Throwback 70s | Vintage | Retro

If You Were Born Before 1970, You Probably Remember America's Original Reality TV Family

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Before the Kardashians, Gosselins and Duggars, an American family from Santa Barbara, California captured the nation's attention as they rose to fame through their reality show.

The Louds composed of Pat, Bill and their children were the stars of America’s first reality show, An American Family, which aired on PBS in twelve hour-long episodes in 1973. If you did not see them on TV, you surely spotted them on magazine covers and in newspapers.

An American Family was a national event that bewildered the nation as much as the Watergate mess and the OPEC oil embargo did.


In 1971, Pat and Bill Loud gave TV producer Craig Gilbert permission to turn their family into the subject of a cinema verite-style documentary. Gilbert and his crew filmed the Louds for over 300 hours before editing down the footage to 12 hour-long episodes which aired on Thursday nights between January and March of 1973.

The members of the family featured on the show were:

  • William "Bill" Carberry Loud, 50
  • Patricia "Pat" Loud, 45
  • Alanson "Lance" Russell, 20
  • Kevin Robert Loud, 18
  • Grant Loud, 17
  • Delilah Ann Loud, 16
  • Michele Loud, 14

An American Family checked all the boxes for a successful reality show. Just like a typical family, The Louds had their moments of togetherness, but they also bickered, swore, partook in sexual misdeeds and revealed their deepest secrets as the cameras rolled.

“These nice-looking people act like affluent zombies,” said one of the reviews. “Their shopping carts overflow, but their minds an’ empty.”

The show was initially supposed to focus on giving viewers a glimpse into the life of an upper middle class American family, but things took an unexpected turn halfway through the season.

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