Keeping It Real

In the 21st century, we’ve seen it all. We’ve peered into the lives of Hulk Hogan and Ozzy Osbourne, the over-fertile Gosselins and the Octomom, the Kardashians and Snoop Dogg. But back in 1973, when reality television was still called cinéma vérité, the PBS documentary An American Family — a twelve-episode series that left the camera running day and night as the members of the Loud family lived out their lives in Santa Barbara, California — premiered to a viewership that had never seen anything like it. To call it edgy is putting it mildly; the camera’s unrelenting eye often leaves a viewer uncomfortable, if morbidly fascinated, in light of inter-familial goings-on almost cruelly caught with a television audience in mind. The denouement, followed silently and without comment by filmmakers Alan and Susan Raymond, is rife with references to son Lance Loud’s pre-AIDS gay lifestyle and the structure of marital breakup, among other things; subsequent revisitations in later years included a reverie on the then-HIV-positive and hep-C-infected Lance’s death in 2001. And it all ostensibly still rings true today, considering that PBS is repackaging the original into a two-hour special, An American Family: Anniversary Edition. The compilation special airs tonight at 9 p.m. on KRMA-TV/Channel 6; further excerpts and an entire episode are also available online at
Thu., July 7, 9 p.m., 2011
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Susan Froyd started writing for Westword as the "Thrills" editor in 1992 and never quite left the fold. These days she still freelances for the paper in addition to walking her dogs, enjoying cheap ethnic food and reading voraciously. Sometimes she writes poetry.
Contact: Susan Froyd