An American Family, the 1973 docuseries that excavated the inner lives of the Santa Barbara-based Loud family, introduced audiences to TV's first openly gay character Lance Loud, the family's eldest son. Now, the show's creator Craig Gilbert, who utilized the style of cinema verite made popular by the Maysles brothers and D.A. Pennebaker, has died at 94, according to The Washington Post. The cause of death has not been revealed.
Prior to producing and directing An American Family, considered to be TV's first reality series, Gilbert worked on the documentary The DuPont Show of the Week (1962) and The Twentieth Century (1961). He also produced a documentary about anthropologist Margaret Mead for a public broadcasting station.
Gilbert interviewed dozens of families for An American Family before settling on the Louds headed by father Bill Loud and mother Pat Loud.
"The Louds are neither average nor typical," Mr. Gilbert said in the first episode of the series, according to the Post. "No family is. They are not 'the' American family. They are simply 'an' American family."
The series followed the Louds over the course of seven months as Bill's business flailed and Pat grappled with her husband's infidelity. Most significant to American audiences, was Gilbert's opting to profile a family with an openly gay son, who was a lightning rod in the culture wars -- both beloved by many viewers and loathed by the media, according to PBS.
Lance is considered to be the first reality TV star. He moved back to New York City in 1973 (he lived there briefly while the series was being shot), where he became friends with Andy Warhol, who had watched the reality series. The eldest Loud son went on to form the punk band The Mumps and eventually moved to Los Angeles where he wrote for Vanity Fair, Details, Out, and The Advocate, where he had a regular column. He died at 50 from a hepatitis C and HIV co-infection, according to PBS.
Gilbert went on to executive produce documentaries, but An American Family is his legacy. In 2011 James Gandolfini portrayed him in Cinema Verite, HBO's scripted film about the series. Gilbert called the scripted film "essentially fallacious" at the time of its release.