Documentary in the Works Catches Up with 1960s Reality TV Family

Published: December 10, 2014

Documentary in the Works Catches Up with 1960s Reality TV Family

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – Produced 50 years before “Keeping Up with the Kardashians,” “The Real Housewives,” and “Duck Dynasty,” America’s favorite reality TV family lived in Amarillo, Texas.

Dr. Ethan Thompson, Associate Professor of Communication at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, recently completed his first feature-length documentary, about the Robertsons, an everyday family who starred in the 1960 NBC special “Story of a Family.”

Thompson has completed an 82-minute cut of the documentary and has launched a fundraising campaign to help complete post-production sound, editing, score, and titles. Donors can have their name added to the thank you credits, and depending on their donation, receive a digital download or DVD of the documentary, among other perks. Donations will be accepted at until Thursday, Dec. 18.

 “‘TV Family’ shines a spotlight on a long-lost television documentary and the family who starred in it,” said Thompson. “The documentary features rare footage from the program alongside new interviews with the Robertsons, who describe their memories of the shoot, and the ways in which the program reflected as well as distorted their lives.”

Thompson’s journey into the past began in 2012 when he coincidentally met Corpus Christi resident Carrie Robertson Meyer and watched a copy of the show for himself. The show was hosted by Jane Wyatt, who played the mother on the ‘50s hit show “Father Knows Best,” and featured the Robertsons reenacting scenes from their lives.

“When I finally got around to watching the show, I couldn’t believe what I saw,” said Thompson. “More than a typical documentary, the show looked like it wanted to be an entertaining show about a family and it was even called ‘a new kind of visual reporting.’ This was reality TV before there was such a thing as reality TV!”

Thompson immediately knew that he had to share what he considers a missing piece of television history. He said the best way to tell the family’s story and reach a large audience is through the compelling form of the documentary.

The University awarded Thompson a $5,000 grant in fall 2012, and with the help of two former students, Megan Bercaw and James Rubin, was able to get the film started. One of his current students, Carlos Cooper, is now composing the musical score to be used in the film.

“In ‘TV Family,’ a Texas family reflects on the forgotten television documentary produced about them, describing how the program both mirrored and distorted the reality of their lives,” said Thompson.