The First Reality Show: An American Family

While the 1970s were certainly a simpler time, the idea of the reality show craze was certainly still real even back then. Take a look back at the amazing Loud Family, the stars of the first ever reality show An American Family! Find out behind-the-scenes information, ties to other shows, and where the family is now.

A Pioneer In Reality Television

frs-american1.jpg

Back in 1971, PBS filmed a television documentary called An American Family. It was subsequently aired in 1973. It is widely considered the first of what has now become countless reality television shows. Upon beginning filming, the intent was to simply chronicle the day-to-day life of an American family, hence the title.

However, it ultimately ended up showcasing the demise of a family, as the parents Bill and Pat Loud ended up separating and subsequently divorcing. This is now a setup that we have seen happen time and time again throughout the reality shows that appear on air. The producers filmed over three hundred hours of footage and edited it down to one series of twelve episodes.

Before The Kardashians, There Were The Louds

frs-american2.jpg

The Louds are the upper-middle-class clan that the show An American Family centers around. The family is made up of Pat and Bill, the parents, and their five children: Lance, Delilah, Grant, Kevin, and Michele. The show followed the Loud family for seven months and was meant to give the audience an up-and-close look at the day to day life of an American family.

The family lived in Santa Barbara, California. Ten million viewers tuned in to watch the Loud family, and they all became household names. Unfortunately, the under-the-microscope look ended up showing the Louds’ lives dismantling. Ultimately, the mother Pat asked her husband Bill to move out of the household, and it was all caught on camera. The eldest son, Lance, also became the first gay man to come out on television.

The Brits Took Notes

frs-american3.jpg

The following year after An American Family aired, in 1974, BBC aired their own version of the series called The Family. However, instead of an upper-class family, the British version followed a working class family called The Wilkins family. The family of six lived in Reading, England.

Like the Louds, the Wilkins ended up divorcing some time later, in 1978. The show was also parodied by legendary British comedians on their respective shows the Monty Python comedy troupe and Benny Hill. The mother from the show, Margaret, died in 2008 at age 73, and the father Terry subsequently died on Halloween day 2016, at age 82.

Brooks Brings His Real Life To Television

frs-american4.jpg

Like the British series, An American Family also had its share of parodies. In 1979, actor, filmmaker, and comedian Albert Brooks released his film parodying the Louds’ called Real Life. The movie was Albert’s directorial debut. Real Lifeis also one of the first instances of the mockumentary, a style of film we now see quite frequently!

Albert Brooks also directed six shorts for the first ever season of SNL, with hosts for the episodes including George Carlin, Rob Reiner, and Richard Pryor. In 2016, he did a lot of voice acting in children’s films including the very popular Finding Dory, where he voiced Marlin, and The Secret Life of Pets where he voiced Tiberius.

Brooks Can Be Serious Sometimes

frs-american5.jpg

While Albert Brooks is almost solely known for his comedic work in a variety of films since back in the 1970s, he recently took a totally different track. In 2011, he co-starred alongside Ryan Gosling in the dramatic film Drive. In the movie, he plays a violent gangster and is definitely the “bad guy” of the movie.

Albert received many critical accolades for the role including various nominations and awards he was still passed over for an Oscar. After he was snubbed he could not help but respond in a typical comedic response, saying on Twitter, “And to the Academy: ‘You don’t like me. You really don’t like me’.”

How An American Family Inspired The Real World

frs-american6.jpg

An American Family inspired one of the most famous reality shows of all time, MTV’s The Real World. The Real World started back in 1992, and the most recent season was in 2016. At this point, everyone is pretty familiar with how The Real World works and the initial seasons sought to recreate the drama captured in An American Family.

Instead of capturing family dynamics, MTV sought to capture how seven young adults from many different backgrounds would function while living in a house with one another. Originally the series gained popularity for facing tough issues like prejudice, AIDS, and substance abuse. However, it no longer has the same reputation and is considered to be representative of the vapidness of today’s youth.

Lance Loud Was An Iconic Trailblazer

frs-american7.jpg

Lance Loud was the eldest son of the Loud family as depicted on An American Family. He was the first gay man ever to come out on television. Lance was an extremely loud character (pun intended), and he had a captivating personality often being described as an icon of the gay community.

