on April 19, 2002
Now that "reality" television is a dominant format for mainstream television (from the fourth--and counting-- installment of "Survivor" to "The Bachelor" and on and on), it makes sense to go back to the original.
"An American Family" was a surprise success when it was first broadcast in 1973: a 12-part series on PBS with very few voice-overs and what now seem like long shots of an affluent California family (two divorcing parents and five kids) doing things like playing guitar and discussing mundane topics and cleaning out their backyard pool (there were more engaging moments than that, but they were not the majority of shots).
What accounted for this series' success? How did it get made? How was it edited, and what was kept in and left out? Why is it still so compelling despite the passage of time and the declining attention spans of Americans in the past 30 years? Could it get made today?
This ultimate book about "An American Family" answers many of these questions and more: probing the origins of the series, and analyzing the final product and the widespread reaction to it in well-researched and precise detail.
The filmmakers were very lucky (in the sense of being able to create compelling TV) to have chanced upon the Loud family, in which the parents were about to get divorced and in which the eldest son Lance (who died in 2002, sadly) provided such a usable storyline (hanging out with Warhol's crowd in New York, etc). The book debunks the widely-held belief that Lance "came out" during the series. He never explicitly says he's gay on the show. However, of course he was, and it was much of America's first exposure to an openly gay man on TV, week after week.
If you've never seen this series but are still intrigued by it, also buy the book! Reading it will give you a great sense of the program, and will allow you to visualize it. (The still illustrations also help, as do accompanying material like press-release photos and ads from the time).
I only wish the series itself was for sale somewhere! Unfortunately, WNET in New York no longer seems to own the rights.
on October 30, 2011
Unfortunately, I did not see the original series; caught clips on PBS and was hooked. I thought this book was going to give me more of an insight into the family personally and in the aspect of social sciences - but it was more of a film history tome. Yes, there were candid photos of the family but ones related to other "cinema verite" series outnumbered them. I can't say it was a "good or bad" book, just didn't interest me personally.