An American Family: Anniversary Edition

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On Thursday evening, January 11, 1973 at 9:00 p.m., Americans stepped into the home of the Loud family of Santa Barbara, California. Chronicling the lives of its family members, the 12-hour documentary series made parents Pat and Bill Loud and their five children Lance, Delilah, Grant, Kevin and Michele Loud household names. During the seven months that they lived in front of the camera, viewers watched dramatic life events unfold, including Pat asking for a separation from her husband Bill, and the bohemian New York lifestyle of their gay son, Lance.

Unlike most documentaries of its day, An American Family had no host, no interviews, and almost no voice-over narration. Producer Craig Gilbert presented the family's daily life — as captured by filmmakers Alan Raymond behind the camera, and Susan Raymond covering sound — in the style of cinéma vérité. It was the most controversial and talked-about television program of its era.

PBS was then a fledgling "fourth network" joining CBS, NBC and ABC, and despite its non-commercial profile was looking for blockbuster hits, according to Bill Kobin, Vice President for programming at NET at the time. In the course of its 12 week run, An American Family riveted the country and drew in a record 10 million viewers a week. In the years since it was first broadcast, the series has become the subject of lengthy articles and reviews, including panel discussions with anthropologist Margaret Mead, who speculated that An American Family 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."

Now, 40 years since filming, the original filmmakers have edited a new 2-hour feature-length special capturing the most memorable and compelling moments of the landmark series. See for yourself why An American Family is one of the 50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time (TV Guide, 2002).

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