Novelist Harold Courlander successfully sued author Alex Haley for plagiarizing works which led to the book that served as the basis for the mini-series. Haley paid $650,000 in an out-of-court settlement.
When ABC programmed it to air on several consecutive nights in prime time, it was considered a revolutionary approach to programming a mini-series. Most were aired once or twice a week over several weeks. Years later, the network revealed that it was aired that way to get the show "out of the way" in a hurry. The network felt that nobody would watch the story if it aired over a longer period of time.
The installment that aired on January 30, 1977 was the most-watched TV show in US history at the time. It got a Nielsen share of 71, with 36.38 million households, or 51.1%, watching. It has since been surpassed by the M*A*S*H (1972) finale, and the "Who Shot J.R.?" episode of Dallas (1978)).
ABC originally broadcast the show as eight episodes. Episodes 1, 2, 6 and 8 were two hours apiece. Episodes 3, 4, 5 and 7 were one hour apiece. For VHS, DVD, and re-broadcast, it was packaged as six two-hour episodes.
The people who played Kizzy, George, and Tom Harvey were born within three years of each other. Leslie Uggams and Georg Stanford Brown were both born in 1943. Ben Vereen was born in 1946. This means that Tom was actually three years older than his father, and Kizzy was three years older than her son.
When the miniseries debuted on ABC it was presented as a factual history of Alex Haley's family. historians and genealogists have found critical errors in his research work. Most of the story is either unsupported or contradicted by the available evidence.