New On 'District Insiders': The TV movie that deterred nuclear war danger


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The TV movie that deterred nuclear war danger

Director of ABC-TV’s 1983 “The Day After” Tells Why


By Wayne Madsen and Andrew Kreig

Famed storyteller Nicholas Meyer – Director of The Day After, the most-watched television film in U.S. history – this week described on the investigative podcast District Insiders his film’s enduring impact in deterring nuclear war.

More than 100 million Americans are estimated to have watched The Day After during its broadcast on ABC-TV. Many times that number watched in the Soviet Union and elsewhere globally.

nicholas meyerMeyer, right, described also why he and others associated with the film and the 2020 follow up documentary Television Event, produced by Jeff Daniels, have been making public appearances this fall that included visits to the United Nations and, on Dec. 4, to Lawrence, Kansas for a showing of Television Event, with a panel discussion that Meyer joined via Zoom.

The Day After portrayed the Kansas locale, the U.S. geographic center and home also to the University of Kansas, as a devastated ruin if nuclear war erupts. The film’s treatment was so powerful that it shocked many viewers, including President Ronald Reagan, into dramatic actions to reduce the risks of nuclear war.

“At a time when the world seems to be sleepwalking toward nuclear disaster, a new documentary aims to shake us into recognizing the danger -- just as The Day After did 40 years ago,” Meyers and his team said in advance of the forthcoming American release of Television Event early next year via the PBS (Public Broadcasting Service) network.

District Insiders hosts Andrew Kreig and Wayne Madsen, reporters and authors long based in Washington, DC, explored further with Meyer the creative vision leading to the documentary and its enduring impact in motivating him, his colleagues and many others determined to raise alarms about cataclysmic threats.

The director, whose credits include directing three of the Star Trek films, several other major hits and authoring seven novels, recalled that while he was trying to decide whether to accept the offer to direct this film he shared with a psychiatric counselor how the project seemed likely to be squashed by hostile forces, thereby wasting everyone's time and hindering careers.

Nonetheless, recalled Meyer, himself the son of psychiatrist, his counselor stepped out of that profession’s traditional listening mode to advise that all of us robert oppenheimer 1944have a responsibility to try to do what's right if the stakes are high enough for the world.

In his 67-minute District Insiders interview, Meyer recalled also a lasting memory of an encounter when at age seven his family met Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer, right, widely regarded as “The father of the atomic bomb” because of his leadership in developing it during World War II.

Oppenheimer, subject of the blockbuster film Oppenheimer released last summer, seemed like one of the saddest people Meyer ever met, Meyer recalled, noting that the sadness was striking even to a seven-year-old who had only the vaguest understanding of Oppenheimer’s past.

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About The Day After (via Wikipedia)

The Day After is an American television film that first aired on November 20, 1983 on the ABC television network. More than 100 million people, in nearly 39 million households, watched the film during its initial broadcast. With a 46 rating and a 62% share of the viewing audience during the initial broadcast, the film was the seventh-highest-rated non-sports show until then, and in 2009 The day after blu ray movie coverit set a record as the highest-rated television film in history.

The film postulates a fictional war between the NATO forces and the Warsaw Pact over Germany that rapidly escalates into a full-scale nuclear exchange between the United States and the Soviet Union. The action itself focuses on the residents of Lawrence, Kansas; Kansas City, Missouri; and several family farms near American missile silos.]

The cast includes JoBeth Williams, Steve Guttenberg, John Cullum, Jason Robards, and John Lithgow. The film was written by Edward Hume, produced by Robert Papazian, and directed by Nicholas Meyer. It was released on DVD on May 18, 2004 by MGM.

The film was broadcast on Soviet state television in 1987, during the negotiations on Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. The producers demanded the Russian translation conform to the original script and the broadcast not be interrupted by commentary.


About Nicholas Meyer (via IMDB)

Nicholas Meyer, right, was born in New York City, the son of a psychoanalyst and a concert pianist. He attended the University of Iowa, home of the famous Writers nicholas meyerWorkshop.

