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An American Family’s 35th anniversary was this week

On Tuesday, with the TV-watching world focused on the debut of American Idol 7, a significant anniversary passed: It was the 35th anniversary of the debut of An American Family, the show that inspired The Real World, which in turn inspired most of what we now consider to be reality television. The series debuted Jan. 15, 1973, and while shot like a documentary, it was essentially a 12-hour soap opera starring a real family.

While Amazon has a product page for a DVD of the series, one has not yet been released, nor has there been any announcement of an impending DVD release. However, there is a fantastic book about the show, An American Family: A Televised Life; Jeffrey Ruoff’s detailed look at the series isn’t a substitute for watching it, but does explain all you’d want to know about its production and reception.

Five years ago, just before the series’ 30th anniversary, PBS aired a documentary about the final years and death of Lance Loud, one of the show’s stars. As Thomas Heald reminds us, the show also followed “parents Bill and Pat and their kids Grant, Kevin, Lance, and Michelle,” and during one episode, Pat told Bill that she wanted a divorce, captivating the nation.

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  • Andy Dehnart is the creator of reality blurred and a writer and teacher who obsessively and critically covers reality TV and unscripted entertainment, focusing on how it’s made and what it means.

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