Sep. 20, 2011 at 12:35pmThe First Reality Show

An American Family

By Judith Spitzer

If you’re old like me … you probably remember watching the program called “An American Family” that started running on Thursday evenings at 9p.m. in 1973.

Actually in 1973 I was still in high school in Spokane. I remember vaguely seeing the program but I’m sure I was much more concerned with whatever angst or epiphany I was having back in the day.

Be that as it may, the 12-hour documentary chronicled the daily lives of the Santa Barbara Loud family – parents Pat and Bill Loud and their five children Lance, Delilah, Grant, Kevin and Michele Loud. 

An American Family was a riveting new show at the time. It had almost no voice-over narration, no host or hostess and no script. The series portrayed what was deemed the quintessential life of what living in America as a family meant in that era. You could say it was the first-ever reality show of its time.

The show was also one of the most controversial and talked-about shows of its time. The program drew in a record 10 million viewers every week and made PBS, then considered the stepchild of the three other big networks, into a household name. 

Since 1973 when it was first broadcast it’s been the subject of much discussion, many reviews, lengthy articles and even speculation by American Anthropologist Margaret Mead. She said it could be the beginning of a new way to explore the complexities of contemporary reality, “maybe as important for our time as were the invention of drama and the novel for earlier generations.”

Fast forward 40 years since the original filming and the original filmmakers have edited a new 2-hour feature-length special with some of the most compelling moments of the landmark series.

It airs on Saturday evening, Sept. 24 in Spokane at 8p.m.

To see additional video from the original series, plus extras, visit this link.


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