In many ways, the decade of the 1970’s was just as dramatic as the 1960’s. America lost its first war, endured two energy crises, and a President resigned following an unprecedented political scandal. Television tackled once taboo subjects. Popular music enjoyed a multi-genre explosion, and there was a revolution in sexual mores and customs. Serial murder and other violent crime kept the nation on edge, and bombing, hijacking and the taking of hostages introduced the world to the modern face of terrorism.
29 Sep 2015 - 11:13 AM  UPDATED 29 Sep 2015 - 11:14 AM

THE SEVENTIES examines the individuals and events that influenced and shaped a decade that had as profound an impact on America as its famous predecessor.

The United States V. Nixon
A "third rate burglary" leads to the only presidential resignation in American history.

1972 began with the triumph of President Nixon’s trip to Communist China and concluded with his landslide electoral victory over Sen. George McGovern. But sandwiched in between these historic events was a so-called “third rate burglary” at a Washington office complex known as the Watergate that led to the only presidential resignation in American history. This episode will guide us through the maze of break-ins, political dirty tricks and attempted cover-ups as well as the various investigations both in the press and by the government. And at the center of it all was perhaps the most enigmatic figure in American history, Richard Nixon.

Television Gets Real
Due to a new sophistication in programming as well as an introduction of new formats, television matures into the medium we know today.

It was in the 1970s that television matured into the medium we know today. There was a new candor to network programming as reflected in shows like MASH, The Mary Tyler Moore Show and the half-hour comedies of Norman Lear – All in the Family, Maude and The Jeffersons. New formats that would become television staples – the made-for-TV movie (Brian’s Song, Duel, That Certain Summer) the mini­series (Rich Man Poor Man, Roots, I, Claudius) emerged. And two of the most successful franchises in US television history, Monday Night Football and Saturday Night Live, were born in the Seventies. In addition, PBS as well as the cable networks, ESPN, HBO and Showtime were all launched.

“Peace with Honor”
As America withdraws from Vietnam the country begins to reconcile with the effects and impact of the war.

Although it began in the 1960s, many of the most dramatic and controversial events of the war in Vietnam occurred in the 1970s. The incursion into Cambodia, the shooting death of four students at Kent State University, the My Lai massacre court martial, the Paris peace talks, the release of the Pentagon Papers, the “Christmas bombing,” the final peace agreement with the North Vietnamese and the release of hundreds of American P.O.W.s, all occurred in the first few years of the decade. But the trauma didn’t end with the withdrawal of American forces. The fall of Saigon and the rest of South Vietnam, graphically illustrated by unforgettable images of panicked evacuation, represents one of the low points of American history. This episode poignantly completes the story begun in The War in Vietnam episode in The Sixties.

Terrorism: At Home and Abroad
The birth and evolution of terrorism as we know it today.

Terrorism as we know it was essentially born in the 1970s. From the abduction and murder of eleven Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics to the murder of Lord Louis Mountbatten, a member of the British royal family, in 1979, the 1970s witnessed a horrific parade of kidnappings, hijackings and bombings. The Baader Meinhoff Group, the Red Army Brigade, Black September, the IRA, the SLA, the Weather Underground, Carlos “the Jackal,” and others dominated the headlines throughout the decade. Occasionally there was good news – Israel’s successful rescue of hostages at Entebbe, the safe return of Patty Hearst – but more often these incidents resulted in the loss of innocent life. We’ll examine the terrorists, their supposed causes and their victims in this episode.

What’s Goin’ On
American popular music explodes into new formats while established artists find new creative voice.

Rarely has there been a decade of such musical diversity as the 1970s. Many of the greatest rock & roll bands of all time – the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, the Who – were in peak form; new artists – The Eagles, David Bowie, Bruce Springsteen – were emerging and altering the musical landscape. 60’s chart toppers like Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder found new and deeper voice in the 70’s. And of course the 1970s was also the decade of disco and punk. At opposite ends of the musical spectrum, both disco and punk ignited broad cultural changes that came to be equally emblematic of the decade. By examining these and other artists and genres we’ll form a provocative understanding of what America was all about in the 1970s.

“The State of the Union is Not Good”
America seems to go from bad to worse as the country careers from crisis to crisis.

The second half of the 1970s began with much hope and promise. The “long national nightmare” of Watergate was over and after a brief transition under President Ford, the country put a relatively unknown former Georgia governor, Jimmy Carter, in the White House. But things began to unravel almost immediately. Stagflation smothered the economy and the energy crisis caused long lines and short tempers at the gas station. Three Mile Island and Love Canal heightened environmental anxieties. There was a divisive fight over the Panama Canal and the world held it’s breath as the Ayatollah Khomeini supplanted the Shah in Iran and the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. But there was also a genuine diplomatic miracle at Camp David as the Egyptians and Israelis signed a historic peace treaty. And waiting in the wings was another former governor, Ronald Reagan, who was on the verge of launching a   revolution of his own. 

Battle of the Sexes
America undergoes a dramatic shift of sexual mores, customs and gender roles.

Sex was everywhere in the 1970s. No decade has witnessed such a seismic shift in  sexual mores and customs. Premarital sex became socially acceptable while an  increasing number of married couples experimented with swinging and other once- taboo activities. Pornography emerged from the shadows and gay men and women began to "come out" in increasingly public fashion. This new sexual freedom also had a significant impact on the redefinition of traditional gender roles. But many viewed the sexual revolution as nothing less than the destruction of America's moral  foundation as religiously based conservative groups began to organize and push back politically.

Crimes and Cults
An unprecedented wave of violent crimes grips America throughout the decade.

The 1970s experienced an unprecedented wave of violent, sometimes spectacular  crimes. Beginning with the Manson Family trial, America remained on edge  throughout the decade as homicide rates soared and Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy and the Son of Sam made gruesome headlines. Children were kidnapped collectively  (the Chowchilla school bus hijacking) and because of their celebrity (Patty Hearst and John Paul Getty lll). Jimmy Hoffa disappeared, and the mayor of San Francisco and Supervisor Harvey Milk were gunned down by a disgruntled colleague. Through it all   Americans sought comfort in vigilante films like Death Wish and Dirty Harry. But  nothing could shield the nation from the unimaginable horror of Jonestown.

The Seventies airs Sunday, 8.30pm on SBS.