The premise of An American Family probably sounds familiar to modern audiences: A camera crew follows a family around for several months and their lives get recorded and edited into a reality series. While today this premise is common, in 1971 it was innovative. Craig Gilbert’s idea for the series was adopted by PBS, and Alan and Susan Raymond spent part of late 1971 filming the Loud family of Santa Barbara, California. The family included husband Bill, wife Pat, and their five children: Lance, Kevin, Grant, Delilah, and Michele. The Raymonds recorded around 300 hours of footage that included the Louds’ troubled marriage leading to a divorce request and included their son Lance, who was openly gay and sometimes is considered the first openly gay man on television. The hours of footage were edited into a dozen episodes that aired on PBS in 1973. In addition to the divorce, other episodes centered on Lance living in New York, Grant’s band performing, and Pat visiting her mother. The series drew around 10 million viewers at the time, and it drew significant controversy, with members of the Loud family talking with the media about their dissatisfactions with their representations on the series. Pat Loud even published a book. The family was represented again about 10 years later in 1983 in An American Family Revisited: The Louds 10 Years Later, which aired on HBO. In 2001, PBS broadcast Lance Loud! A Death in an American Family, which profiled Lance’s colorful life since the original series and showed his final days as he was dying. In 2011, HBO created a fictionalization of the series’ filming with Cinema Verite, which cast Tim Robbins, Diane Lane, and others. The HBO version pushed forward the idea that Craig Gilbert and Pat Loud had an affair during the series’ filming, which both Gilbert and Loud deny vehemently. Hopes were raised that the HBO version would inspire the DVD release of the original series, but so far, no luck.
The WNET site features information about the series and its episodes. Here is more information about the Lance Loud follow-up. Jeffrey Ruoff’s book, An American Family: A Televised Life offers a readable background and insight into the series’ production and reception.