Meyer's award-winning teleplays for ABC's JUDGE DEE & MONASTERY MURDERS and CBS's NIGHT THAT PANICKED AMERICA launched his screenwriting career, though the WGA strike of 1973 caused him to set aside screenwriting and try his hand at novels. TARGET PRACTICE was published in March 1974 and won an Edgar nomination. It was followed four months later by his Sherlock Holmes pastiche, THE SEVEN-PER-CENT SOLUTION, which remained on the New York Times Bestseller list for 40 weeks and won the British Gold Dagger award for crime fiction. Meyer's screenplay for The Seven-Per-Cent Solution was nominated for an Academy Award in 1976. The film starred Nicole Williamson, Robert Duvall, Alan Arkin, Laurence Olivier and Vanessa Redgrave. In 2015 IDW published the graphic novel version of the book in five installments.

Meyer's directing debut – from his own screenplay – occurred in 1979 with TIME AFTER TIME, starring Malcolm MacDowell and David Warner. The film introduced Mary Steenburgen. This was followed by STAR TREK II – THE WRATH OF KHAN (1982) and THE DAY AFTER, (1983) ABC's nuclear-themed movie, which remains the single most-watched television film ever made, nominated for fourteen Emmys.

Subsequent Meyer novels include two other Holmes pastiches, THE WEST END HORROR, (1976) and THE CANARY TRAINER (1993); also BLACK ORCHID (co-authored with Barry Jay Kaplan) (1977) and CONFESSIONS OF A HOMING PIGEON (1981).

Other directing credits include VOLUNTEERS, starring Tom Hanks and John Candy (1986), THE DECEIVERS, starring Pierce Brosnan (1988), COMPANY BUSINESS, starring Gene Hackman and Mikhail Baryishnikov (1991), STAR TREK VI, THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY, starring Christopher Plummer (1992) and the HBO film, VENDETTA, (1999), starring Christopher Walken. Other screenplays include SOMMERSBY, starring Richard Gere and Jody Foster (1993) and contributions to the Dreamworks animated feature, PRINCE OF EGYPT.

His screenplay, THE INFORMANT, based on Gerald Seymour's novel, FIELD OF BLOOD, won the PEN award for Best Teleplay, 1999.

His screenplay for the novel THE HUMAN STAIN by Philip Roth, starring Anthony Hopkins and Nicole Kidman, was released October 31, 2003. His screenplay, ELEGY, (based on Roth's novella, THE DYING ANIMAL), was released in August of 2008. The film stars Ben Kingsley, Penelope Cruz, Dennis Hopper, Patricia Clarkson and Peter Saarsgard.

His Hollywood memoir, THE VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE – Memories of Star Trek and a Life in Hollywood, was published by Viking in 2009. His two-part miniseries, HOUDINI, starring Adrien Brody, aired over Labor Day 2014. Meyer's script was nominated for a WGA award and the series was nominated for seven Emmys. In 2016, He co-created and wrote the first two episodes of the Netflix series, MEDICI – Masters of Florence, starring Dustin Hoffman. He also worked on the forthcoming Star Trek television series, DISCOVERY, for CBS Access.

Forthcoming projects include a feature adaptation Dan Simmons' novel, THE CROOK FACTORY, for Johnny Depp, and FREUD – THE SECRET CASEBOOK as well as the limited series, RAT LINE – Nazis on the Run.


About Television Event (via Wikipedia)

Television Event is an 2020 American-Australian documentary film, directed and produced by Jeff Daniels. It had its world premiere at DOC NYC on November television event tribeca poster11, 2020. 

Synopsis: The film follows the production and making of The Day After, a film directed by Nicholas Meyer, which revolved around a nuclear war and received controversy upon release. Appearing were Meyer, Edward Hume, Stephanie Austin, Ellen Anthony, Ted Koppel, Stu Samuels, Robert Papazian, Walton Dornisch, David Longhurst, and Mark Weinberg, while Brandon Stoddard appears through archive footage.

jeff danielsCritical reception: Television Event received positive reviews from film critics. On Rotten Tomatoes it has a 92% approval rating, based reviews from 12 critics, with an average rating of 7.90 out of 10.

