DIRECTED BY: Callie T. Wiser, TELESCRIPT BY: Sharon Grimberg, STORY BY: David Murdock, PRODUCED BY: David Murdock and Callie T. Wiser / AMERICAN EXPERIENCE / JULY 2015
Told through the memories of ordinary New Yorkers who lived through the events, including first responders, journalists, shop owners, and those inside the pressure-packed control center of Con Edison on West End Avenue, Blackout examines what happened when the lights went out in New York City on July 13, 1977.
That night, in the city that never sleeps, the divide between the haves and the have-nots became ever more apparent. In some neighborhoods, there was conviviality, as diners at the Windows on the World restaurant in the World Trade Center were treated to free champagne and allowed to remove their jackets and ties. Impromptu block parties broke out, and bartenders served patrons in T-shirts and shorts.
But in the poorer neighborhoods of the city’s boroughs, the power outage spurred near-immediate mayhem under the cover of darkness. As employees at Con Edison struggled to restore power to the elaborate system, people smashed windows and ripped security gates off storefronts, carting off washing machines, sofas, Pampers, TVs, refrigerators – whatever they could carry. By the time the power was fully restored more than a day later, more than 1,600 businesses had been looted, over 3,700 people had been arrested, and firefighters had battled more than 1,000 fires.
“The 1977 blackout reminds us of how easily we take things for granted,” says Mark Samels, American Experience Executive Producer. “We expect the lights to turn on, the garbage to be picked up, and the trains to run – all these systems keep our daily lives going. But when a city is plagued by crime, unemployment, reduced services, and growing anger, an event like a blackout can be the spark that ignites a fire. The thin crust of civilization is suddenly gone and we discover that urban life is much more fragile than we thought.”