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CNN Takes Viewers Back to 'Me Decade'

CNN’s eight-part series TheSeventies, which chronicles the news, events and cultural developments of that decade, launched on June 11 to nearly 900,000 viewers. The Seventies executive producer Mark Herzog (Killing Lincoln, The Sixties) recently spoke to Multichannel News programming editor R. Thomas Umstead about the appeal of the decade and the series. Herzog, who is already in development with CNN’s The Eighties miniseries, scheduled to debut next year, also opines about the lessons and messages the 70s has for today’s generation of young adults. An edited transcript of the interview follows. 

MCN: Who do you see as the target audience for The Seventies?

Mark Herzog: I want people who lived in the 60s and 70s to enjoy it, but  I certainly want people who were born in the 1980s and 1990s to enjoy it as well. They’ve all heard about the decade from a cultural perspective and they’ve heard about the great television shows. They know about Jimmy Carter but they don’t know why -- unless they explored it -- his presidency was deemed a failure. We go into that in one of our segments.

MCN: Can today’s generation, which is so vastly different in so many ways, identify with the culture and history of the 70s generation?

MH: I want the younger people to experience history in an entertaining way. I want them to feel like they’re experiencing the 1970s and understand why things happened then and, more importantly, ask are they happening again today.  I had a few people come up to me who’ve watched [the series] and our look at Vietnam and said, "That is our Iraq." I hope that young people see that there’s nothing new in this world except the history you don’t know.

MCN: Did you have greater access to historical footage for The Seventies than you had for The Sixties?

MH: Yes. By that time ABC, NBC and CBS had all started to archive their news footage. For The Sixties, a lot of times we were told that they threw out the news footage because they didn’t have storage space. By the early 1970s they start to archive it. We have a great relationship with the news networks and, certainly, without them we couldn’t have told the story.

MCN: Overall, what do you think makes The Seventies so compelling from a documentary perspective? 

MH: I think there is a mystique about The Seventies and that it is misunderstood. It’s seen as a decade of great music and unbelievable television, but it’s also seen as the Me Decade. The group-loving of the 1960s turned into a "What’s in it for me?" message in the 1970s. We had an economic depression that rivaled what we saw in 2008, and we had a severe oil crisis that the driving generation had never seen. It gets a bad rap but, it’s really an interesting decade – it’s the teenage years of the sixties. 

R. Thomas Umstead
R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.