Cinema Verite: An American Family

If you’re secretly a reality TV fan (or just a US cultural/social history buff), set your DVR to record Cinema Verite on HBO tonight. It’s a highly-anticipated dramatic version of the making of the landmark 1970s PBS documentary “An American Family (The Louds).” The original series first aired in 1973, and was, in essence, the first “reality TV” show that filmed a U.S. family as they lived their everyday lives (the most famous scenes where when Pat asked Bill for a divorce, and pretty much any scene featuring their openly gay son Lance…this stuff was unheard of on TV at the time). I first watched the series when it re-aired on its 10th anniversary in 1983, and when I started working at the Museum & Television & Radio (now called the Paley Center) years later, it was one of the very first series I borrowed from the archives to watch during my lunch hour. HBO’s film tonight, starring James Gandolfini, Diane Lane, and Tim Robbins, dramatizes the intrigue behind the filming of The Louds–from ethical questions about what is “OK” to film, to the implied affair (always denied) between mom Pat Loud (played by Lane) and director/creator Craig Gilbert (played by Gandolfini). It’s fascinating stuff…and will probably make you thirst to see the original series. The Paley Center in New York and L.A. is screening the original episodes in their entirety over the next few weekends; you can also catch a rare compilation of An American Family clips on You Tube.

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