80 Years of The Hollywood Reporter

PBS/Photofest

The most glamorous and memorable moments from a storied history.

Within the baroque lineage of reality shows, the Kardashians are direct descendents of the Louds, the well-to-do Santa Barbara family who were at the bull’s-eye of the 1973 PBS series that spawned what was called “nonfiction soap opera.” For seven months, a camera crew lived with them and shot 300 hours of film. Although An American Family premiered the same night The Waltons was airing on CBS, the Louds were a different kind of clan: The parents filed for divorce, and oldest son Lance became the first openly gay figure on television. The revealing miniseries set off a media firestorm regarding the state of American life while setting the template for the reality genre: an emphasis on character over plot within a bent-out-of-shape nuclear family. Anthropologist Margaret Mead was so impressed by the 12-episode series she compared it to the invention of “drama and the novel for earlier generations: a new way to help people understand themselves.” The Louds were back on TV with 1983’s An American Family Revisited and 2001’s A Death in an American Family, which chronicled Lance’s last days as he struggled with AIDS. On April 23, HBO debuts the film Cinema Verite, starring Tim Robbins and Diane Lane, which tells the story of the making of the original. “We went into this thing thinking, ‘Home movies, neat,’ ” said matriarch Pat Loud after seeing American Family for the first time. “We didn’t expect anything like this.”    

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