If you’re over 50 there’s a good chance that on November 20, 1983, you were one of the over 100 million people who tuned in to the ABC-TV broadcast of The Day After, a made-for-TV fictional account the effects of a nuclear war on the U.S., shot in and centering on the midwestern town of Lawrence, Kansas before, during, and after the bombing. You also might’ve also watched the post-airing discussion with a panel that included Henry Kissinger and Carl Sagan. The timing was perfect. Increasing nuclear buildup through President Ronald Reagan’s “peace through strength” philosophy generated what-ifs, fear, and protests.
With great detail, Jeff Daniels combines interviews with the film’s director Nicholas Meyer, screenwriter Edward Hume, ABC-TV executives, residents of Lawrence where the film was shot, and many others with production footage, news footage covering the hype, and clips from the film, to trace a story of statement-making versus network censorship. The film chronicles disagreements on the set, the White House’s concern, the long-lasting effect on the townspeople of Lawrence, and the determination of the producers to get the film aired. This truly was a “television event” that generated controversy before its airing, riveted audiences, and left an impact in an unstable time.—Brian Gordon
Jeff Daniels makes award-winning, narrative-driven documentaries about divisive social issues. He is best known for The 10 Conditions of Love, which made international headlines when the Chinese government condemned all international screenings for exposing the arbitrary imprisonment of their Muslim minority, the Uyghur.