1987 marked the 200th anniversary of the signing of the U.S. Constitution, which was the writing of the framework of American democracy. Edmund Burke told the House of Commons in March 1776 that more books of law were going to America than of any other kind. 1987 also marked the 70th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 which saw the overthrown of the last Emperor of Russia, Czar Nicholas II (also known as Nikolai Aleksandrovich Romanov) and the emergent of the Bolshevik Party.
Professor A. Nove noted in 1967, "The Bolsheviks studied French history carefully. (Vladimir) Lenin decided that he would avoid the fate of Robespierre (in 1794)." However "no man was more responsible than (Josef) Stalin for welding the dozens of different nationalities speaking more than 80 different tongues into the federation, centrally governed from Moscow, known as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The U.S.S.R is a one-party state. The party governs the country and its general secretary wields far more power than either the Premier or the President of the Supreme Soviet."
In 1987, the 7-part TV mini-series, 'Amerika' went on air during the February "sweeps". In one promo, the song, 'Let Freedom Ring' co-written by Barry Manilow, Bruce Sussman and Jack Feldman could be heard, "My country, 'tis of thee; Sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing; Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrims pride; From every mountainside; Let Freedom Ring."
Set in the year 1997, the $40 million mini-series sought to explore what life could be like in the United States, after 10 years of Soviet occupation. It was understood the Soviet takeover of the U.S. was bloodless. In real life, the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. The 14½-hour mini-series attracted an average rating of 19.0% and a 29% share of the audience. At the time there were some 87.4 million households equipped with televisions.
Directed by Donald Wrye, 'Amerika' took more than half a year to film with editing of the mini-series continued right up until air time. From the outset, Marvin Mord of the American Broadcasting Company stated, "If it ('Amerika') falls under a 30 share, I think we would be disappointed." It was understood ABC had guaranteed big sponsors complimentary commercial time should 'Amerika' did not attract expected audience shares.
Part I attracted a 38% share of the audience and a rating of 25.4%
Part II attracted a 31% share of the audience and a rating of 20.9%
Part III attracted a 26% share of the audience
Part IV attracted a 28% share of the audience
Part V attracted a 23% share of the audience
Part VI attracted a 26% share of the audience
Part VII attracted a 32% share of the audience
The major sponsors of 'Amerika' were General Foods Corp (which bought 26 commercial air times); Northwest Mutual Life Insurance Co. (which bought eight 30-second commercials over the 7 nights) and New York Life Insurance Co. (which bought 6 minutes over the 7 nights for 10 commercials). Chrysler Corp. intended to buy 36 commercial air times reportedly pulled out 2 weeks before 'Amerika' premiered because the "topic and portrayal too intense for its upbeat commercials". Volkswagen-United States Inc., decided to buy twelve 30-second spots for "a very advantageous price."
Marvin Mord told Kathryn Baker of the Associated Press, "It's unfortunate that the extent of the hype surrounding 'Amerika' for the last 6 months (since September 1986), particularly in the last month (January 1987), probably worked as much to its disadvantage because it raised expectations to the level that the series just wasn't able to match that. I'm not saying it was the best–paced vehicle. I'm sure given time constraints and other factors, it could have been tightened up somewhat."
'Amerika' came under fire attracting protests from peace groups worried about the effect on public opinion and the Soviet government because of its "inflammatory anti-communism" theme. Jonathan Halperlin of the Committee for National Security voiced, "Films like this do influence the way we think about U.S.-Soviet relations. People inevitably take from television and try to transfer that information into the real world. When fiction and reality are blurred on an issue as important as U.S.-Soviet relations, that can be dangerous."
The cast reportedly found themselves in the middle of a political storm. Australian actress Wendy Hughes played the estranged wife of a freedom fighter told the press, "I spent 3 months shooting the mini-series and all we got was a lot of flak. We were accused of being fascists, of shooting a piece of right wing propaganda. Everyone was upset. We all thought we were making a piece of fiction.
"We felt the fuss wasn't justified. I am not terribly political at all … I guess I am right down the center politically. But they were accusing us of commie-bashing and I think those accusations were unfair. A lot of the cast lost sleep because they felt harassed and embarrassed." Sam Neill played Soviet Colonel Andrei Denisov conceded, "I am very disturbed by this. I still believe it was not the intention to make another piece of anti-Soviet propaganda and if that's the way it turns out I will be distraught."
Kris Kristofferson, a Rhodes scholar turned singer-songwriter-actor made known, "I wake up in a sweat sometimes, thinking this will be the one greatest regret I will carry to my grave. I strongly disagree with the premise of 'Amerika' – the idea of America under Soviet rule." Rob Manoff of New York University's Center for War, Peace and the News Media remarked, "I think there's a great place for all kinds of wonderful entertainment on this subject, but responsible entertainment. On the other hand, I will defend to the death anyone's right to put anything they want on television."