Originally produced as part of the ABC Afterschool Special series, the Emmy- and Peabody Award-winning The Wave proved so powerful that the network chose to debut the film as one of three entries in its prime-time ABC Theater for Young Americans. Based on a real-life incident that occurred in Palo Alto, CA, in 1969 (and was subsequently chronicled as both a magazine article and a full length book), the film stars Bruce Davison as high-school history teacher Bruce Ross. Frustrated because his students evince a lack of interest in and comprehension of Adolf Hitler's rise to power in the 1930s, Ross decides to stage a dramatic "social experiment." He indoctrinates his unwitting charges in a radical new movement called "The Wave," which he claims will give them "a feeling you're part of something that's more important than yourself." Part and parcel of The Wave is a strict set of social-behavior guidelines, unquestioning loyalty to the cause, and an open contempt for those "inferiors" who have not been invited to join the movement. Not unexpectedly, The Wave gets out of hand, and soon the entire school is held in the thrall of a frightening new form of neo-fascism. Just when the experiment threatens to go too far, Ross shocks his students back to their senses by running newsreel footage of The Wave's "true leader" (guess who!). The Wave finally made its ABC Afterschool Special bow on March 30, 1983, two years after its initial nighttime presentation.
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