An American Family

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An American Family
The Loud Family 1973.JPG
The Loud Family (Back, from left: Kevin, Grant, Delilah and Lance. Front, from left: Michele, Pat and Bill)
Country of originUnited States
Original languageEnglish
No. of seasons1
No. of episodes12
ProducerCraig Gilbert
EditorsPat Cook
Eleanor Hamerow
David Hanser
Ken Werner
Production companyWNET New York
Original networkPBS
Picture format16mm film[1]
Audio formatMonaural
Original releaseJanuary 11 (1973-01-11) –
March 29, 1973 (1973-03-29)
Followed byAn American Family Revisited: The Louds 10 Years Later
Lance Loud!: A Death in an American Family

An American Family is an American television documentary filmed from May 30 through December 31, 1971,[2] and first aired in the United States on the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) from January 11, 1973,[3] to March 29, 1973.[4] 12 hour-long episodes aired Thursday nights at 9:00 p.m., edited down from about 300 hours of raw footage.

The groundbreaking documentary is considered the first "reality" series on American television. It was originally intended as a chronicle of the daily life of the Louds, an upper middle class family in Santa Barbara, California, but ended up documenting the break-up of the family via the separation and subsequent divorce of parents Bill and Pat Loud.[5]

A year after this program was broadcast, the BBC in 1974 filmed its own similar 12-episode program, called The Family, focusing on the working-class Wilkins family, of Reading, Berkshire, England.


In 2011, The New York Times reflected on some of the controversy the series engendered:

For the viewing public, the controversy surrounding An American Family doubled as a crash course in media literacy. The Louds, in claiming that the material had been edited to emphasize the negative, called attention to how nonfiction narratives are fashioned. Some critics argued that the camera's presence encouraged the subjects to perform. Some even said it invalidated the project. That line of reasoning, as Mr. Gilbert has pointed out, would invalidate all documentaries. It also discounts the role of performance in everyday life, and the potential function of the camera as a catalyst, not simply an observer.[6]

The show included footage of intimate family interactions, including an on-camera separation demand from wife Pat to her husband. Producers conducted 300 hours of filming over seven months in 1971 on a budget of $1.2 million.[7] In 2002, An American Family was listed at #32 on TV Guide's 50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time list. It is the earliest example of the reality television genre.


The Loud family members profiled were:

  • Bill Loud (1921–2018)[8][9][10]
  • Pat Loud (1926–2021)[5][9][10]
  • Lance Loud (1951–2001)
  • Kevin Robert Loud (born 1953)
  • Grant Loud (born 1954)
  • Delilah Ann Loud (born 1955)
  • Michele Loud (born 1957)

Lance Loud is credited as the first continuing character on television who was openly gay[11] and subsequently became an icon within the LGBT community.[12] He later became a columnist for the national LGBT news magazine The Advocate.

One of the more notable moments of the series was when, after 21 years of marriage, Pat asked Bill for a divorce and to leave the house. Pat's saying to her husband, "You know there's a problem" – with Bill's response, "What's your problem?" – was chosen as one of the Top 100 Television Moments by TV Guide.[citation needed]

The series drew over 10 million viewers and considerable controversy. The family was featured in Newsweek on March 12, 1973, in the article "The Broken Family".[13]

Legacy and influence[edit]

In 1974, the BBC made its own similar program, called The Family. The program consisted of 12 half-hour episodes, showing the daily lives and concerns of the working-class Wilkins family, of Reading, Berkshire, England.

The series inspired a 1977 story arc in the satirical soap opera Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman in which a television crew for The David Susskind Show documents the daily life of the titular character as the "typical American consumer housewife".

In 1979, Albert Brooks spoofed the series in his film Real Life.[14]

In 1983, HBO broadcast An American Family Revisited: The Louds 10 Years Later.[15]

The 1985–88 mockumentary series of TV films The History of White People in America and Portrait of a White Marriage parody the series in following the lives of a dysfunctional white suburban family led by Fred Willard and Mary Kay Place.

The series inspired the MTV reality television series The Real World.[14]

In 2003, PBS broadcast the show Lance Loud!: A Death in an American Family which was filmed in 2001. Visiting the same family again at the invitation of Lance before his death,[15] the family members participated in the documentary, with the exception of Grant. Lance was 50 years old, had gone through 20 years of addiction to crystal meth, and was HIV positive. He died of liver failure caused by a hepatitis C and HIV co-infection that year.[16][17] The show was billed by PBS as the final episode of An American Family.[18]

Subsequent to the showing of A Death in an American Family, Pat and Bill Loud moved back in together,[19] granting one of Lance's last wishes. They lived very close to three of their four surviving children—Grant, Michelle and Delilah—and kept in close contact with Kevin and his family, who lived in Arizona.[20] Bill died in July 2018.[21] Pat died in January 2021.

