The first American reality TV show - Deepstash
The first American reality TV show

The first American reality TV show

The 1973 "An American Family" was the first reality show aired on PBS. *It offered an intimate examination of a single family alongside a powerful critique of American society.

The show was aired from January to March, but it was too realistic for a TV audience accustomed to sitcom perfection.



Today's viewers mostly understand the exaggerated and contrived aspects of reality TV, flooded with manipulative and staged dramas designed to delight or shock audiences. They feature celebrities and offer an escape from reality.

But "An American Family" was different. The producer wanted to force audiences to engage with issues that affected the American condition. He knew an accurate portrayal of an American family would shock audiences.


The producer, Graig Gilbert of "An American Family", explained that the project originated in desperation. Short on work, drinking heavily and trapped in a troubled marriage, he used the idea of using the medium of a "normal" family to explain societal issues Americans faced in the early 1970s.

Viewers watched as Pat and Bill divorces and their son Lance refused to hide his homosexuality. The realisation that a "normal" family had these issues shocked critics and viewers. It survived only 12 episodes and then disappeared, only to be rediscovered by scholars later.


  • The Laud family on "An American Family" loudly complained after reviewers cast the Lauds' as hollow and problematic.
  • Viewers experienced the shock of recognition. Some viewers wrote how much they appreciated a "real" family on TV that made them feel "not alone".
  • The Lauds accused the producer of being manipulative and staging events, even though the Lauds reviewed the footage with him before each episode was aired.

While the program attracted millions of viewers, the criticism from critics and condemnation from the Lauds served to discredit producer Gilbert's work.


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We prefer to rewatch our favorite series

Over the past year, it has never been easier to find something new to watch on TV. Despite so much fresh content, there is a growing trend for people to rewatch old series.

Data backs up the anecdotal evidence that 2020 (during the pandemic) was the year of the rewatch. The most streamed programme in the US was the American version of The Office.



YouTube Vs TV

TV in the traditional sense isn’t what it used to be. The mediums watch-worthy content is less viewed on TV screens and more on the internet, especially on YouTube. 

Popular YouTubers are getting into mainstream TV shows not because they want to publicize themselves, but because the TV shows want more viewers from YouTube.



Purposelessness Is Pleasurable
  • The low-brow, consolatory entertainment is enjoyable to viewers because it is relaxed, sociable, sharable and accessible. It is purposeless and trivial, making it relatable to our common humanity.
  • The reality TV recipe often has an everyman quality to it, so the viewers are able to relate to the antics of the participants who talk, act or behave as a normal person (like the viewers) would.
  • The pandemic resulted in TV viewership along with streaming network viewership to thrive. Most of the content is not intellectual but unchallenging, popcorn programming that someone who has had a hard day can relax and unwind with.