Film to Look at America’s First Reality Family, the Louds


A new film from HBO and producer Gavin Polone  is going to go behind-the-scenes of An American Family, the groundbreaking docu-series that introduced reality TV to America in the form of the Loud family of Santa Barbara, California. The 1973 series also gave America a glimpse at a real live gay person, Lance Loud. Loud died of complications related to HIV in 2001.

According to the Hollywood Reporter: "Titled 'Cinema Verite,' the film was penned by 'The Omen' writer David Seltzer, with writing-directing duo Shari Springer Berman and Bob Pulcini ('American Splendor') on board to direct.

'American Family,' from Oscar-winning doc filmmakers Alan and Susan Raymond ('I Am a Promise: The Children of Stanton Elementary School'), premiered in 1973 on PBS and stirred a considerable amount of controversy for exploring subjects rarely seen on TV at that time.

Long before Kate and Jon Gosselin's marital problems played out on TLC's 'Jon & Kate Plus 8,' Pat Loud, the mother and central character on 'Family,' asked her husband Bill for a divorce midway through the series.

Even more shocking was the coming out of the Louds' eldest son, Lance, who became TV's first openly gay character."


  1. says

    Well what PBS ought to do is simply re-run the original series. It was quite something. I knew Lance, and I can’t imagine anyone capable of playing him.

    Wait, I’ll take that back. Rufus Wainwright could do it. He knew lance and sang at his meorial service at the Chateau Marmont (a very memorable occasion as those who were there surely recall.)

    Anyhoo the series MUST be re-run.

    Among other things it would show that Lance didn’t “come out on television” — as the press loves to claim. He was already out to his entire family — long before the cameras rolled. What’s called the “Coming Out” is the episode where Lance’s mother Pat comes to visit him in New York (he’s stayign at the Chelsea, of course) and he takes her out for a night on the town to see Jackie Curtis’ “Vain Victory” starring Candy Darling. Pat had a teriffic time.

  2. says

    I met Lance towards the end. A very nice gu, but, he seemed very troubled. I hope that his memory is served well. He was pretty funny. He could never remember my name, so, whenever he writing about some nobody celebrity he could care less about , he would call me up and say, “hey, MTV Guy, what’s the latest on so and so? Oh. Ok, yeah, I knew that. All right. Bye.” I always sat there like Wiley Coyote after one of those calls. But with a smile.

  3. mcQuaidLA says

    Lance is the handsome devil in the back with his arm around his sister Michelle. The Louds I’ve met (Lance, Pat, Bill, Delihla, and Michelle) are lovely people and I would assume the other brothers are as well. I hope this film does them justice; I think they all felt pretty bruised by some of the commentary after “American Family” came out so many years ago. They were treated pretty harshly, I thought.

  4. says

    They were treated very harshly. They were going through a divorce and putting that on TV was — then — the most extrme version of “letting the neighbors see in your window.” Quite mild by today’s standards. And Pat and Bill remain freindly.

    Their real “crime” was of course loving their gay son. “America” was allegedly “scandalized” — according to the whores in the “Mainstream” media. Meanwhile Lance made zilions of gay kids feel Fabulous.

    As a child Lance suffered from what we know today as ADD. As an adult he had a great idea every twenty minutes, but could never quite focus on one. At the last he blamed himself. He was quite a bundle, with a self-destructive streak a mile wide. But he was a great guy and he was very, very loved.

  5. says

    I would have been 8 years old at the time and the only channels we got in South Texas were ABC and CBS. NBC came by the end of the decade and cable by the early 80s. I for one did not know anything about this show and have a strong recollection of 70s television.

    Nevertheless, I started searching the internet for more information on this family, especially Lance and have to say I am intrigued. It will definitely be interesting to see what HBO pulls together, but more importantly, I would really love to see the original series. I checked Blockbuster, but no luck there. Maybe PBS will re-air again.

