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23 APRIL 2012

An American Family: the genesis of reality television

"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)."

Public Broadcasting Service (PBS)

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TAGS

197119721973 • Alan Raymond • American family lifeAn American Family • Bill Kobin • Bill Loud • cinema verite • contemporary reality • Craig Gilbert • cultural anthropologydaily life • Delilah Loud • direct cinemadocumentaryethnographic filmfamilyfamily lifefly-on-the-wall • Grant Loud • Kevin Loud • Lance Loud • landmark series • Loud family • Margaret Mead • Michele Loud • non-commercialnon-fiction televisionNorth Americaobservational seriesobservational style • Pat Loud • PBSportrait of a familyportrait of family lifereal behaviourrealityreality televisionsocial reality • Susan Raymond • televisiontelevision documentarytelevision programmetelevision series • The Louds • The Raymonds • TV • video verite • visual anthropology • WNET

CONTRIBUTOR

Simon Perkins
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