Jeff Daniels, left, is an award-winning producer/director whose films include Television Event about the epic and unlikely production of nuclear TV-movie The Day After (1983), which screened to overwhelming critical acclaim at the Tribeca Film Festival; Mother with a Gun, about the notorious family-run militant group, The Jewish Defense League; Fair Game, which exposed years of systemic racism within Australia's iconic Collingwood Football Club; and the 10 Conditions of Love, about pbs logoChina's arbitrary imprisonment of their Muslim minority, the Uyghur, which made international headlines after its world premiere was harshly protested by the Chinese government.

Plans are reported underway for a showing of Television Event on the PBS network in the United States on a date to be determined early in 2024.

distict insiders logo guest 002

The TV movie that deterred nuclear war danger

Director of ABC-TV’s 1983 “The Day After” Tells Why


By Wayne Madsen and Andrew Kreig


About District Insiders

distict insiders logo guest 002


wayne madesen report logo

wayne madsen paradeWayne Madsen, below left, is an investigative journalist, author and syndicated columnist based for many years in Washington, DC. A former U.S. Navy officer and NSA analyst, Madsen has wayne madsen may 29 2015 cropped Smallwritten 24 books on various topics, most relating to national security and world affairs, and many oped columns for American and overseas newspapers. He edits, an investigative news website for his own exclusive reporting.

His most recent books, both in 2023 and announced at the National Press Club on Nov. 29, were A Parade of New Sovereignties: A Post-Hegemonic World,” an encyclopedia-style, 380-page description of nearly 350 locales that are actual or potential troublespots for the nations governing restive populations, and A Woke Coloring Book: Re-adding Color to a Whitewashed History, a children’s book featuring civil rights heroes and heroines whose stories are increasingly suppressed in schools in Republican-controlled states.


Andrew Kreig photoAndrew Kreig, shown at left, is a non-profit executive, investigative reporter, author and attorney based in Washington, DC. After careers in journalism, law and business, he became a founding director of the the Washington, DC-based Justice Integrity Project (Justice-Durham Front Cover Annotated and serves on the boards of several other business, non-profit and civic groups.
His most recent book, also announced at the National Press Club at the Nov. 29 event, Is “The Complete Annotated Durham ‘Russiagate’ Report: A Corrupt, Cruel Fraud.” He began his career as a newspaper reporter for the Hartford Courant in Connecticut and then earned law degrees at Yale and the University of Chicago before serving as law clerk to a U.S. District judge in Boston and working at a national law firm's office in Washington, DC. He then became vice president and then president/CEO of the Wireless Communications Association before becoming a research fellow at two universities.

District Insiders features experts on timely topics affecting “districts” in the United States and globally – congressional, parliamentary or other – that are in the news. Contacts for “District Insiders” hosts for guests, interviews, lectures, questions:

• Andrew Kreig, Andrew [at]
• Wayne Madsen, wmadsen777 [at]


Selected News Coverage Of 'The Day After,' 'Television Event' and Nuclear War

Dec. 7

ny times logoNew York Times, ‘Oppenheimer’ Will Be Released in Japan After Earlier Backlash, Isabella Kwai, Dec. 7, 2023. Critics said the film’s cross-promotion with “Barbie” trivialized the U.S. nuclear attacks on Japan during World War II, but the biopic will be released in 2024.

robert oppenheimer film posterThe box office blockbuster Oppenheimer will be released in Japan in 2024, a local distributor announced on Thursday, quashing speculation over the film’s rollout there following criticism of its promotion online.

Bitters End, a Japanese film distributor, did not give an exact date for the Universal Pictures film’s opening in Japan, but said it would happen next year.

The simultaneous release this summer of Oppenheimer, the brooding biopic about the creation of the atomic bomb, and Barbie, a fantastic-plastic tale of a doll’s awakening, was a discordant mash-up that delighted film fans. The “Barbenheimer” moment generated fan-made merchandise, memes and plentiful cross-promotion of the two features.

