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An American Family

A Televised Life

2001
Author:

Jeffrey Ruoff

An American Family

The first in-depth look at this pioneering "reality TV" documentary.

This book is the first to offer a close, sustained look at An American Family-the documentary that blurred conventions, stirred passions among viewers and reviewers, revised impressions of family life and definitions of private and public, and began the breakdown of distinctions between reality and spectacle that culminated in cultural phenomena from The Oprah Winfrey Show to Survivor. While placing Craig Gilbert’s innovative series in the context of 1970s nonfiction film and television, Jeffrey Ruoff tells the story behind An American Family from conception to broadcast, from reception to long-term impact.

Visible Evidence Series, volume 11

A thoughtful study. Jeffrey Ruoff connects our moment to the first airing of that infamous documentary and explains the forces that shaped it. His prose is always lucid and his analysis of the making of the film and its explosive reception are often fascinating.

Bookforum

Before 1973, the Loud family of Santa Barbara, California, lived in the privacy of their own home. With the airing of the documentary An American Family, that "privacy" extended to every American home with a television-and there was no going back to the happy land of Beaver, Donna Reed, and Father Knows Best. This book is the first to offer a close, sustained look at An American Family-the documentary that blurred conventions, stirred passions among viewers and reviewers, revised impressions of family life and definitions of private and public, and began the breakdown of distinctions between reality and spectacle that culminated in cultural phenomena from The Oprah Winfrey Show to Survivor.

While placing Craig Gilbert’s innovative series in the context of 1970s nonfiction film and television, Jeffrey Ruoff tells the story behind An American Family from conception to broadcast, from reception to long-term impact. He reintroduces us to the Louds as intimate details of their daily lives, from one child’s dance recital to another’s gay lifestyle to the parents’ divorce proceedings, unfold first before the camera and then before American viewers, challenging audiences to think seriously about family, marital relations, sexuality, affluence, and the American dream. In the documentary’s immediate impact-on both producers and viewers of media-Ruoff uncovers the roots of new nonfiction forms including confessional talk shows like Oprah, first-person documentary films like Ross McElwee’s acclaimed Sherman’s March, and reality TV programs such as The Real World, Survivor, and Big Brother.

A comprehensive production and reception study, Ruoff’s work restores An American Family to its rightful, pioneering place in the history of American television.

Visible Evidence Series, volume 11

An American Family

Jeffrey Ruoff is a film historian, documentary filmmaker, and assistant professor of film and television studies at Dartmouth College. He is co-author (with Kenneth Ruoff) of The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On (1998).

An American Family

A thoughtful study. Jeffrey Ruoff connects our moment to the first airing of that infamous documentary and explains the forces that shaped it. His prose is always lucid and his analysis of the making of the film and its explosive reception are often fascinating.

Bookforum

Jeffrey Ruoff has told the story of the production of An American Family in an interesting and anecdote-fillled book.

Deseret News

A thorough and largely readable history and analysis of An American Family.

Wilson Quarterly

In An American Family: A Televised Life, Ruoff provides both a production and reception history of the series, as well as an extended commentary on the documentary and televisual roots of the program....An American Family is a valuable social document, contributing to an increasingly aware depiction of the family as an institution, marital relations, sexual orientation, and class on prime-time TV at an important juncture in the history and development of television programming in the United States.

CBQ

Ruoff’s understanding of the show’s content, its artistic intentions, and the furor it caused makes it a perfect companion to the show and its immense impact.

The Front Table, Seminary Co-op

...An American Family: A Televised History is a notable contribution to documentary criticism. In selecting this television series, Ruoff knowledgeably discusses the complex relationships formed during documentary film-making for both the producers and the subjects. Thirty years later, An American Family continues to inspire provocative debate...

Cineaste

“Insightful and lucid . . .this book is the definitive study of this neglected but enormously influential television text-cum-cultural event.” Thomas Doherty, Brandeis University

...a brilliant book by Jeffrey Ruoff...

Interview

Written in an engaging and accessible style, the book will surely appeal to readers across a range of disciplines... an invaluable source.

Documentary Box

Jeffrey Ruoff’s in-depth examination of An American Family fits the leitmotif like a glove.

International Documentary

An American Family

UMP blog - Before we had the Kardashians, even before we had The Real World, we had PBS's An American Family -- the original "reality" series.

Before 1973, the Loud family of Santa Barbara, California, lived in the privacy of their own home. With the airing of the documentary An American Family, that "privacy" extended to every American home with a television. Jeffrey Ruoff is author of An American Family: A Televised Life, the first in-depth look at this pioneering "reality TV" documentary. HBO's 2011 mini-series Cinema Verite, which is nominated for three Golden Globes at this weekend's awards ceremony, takes an in-depth behind-the-scenes look at the filming of An American Family. In anticipation of this weekend's awards, we thought we'd post the preface and part of the introduction to Ruoff's book — which we highly recommend.

Read the full article.