Baby Boomers Invent Reality TV Way Back When

Posted on November 12th, 2012 in 1970s,Celebrities,Gay Issues & Celebrities,Pop Culture,Television by Terry Hamburg

So contemporary. So 21st century. So wrong.

Let’s return to ancient baby boomer times: A.D. 1973.

A reality show used to mean National Geographic. Everyone thinks the pop culture genre was invented around 2000. It was re-invented.

A daring series hit television in 1973: an out-the box idea to do live running footage of the real happenings of an “average” American family. Despite newly arrived Archie Bunker, baby boomer family television remained a steady diet of Bradys and Waltons. That’s reality, Hollywood said. If you don’t measure up, look in the mirror. Boomers and their parents did, fell short, and felt inadequate.


The Loud family didn’t measure up, either, and it probably made us feel better about our less-than-perfect selves. On the surface, all appeared fine: here was an upper middle class Southern California nuclear family with five kids, three poodles, a horse and a swimming pool. But the husband cheats, the wife kicks him out, a nasty divorce begins, and the kids go to pieces.

If that weren’t enough, a son who fancies dresses breaks out of the closet. All on national television.

The producers didn’t expect the domestic fireworks, but not to worry, they thought. The show was little more than a glorified home movie that would fly under the radar, especially on public television. Who watches that?

OMG! For 12 weeks, 10 million eager voyeurs were glued to one of the most popular PBS programs in history. TV interviews and endless news stories quickly followed.

Not so perfect

TV Guide ranks An American Family #32 in its list “50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time.”

“Cinema Verite,” an HBO movie, appeared in April, 2011 to mixed reviews. The term means films about ordinary people without script or direction—as in Realty TV. This revisit of An American Family was made by Hollywood heavyweight David Seltzer (The Omen).

The cast wasn’t too shabby, either. James “Is There Life After Tony Soprano?” Gandolfini; Diane “I’m Still Hot at 45” Lane; and Tim “I’m More Than Shawshank Redemption” Robbins. Thomas “Teen Throb” Dekker played the gay son. Seltzer’s idea was to do a “behind the scenes” look at the making of the show. James Gandolfini portrayed the producer who came up with the idea and preps the family, especially Mom (Diane Lane) and Dad (Tim Robbins).

An American Family was a one-hit wonder, but had a “realistic” influence on regular television programming, from Good Times to Dynasty.

Baby Boomer Trivia Questions

►What show is credited with starting the modern television reality show craze?

Big Brother
American Idol
The Great Race

►Last episodes of great television shows always attract attention. Which of these drew the biggest audience in history?

All in the Family

►Boomers in Common: What do all these actresses share?

Delta Burke
Dixie Carter
Annie Potts
Jean Smart

Answers at end of post


Television has proved that people will look at anything rather than each other. ~Ann Landers

Television: A medium – so called because it is neither rare nor well done. ~Ernie Kovacs

Television is an invention that permits you to be entertained in your living room by people you wouldn’t have in your home. ~David Frost

Answers to Baby Boomer Trivia Questions

► The granddaddy of reality television is Big Brother, debuting in 1999.

► The special 2 1/2 hour finale of Mash set the record.

► These actresses led the cast of Designing Women.

Related Post: How much reality can you take? → Queen For A Day