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Taken Hostage: An AMERICAN EXPERIENCE Special

Jimmy Carter meets with Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, 1979.
Courtesy of National Archives and Records Administration
Jimmy Carter meets with Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, 1979.

Premieres Monday, Nov. 14 and Tuesday, Nov. 15 at 9 p.m. on KPBS TV + Wednesdays, Nov. 16 and 23 at 8 p.m. on KPBS 2 / PBS Video App

Unfolding like a political thriller, "Taken Hostage" is a riveting four-hour two-part documentary film about the Iran hostage crisis, when 52 American diplomats, Marines and civilians were taken hostage at the American Embassy in Tehran on Nov. 4, 1979. For the next 444 days, the world watched as the United States received a daily barrage of humiliation, vitriol and hatred from a country that had long been one of our closest allies. The crisis would transform both the U.S. and Iran and forever upend the focus and direction of American foreign policy.

AMERICAN EXPERIENCE: Trailer | Taken Hostage

"Taken Hostage" also explores the backstory of how America became mired in the Middle East and the nation’s role in igniting the firestorm that has consumed the most strategically important part of the world for the last 40 years.

A hostage held at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, Iran is shown to a crowd by Iranian students. November 8, 1979.
 Courtesy of Zuma Press / AP
A hostage held at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, Iran is shown to a crowd by Iranian students. Nov.r 8, 1979.

The film is told largely through the lens of the exceptional love story of former hostage Barry Rosen and his wife Barbara, who was suddenly thrust into the public eye as the crisis dragged on.

Barry Rosen

Other key figures are Hilary Brown and Carole Jerome, two pioneering female foreign correspondents who risked their lives to uncover the truth of what was happening in Iran. Jerome had remarkable inside access to the highest levels of the Iranian government through her relationship with Iran’s foreign minister and chief hostage negotiator, Sadegh Ghotbzadeh, who lost his life trying to stop the Iranian Revolution from devolving into a tyrannical theocracy.


Gary Sick, a senior member of President Carter’s national security team and longtime Iran expert, recounts how the crisis engulfed the American government and consumed Carter’s presidency.

Snapshot: America in the 1970s

Utilizing recently declassified military documents and an interview with Colonel James Q. Roberts, a member of the top-secret American commando unit, the film reveals details of the failed attempt to rescue the hostages in a daring Special Forces operation. With no narration, "Taken Hostage" uses the candid, personal testimony of those whose lives were upended to tell the story of these dramatic, history-making events.




Part 1 premieres Monday, Nov. 14, 9 p.m. on KPBS TV + Wednesday, Nov. 16 at 8 p.m. on KPBS 2 - Part 1 chronicles America’s quarter-century of unwavering support for its ally, the Shah of Iran, despite his dictatorial and increasingly brutal and corrupt regime. The film traces the Shah’s program to rapidly modernize and westernize Iran in the span of a single generation and portrays in harrowing detail the violent Islamic revolution that overthrew the Shah in 1979, sending shockwaves around the world.

AMERICAN EXPERIENCE: Chapter 1 | Taken Hostage, Part 1

Part 2 premieres Tuesday, Nov. 15 at 9 p.m. on KPBS TV + Wednesday, Nov. 23 at 8 p.m. on KPBS 2 - Part 2 explores the holding of the hostages at the American embassy in Tehran by militant Islamic students, with the support and encouragement of the Iranian government led by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini. The film details how the crisis degenerated into what is arguably the most consequential foreign policy debacle of the second half of the 20th century. The Iran Hostage Crisis laid the groundwork for the modern 24-hour news cycle, inspired an escalating cycle of political terrorism and brought down the presidency of Jimmy Carter.

Chapter 1 | Taken Hostage, Part 2

About the Participants:

Hilary Brown was the first female foreign correspondent for ABC News and reported from Iran during the heyday of the Shah’s regime, returning in 1979 to report on the Iran Hostage Crisis. She is the author of "War Tourist: Memoirs of a Foreign Correspondent."

Journalist Hilary Brown in Iran, 1974.
Courtesy of Hilary Brown Bierman
Journalist Hilary Brown in Iran, 1974.

Carole Jerome is a former foreign correspondent for the Canadian Broadcasting Company. She reported from Iran during the hostage crisis and gained exclusive access into the inner workings of the Iranian regime. She is the author of "The Man in the Mirror: A True Inside Story of Revolution, Love and Treachery in Iran."

Stephen Kinzer is a former foreign correspondent for The New York Times and author of "Overthrow: America’s Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq and All the Shah’s Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror."

Colonel James Q. Roberts is a former U.S. Army and intelligence officer based at the U.S. embassy in Tehran during the Iranian Revolution. Returning to the U.S. prior to the embassy takeover, he took part in the failed mission to rescue the hostages. He has since served as a counterterrorism expert under the Secretary of Defense. As a teenager, he spent time in Iran as the son of an American oil worker.

Barbara Rosen became an eloquent and compelling spokesperson for her husband Barry and his fellow hostages during the crisis, using the media to keep their plight before the eyes of the world.

Barbara and Barry Rosen at a welcome parade in New York City.
Courtesy of Barry Rosen
Barbara and Barry Rosen at a welcome parade in New York City. (undated photo)

Barry Rosen was the U.S. Embassy’s Press Attaché in Iran when he was taken hostage. He was held for 444 days. In the late 1960s, Barry served in Iran as a member of the Peace Corps, where he became fluent in Farsi and became thoroughly enamored with Iranian history and culture.

Gary Sick served on the National Security Council staff under Presidents Ford, Carter and Reagan. He was the principal White House aide for Iran during the Iranian Revolution and the hostage crisis, and is the author of two books on U.S. relations with Iran.


RELATED: How a Small Band of Students Set off the Iran Hostage Crisis
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RELATED: Photo Gallery: The Presidents and the Shah: A Strategic Partnership

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Anti-Iran protest in the U.S., 1979.
Mark Reinstein/Courtesy of Zuma Press
via ZUMA Wire
Dec. 25, 1979 - Washington, District of Columbia, U.S. - Anti-Khomeini demostration in downtown DC. Protesting the takover of the US embassy in Tehran and of the holding hostage the 54 embassy employees. Police arrest one demonstrator and others yell at the police officers for protecting the Iranian students who were marching in supoort of the Khomeini government.


Written, Produced and Directed by Robert Stone. Co-producer: Nariman Hamed. Archive Producer: Richard Lewit. Music by Gary Lionelli. Edited by Brett Banks and Lindy Jankura. AMERICAN EXPERIENCE is a production of GBH Boston. Executive Producer is Cameo George.

Iranians burn the American flag on the roof of the occupied U.S. embassy. June 1980.
By Reza / Reportage by Getty Images
By Reza / Reportage by Getty Images
Tehran, Iran - June 1980: A group of hostage holders putting fire on the Amercian flag on the roof of the occupied U.S. embassy during the U.S. hostage crisis which was a diplomatic crisis between Iran and the United States where 52 U.S. diplomats were held hostage for 444 days from Nov. 4, 1979 to Jan. 20, 1981, after a group of Islamist students took over the American embassy in support of the Iranian revolution.