  6. Rascal says

    @Keith — I was just a few years older than you when this series ran and, having grown up in the New York metropolitan area, did indeed get see some of it. I was too young to appreciate the complexity of the family dynamics, and at age 11 I think I was probably coming off of Scooby-Doo and not quite yet into Judy Garland movies on the Late Late Show (although it was only a year or two later!), but what I do remember is the distinct sequential impression of “oh my god there’s a gay guy on TV” and “so what.” It was a great lesson in how visibility can quickly become mundane, especially for kids.

  7. says

    Funny you said that Rascal, because my parents would put me to bed before “Soap” came on. Though they allowed my brother and sister to watch it, I guess I was too young. Ultimately, I huffed and puffed and finally got my way.

    When I saw Billy Crystal portraying the gay character “Jodie” on the show I somehow felt normal. Not like my pre-conceived notion that gay people only dressed like Elton John or wore leather and chains. Now that I’m older, I kind of appreciate those things [grin]

  8. Hank says

    I hope the film does justice to the subject.

    Lance Loud was the first out gay person on TV, and he and his family paid dearly for it. The original broadcast was a huge media event- the Louds were on the cover of TIME ( I think that’s the picture above) and they were endlessly discussed, dissected, and ripped apart in the media as vapid , California, materialistic, hedonistic, narcissitic, blah blah blah. But whether it was said or not, the real reason America hated on them so badly was that they accepted Lance in a very matter of fact way and loved him as he was, and people just couldn’t handle it. One national columnist summed it up by calling Lance the “evil flower of his family’s decadent lifestyle.”- such a bizarre hateful comment given his obvious , abundant sweetness of character. I see him as an authentic gay hero who, by just being himself publicly at age 21, marched bravely and naively into an incredible shitstorm of hate from which I think he and his family never really recovered. When he was dying, he invited the documentarians back, and they made “A Death in an American Family.” Lance seemed so sweet and funny and positive and devoid of resentment right up to the end. And his mom was inconsolable.

    The original series has almost never been rebroadcast, I believe because the Louds didn’t give their permission- understandably, given what they went through. PBS in New York showed it once as an all day marathon in the early 90s- mesmerizing and very moving.

    God bless the Louds.

  9. Hank says

    When Dick Cavett asked Lance ( age maybe 23) how he felt about the “evil flower” comment, Lance said “That was the one that really hurt. But then I took two aspirin , and it went away.”

  10. k says

    Just for fun, my 11 year-old brother (at the time) wrote a fan letter to the Loud family…and actually got a nice note back from Pat Loud after the show had ended. We couldn’t believe she took the time to write! And yes it REALLY was from her.

  11. KBR says

    I remember watching this series religiously. Lance was the first gay person i ever knew about besides myself. I think watching the series really changed my life for the better.

    Its also amazing that this groundbreaking form of (reality) TV did not catch on at the time. It took 40 years for that to happen.

  12. Fred says

    I remember watching most of the series back in the 70’s and was intrigued by how different it was from Ozzie and Harriet. It was a real eye opener for me. I was a young impressionable teenager at the time and Lance was the first gay person I knew of. His flamboyance caused me to incorrectly link gay with flamboyant so there was a time I was confused about being gay.

    Unfortunately, I don’t recall the controversies.

    I believe there would be value in rebroadcasting the series today and would very much appreciate an opportunity to view it again. Hopefully the remaining Loud Family could receive residuals.

  13. Hank says

    “Death in an American Family” was heartbreaking- Lance was destitute and skeletal, but still his same funny sweet self. Talked about how , though he was clean at the end, he was dying from the physical ravages of years of massive drug abuse- organ damage that left his body unable to tolerate anti-HIV meds. And still keeping up his mother’s spirits with his wit, just as in the original series.

  14. Fred says

    I was 18 when the show was on TV. Lance was the first gay person I knew, of. I was more the athletic, butch, lets go climb a mountain type and he wasn’t, at all.

    I would love for the original show to be replayed. This show was groundbreaking in so many ways. I’d even buy it if it came out on DVD

  15. J says

    What?! There was a reality TV show then? People thought about it then? They came up with that concept then? In 1973? In those primitive days? I’ve never heard of this show! But then I’m not from America! And I was born in the late 80’s!

    I want to see it though!

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