AN AMERICAN FAMILY was a 12-hour cinema vérité documentary series that premiered on PBS in the winter of 1973. The Vietnam War was ending and President Nixon’s Watergate scandal would not break until the following June. During these relatively quiet days at the beginning of the new Me Decade, the Loud family of Santa Barbara would create a media storm unequaled in television history. The unfolding real life drama of this one family captured a faithful weekly audience of ten million people. The series challenged conventional views of middle class American family life with its depiction of marital tensions that led to divorce, a son’s gay lifestyle and the changing values of American families. Prior to AN AMERICAN FAMILY, the staples of television family programs, such as THE BRADY BUNCH, profiled a model of the perfectly happy family that seldom faced any crisis. The broadcast of AN AMERICAN FAMILY in 1973 proved to be a ground-breaking watershed that forever changed American television programming and lead the way to more complex family portraits such as ROSEANNE, ONE DAY AT A TIME and even THE SIMPSONS.

Louds Poodle Pix

An American Family premiered in January 1973 and America had never seen anything like it. The critics analyzed the family’s behavior and values and made a vituperative diatribe against them. Shana Alexander of Newsweek called the Louds “affluent zombies” and described the series as “a glimpse into the pit.” But they saved their harshest judgments for Lance Loud, the eldest son who publicly affirmed his homosexuality. The New York Times Sunday Magazine writer Ann Roiphe called Lance a “Goya-esque emotional dwarf” and “a flamboyant leech-like homosexual” and described Lance’s humorous quips as “the devil has all the best lines.”

Nevertheless the public loved it. An American Family remains one of the highest rated PBS programs. The Nielson rating for one evening’s broadcast in Boston claimed 74% of all TV audiences were tuned in to An American Family. Despite the media bashing, millions of faithful viewers saw Lance as a free spirit who dared to live his life on his own terms. He touched the lives of a generation of disaffected young people looking for the courage to follow their own dreams. Lance Loud was the first openly gay person on television and he quickly became the first reality TV star for just being himself.

Lance on the
Dick Cavett Show

The Loud family instantly became media celebrities for just being themselves. While the critics examined and criticized the family for being less than perfect, the American public welcomed them into their homes. They appeared on a one hour special of The Dick Cavett Show, Pat Loud wrote a book, “A Woman’s Story” and various family members appeared on The Phil Donahue Show, The Dinah Shore Show, The Dating Game and even a PBS Pledge Week Special featured Lance and his sisters performing in their new band, LOUD!

The family’s status as media celebrities had changed their lives dramatically from their previous suburban lifestyle. The media circus that enveloped the family gave them all a very unique perspective on celebrityhood. In 1983, filmmakers Alan and Susan Raymond produced a one hour special for HBO called American Family Revisited which presents all seven members of the Loud family with each individual’s perspective on the effect of the series on their lives. This ten year update in 1983 stands as a chronicle of the creation of the Louds as media celebrities and bookmarks the series in the annals of television history.