But many in Japan took offense, with critics saying that the Barbenheimer meme trivialized the horrors of the U.S. military’s nuclear attacks, which killed hundreds of thousands of mostly civilians in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The hashtag #NoBarbenheimer spread widely on social media, and some vowed to boycott watching Barbie, which was released in Japan in August.

Dec. 4

In a scene from The Day After, stars Jason Robards and Georgann Johnson comfort each other (Photo courtesy of ABC and the Everett Collection)

In a scene from 'The Day After,' stars Jason Robards and Georgann Johnson comfort each other (Photo courtesy of ABC and the Everett Collection).

Hollywood Reporter, Apocalypse Then: 40 Years Ago, A TV Movie Saved the World from Nuclear Annihilation, Benjamin Svetkey, Dec. 4, 2023. ABC’s 1983 hollywood reporter logofilm The Day After — the subject of a new documentary as well as a book —not only blew America’s (and Ronald Reagan’s) mind, but it may also have changed the course of human history.

Americans had a lot of choices about what to watch on TV the night of Nov. 20, 1983. On CBS, they could enjoy an evening of sitcoms, beginning with Alice, then moving onto The Jeffersons and Goodnight, Beantown, finally wrapping up their prime time viewing with an episode of Trapper John, M.D.

Dec. 1

Kansas City Star, The TV movie that destroyed Lawrence, Kansas and may have saved the world, Randy Mason, Monty Davis, Dec. 1, 2023. On Nov. 20, 1983, The Day After drew 100 million viewers to their TVs to see Lawrence, Kansas, devastated by the effects of radiation from a nuclear attack on Kansas City.  A new documentary, Television Event, about the movie's creation and the reactions to it will be screened in Lawrence on Dec. 4, 2023. Day After director Nicholas Meyer, along with members of cast and crew, residents who were in it and inspired by it, will revisit the legacy of this genuine Television Event.

Nov. 21

The late ABC Entertainmen President Brandon Stoddard (photo courtesy of Television Academy Interviews)

The late ABC-TV Motion Pictures President Brandon Stoddard (photo courtesy of Television Academy Interviews)

The Bulwark, Commentary: The Day My Father Scared America, A.B. Stoddard, Nov. 21, 2023. Forty years after ‘The Day After,’ can we have cohesive national moments anymore?

bulwark logo big shipMy father had a story to tell that no one wanted to hear. He was repeatedly warned not to, even by the White House. But he wouldn’t retreat until he had dragged President Reagan, and the whole country, through the simulation of nuclear war.

Forty years ago last night, 100 million viewers (out of roughly 234 million Americans) tuned in to The Day After on ABC, making it the most-watched movie in television history. The Nielsen ratings showed that 62 percent of TVs in use on the night of Sunday, November 20, 1983 were tuned in to the movie. And nearly every American had heard about it.

ronald reagan oThe Day After was inescapable. There was a loud, long run-up to the broadcast, with advanced screenings, bootleg copies, abundant publicity and panic. Agonizing debates preceded the film’s airing—which hung in the balance until the final hours—as pressure accumulated from the Reagan administration, the conservative right, and multiple departments within ABC itself. Psychiatrists warned the film would produce a suicide surge.

Schools across the country braced for the provocation and while some assigned viewing, most cautioned parents and students. In promoting the movie ABC warned of the coming horror, and set up a toll-free phone line for counseling and advising that children under the age of 12 should not watch the film.

“Senior White House officials, who have been reviewing advance tapes of the film for more than a week, said they are apprehensive that the two-hour broadcast could heighten fears about Reagan’s hand on the nuclear trigger if not answered by the administration,” the Washington Post’s White House correspondents wrote two days before the movie aired.

The White House and ABC agreed some discussion should immediately follow the film and worked together to create a panel discussion on ABC’s occasional program Viewpoint, which was usually dedicated to “criticism and analysis of television news.” The live episode kicked off with remarks by george schultz wSecretary of State George Shultz, left, who was dispatched to make the case that the Reagan administration’s policy of balance and deterrence was also focused on reductions in nuclear weapons. After Shultz came the panel: Carl Sagan, William F. Buckley Jr., Brent Scowcroft, Elie Wiesel, and two former secretaries of state, Henry Kissinger and Robert McNamara. The discussion was moderated by ABC’s Ted Koppel.

