Why America Loved PBS: Cardigan-Wearing Neighbors and Mundane Families

PBS has influenced TV and its programming from the beginning. For instance, PBS’s then ground-breaking reality show An American Family can be directly linked to MTV’s The Real World and Keeping Up With the Kardashians.

The Woodwright's Shop, Woodwright! – the Musical
The Woodwright’s Shop, Woodwright! – the Musical. Source: pbs.org

The DIY Network is flooded with knockoffs of This Old House. We can also thank PBS for making the BBC celebrity Sir David Attenborough a star in the United States. PBS arrived half a century ago when television was a three-network game. Today, PBS still makes many of its programs better than its rival networks, and it’s free and over-the-air.

Let’s look at the best of PBS for a moment…

Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood

For more than 30 years, starting in 1968, Fred Rogers covered all of the difficult topics – divorce, racism, war – with nothing but empathy and honesty. The sweet, cardigan-wearing, former minister was concerned with the emotional education of children.

Mister Rogers' Neighborhood - 1966-2001, Tony Bennett, Elaine Fairchilde, Fred Rogers
Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood – 1966-2001, Tony Bennett, Elaine Fairchilde, Fred Rogers. Photo By Wqed/Kobal/Shutterstock

Mr. Rogers taught viewers sitting at home of all ages not to be afraid of their feelings, to always look for the right thing to do, and to like themselves just the way they are.

An American Family

The 1973 documentary series went seven months in the home of Santa Barbara’s Loud family, which at the time was unprecedented. The series was basically a portrait of mundane family life, but back then, it was controversial.

The Louds, 'An American Family' (1973)
The Louds, ‘An American Family’ (1973). Source: ctpost.com

Some saw it as voyeuristic, seemingly fake, or unfairly edited. Viewers watched Bill and Pat Loud’s divorce and followed their son, Lance, as he came out as gay. Lance, who might even be the first-ever reality star, created the middle-class dream of becoming famous for being just who you are.

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