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

Throwback 70s | Vintage | Retro

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

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.


As the weeks went by and more episodes aired, viewers became both captivated and horrified by the dysfunctional Louds. But it was Lance, the eldest of the Loud children, that made the family even more controversial and set their show apart from everything else that was on TV at the time.

Regarded as the protagonist of the show, Lance's unscripted coming out as gay to his family while millions watched was one of the most gripping scenes of An American Family. He is considered as the first gay person to appear on television in America.

Lance LoudWikipedia

By the end of the real-life soap opera, Pat decided that after 21 years of marriage, she wanted a divorce.

Bill Loud later noted that the family thought that they would be portrayed as "the all-American California family," but instead "we came out as the super tragedy."

The controversy they triggered spawned outrage from all corners of the nation, but as bewildering as it may have been, it's impossible to ignore the fact that it was this show that gave way to the many reality shows we're all so fixated on today.


Once the hype died, the Louds weren't heard from again until 1983 when they once again opened up their lives to the public for a follow-up documentary titled An American Family Revisited.

HBO's one-hour documentary aired in 1991 and looked at the lives of each of the Louds ten years after the original series ended. The family candidly reflected on their 15 minutes of fame and being subjects of public scrutiny. Pat and Bill discussed their divorce and Lance discussed his HIV and hepatitis diagnosis.

At the time when the follow-up was filmed, Pat was working as a literary agent in New York while Bill remarried and stayed in Santa Barbara.

Delilah was working in public relations in Los Angeles, Kevin was employed by a Houston-based oil company, Michele found her calling in New York's fashion industry, Grant became a showman and the infamous Lance was performing rock music with his band, The Mumps.

They all continued to lead normal lives until Lance made headlines again in 2001 for being admitted to Carl Bean hospice in Los Angeles. His health saw a major decline due to complications from HIV, hepatitis C and addiction to Crystal Meth.

Lance had a few dying wishes and among them was for the Raymonds to give the public one last glimpse into his family's life because he was dissatisfied with how the original series ended. He wished that the Louds would be portrayed as a unified family and this was fulfilled on Lance Loud!: A Death in an American Family, which PBS billed as the true finale of An American Family.

Lance and Michele Loud

Lance died of liver failure at the age of 50 on December 22, 2001. Following his death, his parents granted another one of his wishes by getting back together.

The family still continued to fascinate the public, and were once again made the subjects of a project by HBO.  

In 2011, HBO released Cinema Verite, a drama film about the Loud family starring Diane Lane as Pat, Tim Robbins as Bill, Thomas Dekker as Lance and the late James Gandolfini as Craig Gilbert. The film won an Emmy for Outstanding Single-Camera Picture Editing.

Pat and Bill Loud at the Cinema Verite premiere

In 2012, Pat Loud penned a book about her oldest son called Lance Out Loud.

The Glitterati Buzz

Since their reconciliation, Pat and Bill have moved to LA to be near three of their children, Grant, Michele and Delilah, while maintaining close contact with Kevin, who now lives in Arizona with his family.

Do you remember the Louds? Let us know in the comments!

[H/T: People.com/ The Daily Beast/Daily Xtra/ Wikipedia]

Blair isn't a bestselling author, but she has a knack for beautiful prose. When she isn't writing for Shared, she enjoys listening to podcasts.