, we sat down and asked ourselves what were the things we wanted to focus on and what we felt the audience really wants to see. One of the things we like to do is not only surprise (viewers) with a subject they probably thought we would not tackle, but surprise with a subject they may think they know everything about.”
An example, he said, is the Watergate scandal that brought down the Nixon presidency. “People feel they know the events of Watergate or understand what Watergate was all about,” Herzog said. “In our episode dealing with the scandal, we tackle why Nixon held off as long as he did (in giving over the tapes) and the whys behind the cover-up (of the break-in at national Democratic campaign headquarters). We like to find those subjects and delve into them.”
Herzog, soon to be 53, is a child of the 70s and has his own distinct memories. “My family was on a trip to Washington D.C. on the actual day the burglars broke into campaign headquarters,” he said. He also recalled “a clear memory” of his sister honoring Vietnam vets by wearing a POW bracelet in the early ‘70s.
He was also a devotee of “Saturday Night Live,” which debuted in 1975. Series such as “The Mary Tyler Moore” and “All in the Family,” he said, were “huge in my world.”
“The Seventies,” as with “The Sixties,” falls under the heading of Event programming, but at the heart of these series, Herzog said, is the creative drive to make history accessible. “We make these because we are lovers of history,” he said. Beyond a core audience of people who came of age during the period, Herzog hopes to reach young people, as the “The Sixties” did, if Twitter was any indication. “I couldn’t believe how many young people were talking about how they loved what they were watching,” he said. “It was very much a young person’s take on it.”
I never thought I would say this, but I’m looking forward to the eighties.
Donald Liebenson writes news and features for Millionaire Corner. He has been published in the Chicago Tribune, The Chicago Sun-Times, The Los Angeles Times, Fiscal Times, Entertainment Weekly, Huffington Post, and other outlets. He has also served as a marketing writer for Chicago-based Questar Entertainment and distributor Baker & Taylor.
A graduate of the University of Southern California, he is married with a college-age son. He also writes extensively about entertainment.