During his youth, he discovered the fantastic world of Andy Warhol and The Factory, and even became pen pals with Warhol. He was also a huge fan of the band Velvet Underground, who were also Warhol fixtures. After the show, Loud moved to New York to pursue music.

Lance’s Life Outside Of The Family

frs-american8.jpg

Lance Loud’s band even appeared on the Dick Cavett show with his band which was ultimately called The Mumps. The band frequented the legendary punk venue CBGB and opened for super famous bands like Talking Heads, the Ramones, Blondie, Cheap Trick, and Van Halen. While they had some success, the band never secured any major record deals although albums have been released of their music.

Lance ultimately retired from music and started a career in journalism writing for a variety of publications like The Advocate and Details. At some point, Lance contracted HIV. In 2001, he entered hospice suffering from both HIV and hepatitis C. He had also suffered from a twenty-year addiction to crystal meth which he used intravenously.

Lance Loud Rounds Up An American Family One More Time

frs-american9.jpg

After entering hospice, Lance knew he didn’t have much time left and decided to call the cameraman and sound man back to film again. The Raymonds were a married couple who worked the camera and sound during the initial filming. Lance felt like An American Family didn’t portray the family accurately and he wanted them to be remembered differently.

All of the family members participated in the new documentary except for Grant. Lance died in December of 2001 and his friend and famous musician Rufus Wainwright performed at the funeral. Two years later, the film they had shot in Lance’s last days was released on PBS.

Lance And Soren’s Mysterious Relationship

frs-american10.jpg

Throughout the show An American Family, Lance is seen with his friend Soren, whom he shares a room with. Many people think that Soren and Lance were a couple, which would have effectively meant they were the first gay couple to appear on television.

People also speculate that because when Lance is shown living in New York City, there are apparently allusions to a patron paying for his stay. But people also argue whether or not the Loud parents were actually the ones paying for Lance. Specifically, people call attention to his father, Bill, telling his friends that Lance had been taken to various places like Denmark, insinuating some one else paid for them.

This Movie Made Everyone Mad

frs-american11.jpg

HBO produced the film Cinema Verite which was a movie about the original An American Family show. Diane Lane was Pat, Tim Robbins was Bill, James Gandolfini played Craig Gilbert (the creator of the show) and Thomas Dekker played Lance Loud. The movie is presented in various chapters, sectioning off each part of the family’s lives.

The movie shows a behind-the-scenes look at how the filming effected the family. Particularly, how filming aided in bringing many of the family’s already existing issues to light, causing a very public rift. The film was nominated for many awards and ended up winning an Emmy and a Writers Guild Award. Both the Louds and Craig Gilbert were unhappy with the movie.

Craig Gilbert Is The Man Who Ruined It All

frs-american12.jpg

Craig Gilbert was the creator of An American Family, and thereby the creator of the first reality television show ever. Not long after filming, Craig appeared alongside the Louds on the Dick Cavett show where he was accused of exploiting the family and betraying their trust.

Craig was played by James Gandolfini in the movie Cinema Verite. In 2011, Craig was still living in the same one bedroom apartment that he had for over twenty years. He said about the show, “An American Family changed the lives of the Louds, and it changed my life. It was pretty damn tumultuous, and I don’t want to go over it anymore.”

It’s Saturday Night With The Louds

frs-american13.jpg

In 1978, amidst the hoopla surrounding Star Wars, the late Carrie Fisher made an appearance on Saturday Night Live. The episode also featured The Blues Brothers. Carrie took part in a skit poking fun at the Loud family.

The rest of the family was played by legendary SNL comedians, including Mrs. Loud — played by Jane Curtin, Mr. Loud played by Bill Murray, the daughters were played by Carrie Fisher and Gilda Radner, and two other characters played by Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi. However, the inspiration for this skit just comes from making fun of the family’s name and the characters are all yelling at the top of their lungs.

Was The Loud Family Being Ridiculed Again?

frs-american14.jpg

While no other skits have actually addressed the family by name, other skits seem to have poked fun at the family dynamics captured on the show. During the early 2000s, Will Ferrell, Amy Poehler, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Ana Gasteyer starred in a skit on the show about a dysfunctional family having dinner.

