Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Reality TV Anniversary-Television ate An American Family

Lance Out Loud by Pat Loud
Includes moving essays
by his family, friends and colleagues
On January 11, 1973 PBS began airing An American Family, credited as being the first reality show. We followed the lives of the Loud Family. Parents were Bill and Pat. 

They had four kids, Lance, Kevin, Grant and Delilah. The original series ran through the end of March 1973.

We saw Pat ask her husband for a divorce. They'd been married 21 years. 

Their son Lance came out to his family (and all the viewers) as being gay.

I read that the Louds complained some of what was aired had been edited and then crafted the way "nonfiction narratives are fashioned." 

Critics noted that the cameras encouraged family members to act in ways they wouldn't normally act in order to make good television. Was this the start of people's becoming famous for being famous?

 Lance Loud appeared on The Dick Cavett Show with his siblings

The original plan with a show like this was that you'd get a version of Cinema Verite, the viewer observing the family as they behave day to day. Is that possible when they know they're being filmed?

I'd heard that reality television editors had a special category in the Emmy Awards. The limited research I was able to do did not show this to be true. 

In 1974, a UK version, The Family appeared on BBC TV
We met the Wilkins Family

The debate between reality show performers and editors about who is responsible for what's seen in the final product goes on to this day.

Viewers revisited the Loud family on a few occasions since the 1970s. In 1983, HBO broadcast An American Family Revisited: The Louds 10 Years Later.  

A quote from Lance Loud: "Television ate my family."

In 2003, PBS broadcast the show Lance Loud!: A Death in an American Family. The program was shot in 2001, visiting the family again at the invitation of Lance before his death. Lance Loud died in December 2001 of liver failure as a result of hepatitis C and a co-infection with HIV.

Nightwatch 1954-1955 was a radio show that offered audio recordings of police ride-alongs. I've only heard a few episodes but there is a stark contrast to any reality TV show I've ever seen. Episodes have titles like Scum, Beastwork and Phone Burglar, Nude Prowler, Orange Balls & Bridge Jumper and Aunt Suicide.

Some of the episodes are hard to listen to because the people you're hearing are being given terrible news or they're in a frightening situation. Some of the episodes promise to be humorous. This would probably be a predecessor to a show like Cops. This and other old law and police shows are available on MP3.

Reality Bites Back: The Troubling Truth About Guilty Pleasure TV

Remember Smile! You're on Candid Camera?! There was actually a radio version of that show, too. Not sure if they cared if you smiled on the radio version... Question is, if it matters, how real can it be if anyone knows that filming/recording is going on.

How do you feel about reality television? What do you watch? Competition shows like Project Runway and Top Chef? Jersey Shore, Sister Wives, Honey Boo Boo or The Kardashians? 19 Kids and Counting, Cops or Wife Swap? What makes a good reality show and at what point does a good one go bad? 

With privacy at a premium in our society today, some of us are struggling to get more and more exposure. I know of someone who was upset to find her photos online, taken by a stranger and used without her knowledge. It's a new world. We're on candid camera.

Writers Guild of America
Emmy Awards web site

How Reality TV Works David Rupel; Writers Guild of America, West

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