The idea for The Day After came from my father, Brandon Stoddard, who was then the president of ABC Motion Pictures. He wanted Americans, not politicians, to grapple with what nuclear war would mean, and he felt “fear had really paralyzed people.” So the movie was meant to force the issue. “The intent of The Day After was to bring this forward, make them talk about it, make them think about it and decide what they were going to do about it,” he said years later in an interview.

In a 60 Minutes segment that aired one week before the movie came out, my father argued that the movie took no political position. “I’ll say again, and again, and again that it’s not” a political movie. “It was never intended to be and it isn’t. It is a movie that says nuclear war is horrible. That’s what it says.”

Nov. 17

CNN, How ‘The Day After’ brought Americans together – and helped end the Cold War, Brian Lowry, Nov. 17, 2023. CNN media commentator Brian Lowry described the background of the two complementary films. Lowry wrote:

nicholas meyer day after posterEven before the movie aired, the subject matter alarmed the Reagan White House, which feared the depiction of a nuclear strike and its effects on a group of people in Kansas might shake America’s resolve and potentially cause panic. The dialogue between the administration and ABC executives included reports President Ronald Reagan, left, asked ABC’s chairman, Leonard Goldenson, to “bury the movie” over a game of golf.

The Day After was the brainchild of then-ABC Entertainment chief Brandon Stoddard, inspired in part by the 1979 movie The China Syndrome, which imagined a possible meltdown at a nuclear plant – and received a real-life boost from an unsettling episode at the Three Mile Island facility weeks after the film opened.

In an interview for the Television Academy’s Archives of American Television, Stoddard, who died in 2014, recalled that advertisers were “terrified to be in the movie,” which carried only 12 minutes of commercials, and went ad-free the last 45 minutes when the bombs fell.

The Day After didn’t air in a vacuum. It premiered the same year as the movies WarGames, which dealt with a nuclear threat caused by artificial intelligence; and Testament, a quietly devastating PBS production that also played in theaters.

Still, the ABC presentation brought the horror directly into living rooms on a mass scale. According to Nielsen research, 46% of all US homes tuned in. The network followed the movie with a special broadcast of a news program hosted by Ted Koppel, “Viewpoint,” addressing the anxieties that the movie reflected – and provoked. The huge audience for The Day After – second only to the “MASH” finale earlier that year among entertainment programs (thus excluding Super Bowls) – reached the country and influenced public opinion in ways that seem almost unimaginable in a streaming age characterized by an abundance of content and the fragmented viewing that goes with it.


Oct. 12

University of Kansas Memorial Union, ABC’s made-for-TV movie, 'The Day After,' Filmed in Lawrence, John H. McCool (Department of History), Oct. 12, 1983. The final word on the legacy of The Day After belonged to Journal-World columnist Chuck Twardy. “Aside from bringing more than a million dollars into the local economy,” he wrote, “the film has earned Lawrence an association with nuclear devastation.

kansas map in usMany conservatives denounced The Day After and its strong pacifist message as left-wing propaganda, which undermined President Ronald Reagan’s foreign policy and weakened the U.S. at a time when the Cold War could not have been much colder.Filmed largely in Lawrence, ABC’s controversial TV-movie The Day After aired nationally in November 1983. The film depicted the likely after-effects of a nuclear explosion on a typical American town.

Following a nuclear attack on Kansas City, Missouri, a bewildered Dr. Joe Huxley (played by actor John Lithgow) radios from Lawrence, desperately, but ultimately futilely, seeking signs of life in the formerly thriving, now decimated midwestern metropolis.

This gripping scene from ABC’s made-for-TV movie, The Day After, only presaged more terrible ones depicting the likely aftereffects of a nuclear explosion on a typical American town. From radioactive fallout and mob rule, to burned, blinded, and maimed civilians, conditions in the city of Lawrence represented in microcosm what all Americans could surely expect should the United States and the Soviet Union ever wage a nuclear war.

