The true-life kidnapping of Barbara Mackle probably kept the news media and its viewers and readers alive and breathing during the cold December days of 1968. Mackle, then a 20-year-old student, was kidnapped from a hotel room she stayed with her mother, and then buried alive in a shallow trench inside of a fiberglass-reinforced box. Mackle stayed in that box for three days before being found and during a wild and chaotic kidnap and ransom situation, but she survived. Her life events, which she wrote down in her 1971 autobiographical book “83 Hours ’til Dawn”, were the basis for the 1972 TV movie THE LONGEST NIGHT, which aired on ABC, but, due to litigation rights surrounding the story, was never aired again. In 1990, the book was made into a second television movie, this time starring Peter Strauss as the kidnapper and Robert Ulrich as the father who tried everything to get his daughter back.
83 HOURS ‘TIL DAWN aired on Sunday, November 4, 1990 on CBS, against the usual competition back in the days: FOX’s sitcom hour, and other TV movies that were aired by ABC and NBC. 20.6 million viewers (14.2/22 in Households) tuned in, refreshing their memories of the late 1960s kidnapping case, and were apparently thoroughly entertained, because the TV movie was the better rated one that night. The thing is just, 83 HOURS ‘TIL DAWN wasn’t winning the time slot. NBC aired the theatrical movie THREE MEN AND A BABY, which got higher ratings (and found itself #4 in the weekly Nielsen charts), but that was technically not a TV movie. Well, CBS at least was second in that timeslot, and 83 HOURS ‘TIL DAWN landed in the bottom rows of the upper third of the weekly charts.