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But she might also be surprised to see how many programs hew to the “American Family” formula: one of MTV’s biggest current hits is the riveting “Teen Mom” franchise, which follows a handful of young mothers as they negotiate shifting cultural realities and stubborn biological ones, building American families of their own.
This season, one of the stars, Chelsea, unloaded the dishwasher in her new house, watched closely by her father, who had agreed to pay the rent.“I’m just standing here, watching you pretend like you’re a little housewife,” he said, fondly.“I ,” she said, and then she drew a fine distinction that any scholar of kinship structures would appreciate.
In an era of televised precocity—ambitious HBO dramas, cunningly self-aware sitcoms—reality shows still provide a fat target for anyone seeking symptoms or causes of American idiocy; the popularity of unscripted programming has had the unexpected effect of ennobling its scripted counterpart.
“Bill and Pat Loud and their five children are neither actors nor public figures,” Mead wrote; rather, they were the people they portrayed on television, “members of a real family.” Producers compressed seven months of tedium and turmoil (including the corrosion of Bill and Pat’s marriage) into twelve one-hour episodes, which constituted, in Mead’s view, “a new kind of art form”—an innovation “as significant as the invention of drama or the novel.”“An American Family” was a hit, and Lance Loud, the oldest son, became a celebrity, perhaps the world’s first openly gay TV star.
But for decades “An American Family” looked like an anomaly; by 1983, when HBO broadcast a follow-up documentary on the Louds, Mead’s “new kind of art form” seemed more like an artifact of an older America.
“A house_mom_.”One of the biggest differences between today’s reality television and its 1973 antecedent is the genre’s status.
Having outgrown PBS, it has inherited the rotten reputation that once attached to the medium itself.
Her contribution, which wasn’t mentioned on the cover, appeared in the back of the magazine, after the listings, tucked between an advertisement for Virginia Slims and a profile of Shelley Winters.