How Black Monday Aims To Answer A Lingering Wall Street Mystery

Photo: Courtesy of Showtime.
Black Monday, a new Showtime comedy series premiering on January 20, begins at the end. There's chaos on Wall Street. Stocks are plummeting. Money's being lost. Amid the flurry, people are actually taking their own lives — one such suicide occurs in the show's very first scene.
From there, Black Monday jumps back to a year before that day. The episodes' titles indicate the number of days left before the infamous 1987 crash on Wall Street. Episode one, for example, is titled "365."
But did such a dramatic crash really occur in the '80s? While much of Black Monday is satirical and over-the-top, the show's premise is completely based in reality. On Monday, October 19, 1987, the Dow Jones lost 22.6% points, the index's biggest one-day percentage drop in history. The crash, which came after a five-year bull market, set off a global stock market decline.
To this day, candid photos taken on Black Monday preserve the anxiety and shock that reverberated throughout Wall Street. In this Timeline article, an eloquent passage from photography editor Rian Dundon accompanies the photos: "Overall, a sense of powerless confusion permeates each photo, which is pretty much synonymous with the average American’s experience with the mysterious forces of the market. This is capitalism crystallized for ordinary working people  —  a vast, unmanageable mechanism we have no control over yet which decides our livelihood at every moment of the day."
Surprisingly, the American stock market recovered from this dramatic crash fairly quickly. Just two years later, the Dow regained all the value it had lost on Black Monday. That said, Wall Street itself — where Black Monday takes place — was hit very hard by the crash. In the aftermath of Black Monday, 15,000 jobs were lost in the financial industry. It also took Australia and New Zealand decades to recover.
To this day, experts can't isolate a single factor that led to the drastic stock market crash. According to George Washington University's History News Network Page, "A number of explanations have been offered as to the cause of the crash, although none may be said to have been the sole determinant. Among these are computer trading and derivative securities, illiquidity, trade and budget deficits, and overvaluation."
A special emphasis is placed on computer trading, which also appears in the pilot episode of Black Monday. Blair (Andrew Rannells), a recent graduate of Wharton Business School, is shopping his new trading program around the banks of Wall Street. Could this be foreshadowing?
Ultimately, the cause of the crash is unknowable — unless you're a TV show runner with a boundless imagination, like Black Monday's David Caspe. In that case, you can build an entire show that aims to explain what, exactly, caused markets to nosedive on that day in 1987. The pilot of Black Monday sets the dominos for the crash in place. We know this much: Mo Monroe (Don Cheadle), the director of the raucous hedge fund Jammer Group, and Blair, his newest hire, will definitely be involved somehow. Let's just hope that Dawn (Regina Hall), the most capable member of the Jammer Group, ends up unscathed.

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