In 1971 - for 13 weeks many folks in America - including me - watched the first "reality TV" show (though there wasn't a word for it then.) There was also no PBS. It was NET (for National Educational Television). The New York affiliate of NET (ironically called WNET) produced a 12 hour documentary on "an American family". As the original WNET Producer reminds us in the bonus feature interview, this was not a "typical American family", or an average one. But it was truly American. The Louds (Bill and Pat) had 5 teenage children. They allowed the cameras of Alan and Susan Raymond to follow them for seven months from May to December 1971. The cameras were at their home in Santa Barbara,CA and in New York where openly gay son Lance moved. They follow them as they go to Europe. During this 7 months Pat and Bill separate and divorce.
For the 40th anniversary of the show, WNET worked with the Raymonds to re-edit the 12 hours of film down to 1 hour and 50 minutes. The show aired earlier this year on PBS and is now on this DVD. 53 minutes of Bonus features are here too including an archival panel discussion from 1973 lead by Margaret Mead and new interviews with NET and WNET personnel - including the Raymonds.
It's a fascinating story , though, like a previous reviewer, I felt that it worked best in the longer chapter-ized version, which allowed things to be revealed at closer to real time. But this is still better than nothing. And the additional interviews add more perspective to the story. After all, this was a FIRST for NET - a real series.
The show was shot on film and it shows some age. Those used to the crisp images on TV today will have to settle for some graniness. The clothes (and even Bill Loud's "long sideburns" will bring back the 70s even more than an old Sonny and Cher or Fifth Dimension song.
This is an iconic moment in American TV and it's good that it has been released, even in a truncated version.