William Loud, the patriarch of PBS’s An American Family, considered to be America’s first reality television series, has passed away of natural causes at the age of 97.
The family announced his death via Facebook, stating that Loud had died peacefully in his sleep in his home on Thursday (July 26), surrounded by family.
Loud starred with his family as part of the proto-docureality series which aired across PBS in 1973 and drew more than 10 million viewers during its initial run. An American Family was filmed from May through December in 1971, edited down from 300 hours, and ran for one 12-episode season.
It had been intended to chronicle real-life drama surrounding the Santa Barbara, California family in the hopes of challenging conventional views and depictions of middle-class American family life. The series drew considerable controversy, culminating with the separation and subsequent divorce of William and his wife, Pat, and captured the coming-out of son Lance Loud, who died in 2001 of liver failure caused by a hepatitis C and HIV coinfection.
In 1983, premium cable network HBO aired a follow-up, An American Family Revisited: The Louds 10 Years Later. Nine years later in 1992, Bunim/Murray Productions would create the seminal reality format The Real World in homage to the 1973 PBS documentary series. Alan and Susan Raymond, the Academy Award-winning filmmakers of the original An American Family series, also produced the 2003 film, Lance Loud! A Death In An American Family.