The 1970s brought reality television to living rooms across the nation, a genre sparked by the groundbreaking PBS documentary An American Family in 1973. (For the Hollywood version, check out the 2011 feature film Cinema Verite, which does a nice job of breaking down the series and the behind-the-scenes action.) The documentary film followed the Loud family in Santa Barbara, California, and is considered to be the first reality series on American television. Lesser known was the 1977 PBS series Six American Families, which followed six families from different states and socioeconomic backgrounds, including one from Queens.
Hosted by Paul Wilkes, the Georges are introduced to viewers as a family that "lives in a quiet, middle-class, integrated neighborhood in Queens, NY — it's called Laurelton" (near JFK Airport). "Bob is a policeman assigned to one of the poorest parts of Brooklyn, Bedford-Stuyvesant. Peggy works for a major insurance company in a skyscraper in Park Avenue." The couple has three teenaged children, and were chosen as one of the six of 200 families who were auditioned for the series.
When it originally aired in 1977, the NY Times' John J. O'Connor kicked off his review declaring, "The average citizen's willingness to display private feelings on a public screen is startling, if not appalling." Oh, John, you had no idea where this train was headed. To watch it now — which you can, as someone just uploaded it to YouTube — is a bit of a relief from what reality television has become.
O'Connor also gave a little background on the filming process, noting that "each family opened its doors to a film crew that spent several weeks recording the various family members, singly or together. The edited film was later shown to the family in the presence of Paul Wilkes, the host and writer, who gathered their assorted reactions. These sessions were then incorporated into the on‐air presentation."
The episode featuring the George family can seen below. While it gives a glimpse at racial tensions at the time, it overall falls short, offering more filler than depth. That's not what Wilkes thought, though—he wrote his own piece for the Times prior to it airing, in which he declaried, "As a hard‐core, print‐believing reporter, I have to admit: Yes, it can be done. Yes, real people can be their real selves on film, complete with fights, tears, hugs, soft words and tough." However, that doesn't really seem to be the case; perhaps as 2018 viewers, we expect much more.