In April 2011, PBS rebroadcast the entire original series in a marathon format on many of its member stations, before the release of the HBO film Cinema Verite, based on the series.[22][23]

On July 7, 2011, most PBS stations presented An American Family: Anniversary Edition, a two-hour film by Alan and Susan Raymond that featured selected moments from the documentary series, in tribute to the 40 years since the series began filming in 1971. It was subsequently released on DVD.[24]

Recent events[edit]

In 2012, Pat Loud released a book about her son's life called Lance Out Loud, which was published by Glitterati Incorporated. Pat Loud died in her sleep from natural causes on January 10, 2021, at age 94.[25]

Cinema Verite[edit]

HBO premiered Cinema Verite on April 23, 2011, a fictionalized examination of the process of making An American Family. With a script by David Seltzer[26] and under the direction of Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, the cast includes Tim Robbins as Bill, Diane Lane as Pat, Thomas Dekker as Lance and James Gandolfini as Craig Gilbert.[27]


An American Family episode nine end-credits; rerun airdate April 24, 2011, 7 a.m., WNET-TV


  1. ^ Heffernan, Virginia, "Too Much Relationship Vérité", The New York Times, April 17, 2011
  2. ^ "An American Family Screenings" Archived April 28, 2016, at the Wayback Machine, Paley Center for Media, 2011, New York.
  3. ^ - An American Family Archived May 8, 2016, at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ - "Live radio broadcast of March 30, 1973" Archived March 4, 2016, at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ a b Cf. Loud, Pat, Pat Loud: A Woman's Story, 1974
  6. ^ Lim, Dennis, "Reality-TV Originals, in Drama's Lens", The New York Times, April 15, 2011; online; print edition p. AR22, April 17, 2011
  7. ^ Yardley, William (13 April 2020). "Craig Gilbert, 94, Dies; Created Groundbreaking 'American Family'". The New York Times. Retrieved 1 June 2020.
  8. ^ "Family Announcement". Facebook.
  9. ^ a b Cf. episode "Going Back Home"
  10. ^ a b Cf. episode "An American Family: an introduction" narrated by producer Craig Gilbert, January 1, 1973
  11. ^ - An American Family Archived April 16, 2016, at the Wayback Machine
  12. ^ "Lance Loud". The Independent. April 4, 2002. Archived from the original on March 23, 2009. Retrieved 2008-10-23.
  13. ^ Ruoff, Jeffrey (2002). An American Family: A Televised Life. University of Minnesota Press. xviii. ISBN 0-8166-3561-7.
  14. ^ a b Roberts, Michael. "The Unreal World" Archived January 28, 2015, at the Wayback Machine. Denver Westword. March 14, 1996
  15. ^ a b "About the film". Archived from the original on 15 October 2008. Retrieved 2008-10-23.
  16. ^ "Lance: His life and legacy". Archived from the original on 1 December 2008. Retrieved 2008-10-23.
  17. ^ Lueck, Thomas J. (29 December 2001). "Lance Loud, 50, Part of Family Documentary". The New York Times. Retrieved 1 June 2020.
  18. ^ "Top 50 TV Shows of All Time From TV Guide". Archived from the original on 14 October 2008. Retrieved 2008-10-23.
  19. ^ Jensen, Elizabeth (2003-01-06). "Lance Loud's last testament". Los Angeles Times. p. 3. Retrieved 20 March 2011.
  20. ^ "America's First Reality TV Show". Neatorama. Retrieved 2011-08-26.
  21. ^ Yardley, William (27 July 2018). "Bill Loud, the Father of TV's 'An American Family,' Is Dead at 97". The New York Times. Retrieved 1 June 2020.
  22. ^ Braxton, Greg, "PBS' KOCE to broadcast landmark 'An American Family'" Archived March 6, 2016, at the Wayback Machine, Los Angeles Times, April 13, 2011
  23. ^ "PBS looking to revisit 1973's 'An American Family'" Archived October 11, 2012, at the Wayback Machine, Associated Press, January 11, 2011
  24. ^ An American Family: Anniversary Edition Archived July 2, 2013, at the Wayback Machine, PBS
  25. ^ Yardley, William (2021-01-11). "Pat Loud, Reality Show Matriarch of 'An American Family,' Dies at 94". The New York Times.
  26. ^ Westal, Bob (2010-07-29). "A chat with Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, directors of "The Extra Man"". Archived from the original on 2013-02-04. Retrieved 2010-08-07.
  27. ^ Karpel, Ari (2010-07-25). "A Mash Note to Offbeat New Yorkers". The New York Times. p. AR6.

Further reading[edit]

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