Home TV by Decade TV Shows - 1970s An American Family

An American Family

1 9 7 3 (USA)
12 x 60 minute episodes

Craig Gilbert’s PBS documentary about the Loud family (yes, “Loud” was their surname) of Santa Barbara, California, anticipated MTV‘s Real World – and an onslaught of ‘reality” TV – by a good twenty years.

50-year-old Bill Loud was the president of his own company, American Western Foundries, seemingly happily married to wife Pat (45), and raising five teenage children in a stucco ranch house on a scenic mountain drive with three dogs and two cats.

Out back was the heated pool. The Jaguar, Volvo and Toyota were parked in the driveway. An American family living the American dream.

Filmed over seven months in 1971 – and edited down to 12-hours from three hundred hours of footage – this controversial series is best remembered for the episode in which son Lance (20) comes out. He was the first gay person to come out on American television.

The 12-part series debuted on 11 January 1973 and screened on a dozen consecutive Thursdays presenting the dark (and true) side of The Brady Bunch.

In episode nine, Pat handed her husband a lawyer’s card and told him; “I’ve spoken to a lawyer, and I’d like to have you move out”.

Bill and Pat got divorced in full view of the American public. Viewers saw Pat Loud boot her unfaithful husband out of the house, and Bill Loud try to get his attorney to keep the divorce settlement low. “Nothing for entertainment, nothing for birthdays.”

Meanwhile, their teenage kids ran around smoking pot and their alienated eldest son Lance lazed around New York City’s Chelsea Hotel in the company of obvious homosexuals on the fringe of the Warhol underground.

Even those who expressed horror tuned in often enough to make the show a ratings smash, even generating a Newsweek cover.

The whole affair turned the Louds into huge celebrities. They appeared on talk shows and magazine covers. Mother Pat wrote a book on divorce (A Woman’s Story), daughter Delilah appeared on The Dating Game and three of the children started a rock band called The Mumps, sharing the stage at CBGB’s with Talking Heads and Blondie.

Fame waned, however. The rock group disbanded. Mrs Loud’s book never became a best-seller. Life went on.

A British version called The Family appeared the following year, and US producers Aaron Spelling and Leonard Goldberg were inspired to make their long-running drama series Family (Starring Meredith Baxter-Birney and Kristy McNichol) as a reaction to the documentary.

In 1983, the cameras were trained on the Louds again for American Family Revisited: The Louds Tens Years Later, an hour-long documentary which aired on HBO. It featured interviews with the Louds and snippets from the original series. It also took a look at the aftermath of the original show, when columnists criticised the Louds and the Louds fought back.

After some wild years, the family appeared to have settled down.

Bill Loud still lived in Santa Barbara and had remarried in 1977, “settling down to a good sedate life,” he said. Pat was still single – “I just haven’t met the right person,” she said – and was working as a literary agent in New York City.

Their five children, aged 13 to 20 when the series was broadcast, had entered the working world. Their long hair was gone and the trials of their adolescence (which the whole of America witnessed) were over.

Lance had moved from New York to Los Angeles, Grant was a singer and actor, Delilah was a commercial producer with an advertising agency in LA, Kevin was a finance manager for a petroleum company in Houston, and Michelle worked as a pattern-maker in New York’s garment district.

Lance Loud died on 22 December 2001 from complications of AIDS. He was just 50.