Musings & Thoughts for Tuesday, March 23, 2021, or: ‘The Day After’ Makes You Think About the Unthinkable

Hi there, Dear Reader. It’s late morning here in New Hometown, Florida on Tuesday, March 23, 2021. It’s cool here; right now the temperature is 65˚F (19˚C) under hazy conditions. With the wind blowing from the south-southeast at 3 MPH (5 KM/H) and humidity at 82%, the chill factor is 63˚F (17˚), Today will be partly sunny and the high will be 81˚F (27˚C). Tonight, skies will be partly cloudy, and the low will be 58˚F (15˚C).

The Blu-ray cover of The Day After. (C) 2018, 1983 ABC Motion Pictures and Kino Lorber.

My Blu-ray collection grew by one title – 1983’s The Day After, a drama written by Edward Hume and directed by Nicholas Meyer – to a grand total of 379 titles. In case you don’t know, The Day After was controversial when it aired in November of ’83, partly because it was the first serious attempt to depict a nuclear attack on the U.S. and its effects on a typical American community, but mostly because – typically, conservatives perceived it (or chose to portray it as such) as a liberal “attack” on America’s nuclear deterrent.

The truth, as I discovered from listening to director Nicholas Meyer’s recollections in one of the two featurettes that Kino Lorber included in the two-disc set, is far more nuanced than that. ABC Motion Pictures, ABC’s in-house TV movie division, wanted a major two-night “event” that focused on what a nuclear war might look like. The Cold War was then in one of its “peaks” of tension between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, mainly over the Reagan Administration’s arms buildup and NATO’s decision to deploy Pershing II intermediate range ballistic missiles (IRBMs) in West Germany and Great Britain. And because controversy often attracts curious viewers, ABC wanted a two-part TV film on the subject that most of us go out of our way not to think about – nuclear war and its consequences to the human race.

Alternate cover art for the 2018 Blu-ray.

ABC’s choice to hire Edward Hume to write a teleplay and Nicholas Meyer to direct The Day After had nothing to do with liberal shenanigans to “undermine our nuclear deterrent.” On the contrary; anyone who understands why networks do what they do can tell you that ABC chose to air The Day After for the same reason it ditched most traditional scripted dramas and situation comedies in lieu of “reality shows” in the early 2000s – high ratings equal increases in ad revenue.

In his recollections, Meyer says that both the Department of Defense and some of the ABC executives wanted The Day After to depict the Soviets as the aggressors who start World War III. Meyer and Hume wanted to be more ambiguous, so Meyer – who had just saved Paramount’s Star Trek film franchise with his Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan – had so many arguments with ABC’s Standards & Practices (the censors) that he walked away from the project for nearly four months. ABC tried to rewrite the script to appease the right wing backlash, but they needed Meyer back, so they relented on the revisions and let the director shoot the movie mostly per Hume’s original teleplay.

The Day After aired on November 20, 1983 as a one-part film (Meyer insisted on that format change). It was – and still remains – the most-watched TV movie in U.S. broadcast history: over 100 million people, in nearly 39 million households, watched it when it was originally shown on ABC.

I have not watched the featured presentation yet; just the interview with Nicholas Meyer. I’ll probably do that tonight. However, I can tell you that in this 35th Anniversary release, there are two cuts of The Day After: the ABC version that was aired domestically and in other countries, and a theatrical cut produced for the overseas – primarily European – market. The theatrical cut is five minutes longer and has a slightly different opening scene, but otherwise it’s identical to the ABC-TV cut.

Published by Alex Diaz-Granados

Alex Diaz-Granados (1963- ) began writing movie reviews as a staff writer and Entertainment Editor for his high school newspaper in the early 1980s and was the Diversions editor for Miami-Dade Community College, South Campus' student newspaper for one semester. Using his experiences in those publications, Alex has been raving and ranting about the movies online since 2003 at various web sites, including Amazon, Ciao and Epinions. In addition to writing reviews, Alex has written or co-written three films ("A Simple Ad," "Clown 345," and "Ronnie and the Pursuit of the Elusive Bliss") for actor-director Juan Carlos Hernandez. You can find his reviews and essays on his blogs, A Certain Point of View and A Certain Point of View, Too.

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