The message was clear: No one would be safe; all would be affected; and those who survived might wish otherwise.

As a reward for allowing their town to be fictitiously ravaged, and for so graciously accommodating the movie’s cast and crew as they filmed in and around Lawrence for six weeks, the producers of The Day After decided to treat local residents to a sneak preview of the film, a month prior to its national airing.

time logo ogThus, on October 12, 1983, over 2,000 people, many of whom were KU students, filled the Kansas Union’s Woodruff Auditorium to see one of four special showings that were held on campus. The film’s director, Nicholas Meyer (who had just finished directing Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan), attended the Lawrence premiere and brought with him hordes of national media. Reporters from Time, Newsweek, USA Today, and many others were anxious to hear local reaction to this highly anticipated and sure-to-be controversial television event.

Filmed during August and September of 1982, roughly 2,500 KU students and Lawrence residents had the opportunity to work as extras in the movie, which starred such famous Hollywood actors as Jason Robards, John Lithgow, Steve Guttenberg, and JoBeth Williams.

Some KU faculty members also played important roles. For example, Jack Wright, professor of speech and drama, served as the local casting director. Chuck Berg and William Kuhlke, two other professors of speech and drama, had minor speaking parts in the film, as did Charles Oldfather, professor emeritus of law (and namesake of KU’s Oldfather Studios).

Additionally, the University itself was something of a supporting actor, as a number of scenes were shot in Allen Field House and the Spencer Art Museum, with several aerial views featuring Memorial Stadium, Spooner Hall, and Jayhawk Boulevard.


About J. Robert Oppenheimer and the film Oppenheimer (via Wikipedia)

J. Robert Oppenheimer (born Julius Robert Oppenheimer, 1904 – 1967, shown at right in a photo circa 1944) was an American theoretical physicist and director of the Manhattan Project's Los Alamos Laboratory robert oppenheimer 1944during World War II. He is often called the "father of the atomic bomb."

Born in New York City, Robert Oppenheimer earned a bachelor of arts degree in chemistry from Harvard University in 1925 and a doctorate in physics from the University of Göttingen in Germany in 1927, where he studied under Max Born. After research at other institutions, he joined the physics department at the University of California, Berkeley, where he became a full professor in 1936. He made significant contributions to theoretical physics, including achievements in quantum mechanics and nuclear physics such as the Born–Oppenheimer approximation for molecular wave functions, work on the theory of electrons and positrons, the Oppenheimer–Phillips process in nuclear fusion, and early work on quantum tunneling. With his students, he also made contributions to the theory of neutron stars and black holes, quantum field theory, and the interactions of cosmic rays.

Oppenheimer is a 2023 epic biographical thriller film written and directed by Christopher Nolan. It stars Cillian Murphy as J. Robert Oppenheimer, the American theoretical physicist credited with being the "father of the atomic bomb" for his role in the Manhattan Project — the World War II undertaking that developed the first nuclear weapons.

Based on the 2005 biography American Prometheus by Kai Bird and Martin J. robert oppenheimer film posterSherwin, the film chronicles the career of Oppenheimer, with the story predominantly focusing on his studies, his direction of the Manhattan Project during World War II, and his eventual fall from grace due to his 1954 security hearing. The film also stars Emily Blunt as Oppenheimer's wife "Kitty", Matt Damon as head of the Manhattan Project Leslie Groves, Robert Downey Jr. as U.S. Atomic Energy Commission member Lewis Strauss, and Florence Pugh as Oppenheimer's communist lover Jean Tatlock.

Oppenheimer premiered at Le Grand Rex in Paris on July 11, 2023, and was theatrically released in the United States and the United Kingdom on July 21 by Universal. Its simultaneous release with Warner Bros.'s Barbie led to the Barbenheimer cultural phenomenon, which encouraged audiences to see both films as a double feature. The film received critical acclaim and grossed over $953 million worldwide, becoming the third-highest-grossing film of 2023, the highest-grossing World War II-related film, the highest-grossing biographical film, and the second-highest-grossing R-rated film. It was also named one of the top 10 films of 2023 by the National Board of Review.