Television has changed a whole lot since 1977, when "Roots" exploded onto the airwaves and shook the pop-culture landscape. It's conceivable, likely even, that given the sheer number of viewing choices today, that it wouldn't bring in the same gigantic audiences it did then (all eight installments remain among the top 100 network broadcasts ever, measured by household rating).
That's to say nothing of whether a broadcast network -- ABC produced and aired "Roots" in 1977 -- would even attempt something on such a scale these days (and there's no way, given the cultural climate, that the nudity featured in the early scenes of the miniseries would pass muster). Epic but self-contained stories like it are now almost exclusively the province of cable networks.
What's pretty much undeniable, though, is that as a piece of drama, "Roots" holds up remarkably well after three decades. A sprawling, decades-spanning story of an American family from its roots in Africa through slavery in the United States and finally freedom may have a tendency toward long-winded speeches and may not look as lush as some contemporary series, but its story is so compelling that none of that matters.
The saga of Mandinka tribesman Kunta Kinte (played first by LeVar Burton and then by John Amos) begins in Africa in 1750 and tracks multiple generations of his descendants as they live under slavery and are eventually emancipated. It features several powerful performances (from Burton, Louis Gossett Jr. and Olivia Cole, among others) and a number of visceral scenes depicting the humiliations of slavery as they never had been on film.
"Roots" was also a cultural phenomenon, and the extras -- several of which are repeats from a 2002 DVD set -- do a fine job of explaining it. In commentary tracks on each episode, the actors, producer David L. Wolper and others involved relate how the experience changed their lives. The 2002 documentary "Remembering Roots" covers much of the same territory, only this time the actors are on camera.
The best extras, though, are new to DVD. The 1978 TV special "Roots: One Year Later" offers a good look at the phenomenon when it was still fresh, from author Alex Haley's newfound celebrity to a surge in interest in genealogy. The new featurette "Crossing Over" covers some of the initial skepticism about putting the 12-hour miniseries on the air and includes clear-eyed assessments from a variety of voices on how much "Roots" did or didn't change both television and the larger culture.
EXTRAS: Cast and crew commentaries with video option, documentaries "Crossing Over: How Roots Captivated an Entire Nation," "Remembering Roots" and "Roots: One Year Later"
DVD Review: 'Roots 30th Anniversary Edition'