While the dinner starts off normally enough, their dysfunction quickly reveals itself as their aggression towards one another leaks out and they all begin screaming at one another by the end of the skit. Then again, perhaps this skit is not aiming at the Loud family in particular and just any other dysfunctional family dinners that probably have existed in the world.

How Television Can Eat Your Family

frs-american15.jpg

Many people believe that there is a reality show curse which either effectively ruins couples or tears apart families. This stems from the fact that many couples that have appeared on various reality shows have divorced after having their own show.

Some famous examples: Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey on MTV’s The Newlyweds, Jon and Kate from TLC’S Jon and Kate Plus 8, Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown from their reality series, and a whole bunch of the housewives casts. But perhaps the Loud family were the first victims of the so called reality curse. Even son Lance Loud said, “Television ate my family”.

Was The Loud Family Not The First?

frs-american16.jpg

While the Loud family was arguably the center of the first ever reality show, there were other early documentations of families on film. What a notable example were the Canadian Dionne Quintuplets. The Dionnes are the first set of quintuplets that are known to have survived their infanthood. Their mother suspected she was pregnant with twins but had no idea that having five babies at one time was even possible.

As babies, they were taken from their family by the Canadian government and subsequently exploited as a tourist attraction. They were raised very rigidly, cared for by nurses, and forced to have constant testing done. They were also used in commercials endorsing a variety of products and then they appeared in three separate films. Ultimately, a documentary was made about them called Five Times Five in 1939.

A Cautionary Tale To Which No One Took Heed

frs-american17.jpg

In 1943, the parents of the Dionne Quintuplets finally regained custody of them yet their life was far from better. They alleged their father sexually abused them and they were often berated about how their existence made their family’s life worse. Although the family actually lived off money the girls had made.

The women remained private for the rest of their lives with the exception of two things: in 1997 the McCaughey septuplets were born. The Dionne sisters wrote a letter warning the parents against too much publicity for the children, saying it had ruined their lives. In 1998, the three remaining sisters subsequently participated in a documentary.

This Wouldn’t Happen With Today’s Reality Shows

frs-american18.jpg

One IMDB user tells a story about how they once knocked on the family’s door after the series aired in 1973. The family’s address was actually given on the first episode of the series. The fan was able to meet all of the kids Lance, Delilah, Michele and Kevin and Pat the mother. Pat even offered the several fans who had gathered to meet the family some cake.

What a simpler time! He said he even recorded the whole thing on audio tape, although he says it is quite embarrassing to listen to now. The fan also recounts how he looked up to Lance and Pat. Particularly because of Lance’s bravery to come out when no one else was doing that. He also admired Pat and the rest of the family for accepting Lance, which in turn made the fan comfortable with coming out to his own family some time later. What a beautiful story!

Today’s Reality Television Is Not Reality

frs-american19.jpg

In 2015, the Daily Mail tabloid referred to the Loud family as the Kardashians of the 1970s. However, this doesn’t seem particularly fair, as An American Family was most definitely not scripted, although according to the family it was edited to portray a certain storyline. Reality TV shows today are hardly ever reality in nature, especially shows like Keeping Up With The Kardashians which often re-shoot things that happen or are led with storyline ideas.

When something unscripted does happen they most certainly capitalize on it, though. For instance, when Kim Kardashian was robbed at gunpoint in Paris, the show recently used this as a storyline for the current season. It was recently revealed, and they are more than likely to use her husband, Kanye West’s, recent mental breakdown for the show as well.

The Loud Family Legacy Lives On

frs-american20.jpg

While filming Lance Loud!: A Death In An American Family, one of Lance’s last wishes was for his family to be back together. After the show aired, the family’s parents Pat and Bill Loud moved back in together. They have also since remained close to the rest of their living children, who all live in California, with the exception of Kevin, who lives in a different state with his family.

The family is active on social media and they have their own Facebook account under the name “The Loud Family”. Bill Loud recently turned ninety-five years old! The family also recently posted a short video of themselves gathering together for Thanksgiving.