Television News: HBO Plans Film Version of PBS Documentary “An American Family”

3/31/2010 Posted by Admin

Television News

HBO plans film version of PBS doc “An American Family”

By our guest blogger, Alexandra Cervenak

We are so used to the voyeurism of reality television these days that we hardly think twice about watching a family live their lives out in front of the cameras, whether it is the Kardashians, the Osbournes or the Lohans. But before our current fad of “celebrity families” took hold, there was the 1973 PBS documentary “An American Family,” which followed the Loud family of Santa Barbara, California, and is now considered to be one of the first in the “reality” genre. It only makes sense than that in this age of Duggars and Gosselins HBO is looking to capitalize on the original reality TV success, announcing recently that the network is turning “An American Family” in a film.

“An American Family” ran for 12 episodes in 1973 on PBS, even though it was filmed in 1971 by Alan and Susan Raymond, who would later win an Oscar in 1993 for their documentary feature “I Am a Promise: The Children of Stanton Elementary School.” The show drew over 10 million viewers and chronicled events rarely seen on television in the 1970s and that even today would probably provide tabloids with fodder for months, like the coming out of the eldest Loud son Lance (making him the first openly gay character on television) and mother Pat’s request for a divorce.

This isn’t the first time that the Louds have been reexamined – HBO did it before themselves in 1983 with the anniversary special “An American Family Revisited: The Louds 10 Years Later." And in 2003 PBS aired “Lance Loud!: A Death in an American Family,” shot in 2001 at the behest of Lance, who after battling a crystal meth addiction for decades, was HIV positive and dying of liver failure caused by Hepatitis C.

But what differentiates HBO’s latest effort not only is the fact that it will be fictionalized film, but also instead of focusing solely on the Louds themselves it will explore behind the scenes and the making of the original shows. The film is being written by David Seltzer (“The Omen,” “Lucas”), and directed by Shari Springer Berman and Bob Pulcini, the team behind such features as “The Nanny Diaries” and “American Splendor.” The sole hold over from the original series is the Raymonds, who are on board as consultants. And certainly by the title alone, “Cinema Verite,” it bears no resemblance to the other previous Loud sequels, and indicates it may be more concerned with the process of filming a family’s “reality” than with the family itself.

Nearly 40 years and two follow-up specials later, if HBO wants to revisit “An American Family” again I think the route the network has chosen is wise. After all this time interest in the Louds as a family certainly has waned, and even if they are the original, in a market now glutted with similar reality TV families I am not sure what else a simply fictionalized retelling of their story could bring to the table.

But while many of today’s family based reality TV shows are mainly concerned with trying to earn some quick fame, “An American Family” was clearly a more high minded sociological experiment. Hopefully with this new film HBO can regain some these deeper aspirations by using the series that gave birth to a genre as an allegory to examine today’s 24/7 surveillance culture.

No premiere date for “Cinema Verite” has been set, but word is that casting is underway.


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