The Loud family, featured in the PBS series An American Family.
More than 30 years ago, An American Family became the first "reality TV" series when it featured the foibles of the real-life Loud family. The director and the father featured in the program comment on their experience and on Jon & Kate Plus 8.
By Bonnie Rochman
One can barely get through the day without the latest Jon and Kate news. Jon is rumored to be cheating... Kate is rumored to be cheating... The show is being investigated for child-labor-law violations. When did we become obsessed with watching families live their lives in prime time?
It all began with An American Family, which aired in 1973 as part of a 12-part, real-life PBS documentary that chronicled the everyday lives of Bill and Pat Loud and their five teenagers. In this forerunner of today's reality shows, there was drama galore: Pat threw the philandering Bill out of the house and Lance, the oldest, who later contracted HIV and died at 50, was the first openly gay person on television. Named one of the 50 greatest television shows by TV Guide, An American Family changed the face of TV.
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For seven months, the directors-the husband-and-wife team of Alan and Susan Raymond-spent nearly every day with the Louds, from the moment they woke up until the moment they went to bed. For the first time, audiences saw a real family with real problems and real quirks. ("Do you know An American Family inspired The Simpsons?" Susan Raymond says. "They realized they didn't have to make Homer the perfect dad.")
The Raymonds filmed everything that the Louds did (or whatever the Louds allowed them to see). Sometimes the kids dodged the camera, but this comes with the territory when making a documentary. However, the twins and sextuplets on Jon & Kate Plus 8 might not have that option. Whether they do is something that the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry is trying to figure out as it investigates the show for possible child-labor violations. News of the investigation, which the labor department says is standard for all complaints, raises an interesting question: Can Jon and Kate's brood say, "No, I don't wanna"?
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Probably not. Without the kiddies' antics, Jon and Kate are just another couple with way too much laundry to do.
Family patriarch Bill Loud hadn't seen Jon & Kate Plus 8, so he could not speculate about whether the children were being exploited. He recalled that his children, however, basked in the limelight. "It was a good experience for the kids," he said from his home in Los Angeles, where he lives once again with Pat.
Not so fast, Daddy-o.
While Lance admittedly relished the attention, the camera made the other kids squirm. "Michele was extremely shy," recalls Susan. "Delilah didn't like it too much, but she didn't really care. Kevin didn't like it too much, but he didn't really care, either. Grant really didn't like it."
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