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Documentaries

An American Family: Anniversary Edition

PBS Video

★★★

In January 1973, the program that, for all intents and purposes, was television’s first true “reality” series arrived on the airwaves of the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). “An American Family” took viewers inside the lives of the upper-middle-class, seemingly happy, Loud family of Santa Barbara, Calif.

The 12 hours of footage gathered by producer Craig Gilbert and shot and sound engineered by the husband-and-wife team of Alan and Sarah Raymond took viewers far deeper into the dynamics of the family than anyone, particularly the Louds, could have expected.

We saw evidence of father and husband Bill’s infidelity, wife and mother Pat’s decision to seek a divorce and demand he leave the family home. Oldest son Lance allowed filmmakers to give viewers a revealing look inside his often chaotic life as a young gay man in the early 1970s.

Before the 12 hours were over, the Louds were the most-talked-about family in the nation.

Earlier this year, their accomplishment was commemorated in two ways. First, Home Box Office premiered “Cinema Verite,” a docudrama about the making of “An American Family.” Also, PBS gathered the Louds and the production crew for “An American Family: Anniversary Edition.”

The two-hour PBS show features clips and interviews with the principals in the original series. The original material has been digitally remastered and the sound has been upgraded.

“Cinema Verite,” which is still available on HBO On Demand, has been nominated for a number of Emmys this year and, watched back-to-back with the PBS special, provides a fascinating contrast. Either way, watching “An American Family: Anniversary Edition” will certainly remind anyone of a more “innocent” time on television.

MPAA Rating: Not rated, but does contain frank discussions on drugs and sex.

• Joe Barber is the entertainment editor for WTOP-FM and a critic-panelist for WETA-TV’s “Around Town.”