If you grew up in Flushing, Queens, in the 1970s like I did (my neighbor was Fran Dresher pre-The Nanny and the typical style in one of those cramped apartments was plastic over the furniture), you will remember your reaction to classic family sitcom The Brady Bunch.
You probably wondered why your bickering parents were not like Mike (Robert Reed) and Carol Brady (Florence Henderson). You craved a groovy house like the one this blended gang lived in — complete with that orange and avocado colored kitchen. And, of course, you also wanted a jovial housekeeper like Alice (Ann B. Davis).
To be honest, I wanted to be a Brady. And I bet some of you did too.
While not a hit by the traditional Nielsen standards (The Brady Bunch never finished any of its five seasons ranked in the Top 30), it was nonetheless a magnet for kids and teens. For any pre-adult not living in the idyllic Brady environment — and, let’s face it, that was most of us — the show was an escape.
It was a world where any typical problem among the Brady siblings — Greg (Barry Williams), Marcia (Maureen McCormick), Peter (Christopher Knight), Jan (Eve Plumb), Bobby (Mike Lookinland) and Cindy (Susan Olsen) — was always resolved with love and tenderness and a goofy laugh track by the end of each episode.
Unlike most series that conclude after the final episode airs, the Brady brood has, to date, spawned three scripted spin-offs, one animated half hour, two theatricals, three made-for TV movies, a reality series, stage plays and musicals, countless specials and reunions, fan sites, and books, and — at present — home makeover series A Very Brady Renovation on HGTV. Just last week I received an advanced copy of new book The Way We Became The Brady Bunch by Kimberly Potts.
While I wonder at this point if there is really anything we don’t already know about this fictional family, we Brady fans hunger for more. And as any Brady historian will tell you (and trust me when I tell you they lurk at every corner), A Very Brady Renovation on HGTV marks the first time the six Brady siblings were together on camera since TV movie The Brady Girls Get Married in 1981.
“This was a family sitcom, the first in color, told from the point of view of the children and the issues these kids had — fitting in, getting braces, feeling wanted, etc. — are things that all children face at one time or another,” Lloyd Schwartz, the son of The Brady Bunch creator Sherwood Schwartz told me in an interview I did for Mediaweek magazine in 2010. “By not being topical and focusing on six kids of different ages, there was really something for everyone.”
“The Brady Bunch is many things,” he said. “But the word not in the vocabulary about this series is ‘over.'”
The Origins of The Brady Bunch
In the fall of 1969, Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In topped the Nielsen charts on television, westerns Gunsmoke and Bonanza ranked second and third, respectively, and the popular TV sitcoms were entries like Mayberry, R.F.D., Family Affair, Here’s Lucy and The Doris Day Show. The television landscape was still one year away from the arrivals of two series — The Mary Tyler Moore Show and All in the Family — that would ultimately change the course of TV sitcoms.
So, for any series of a comedic nature, the goal at that time was pure escape and complete innocence. And ABC needed a series to schedule in the Friday 8 p.m. ET half-hour out of game show Let’s Make a Deal.
When we first met the Brady brood, the families were about to be united at the wedding of Mike Brady (“who was busy with three boys of his own”), and that “lovely lady,” Carol Martin. “I don’t know what I would have done without you these past few years,” said Carol solemnly to her parents in that pilot episode (who we never did see again).
Comical chaos ultimately ensues when the Brady boys’ dog, Tiger, decides to chase the girls’ cat Fluffy (who also disappeared in the land of the TV lost after the pilot) over the food table, resulting in the wedding cake falling right into the laps of Mike and Carol. Crank up the laugh track please!
By episode end, Mike and Carol decide to bring the family, and Alice, of course, on their honeymoon. And that’s the way they become The Brady Bunch!
In episode two the family moves into that groovy Brady abode, and…poof…it is a rash of wholesome dilemmas where good ol’ Mom and Dad — and Alice too — had an easy solution for everything.
For 117 episodes (including those final six with Robbie Rist as The Brady Bunch “killer” Cousin Oliver), this TV family was simply the polar opposite of the upcoming era of Norman Lear issue-driven comedies and Mary Tyler Moore as good ‘ol Mary Richards.
By season two, it offered lead-in support to two other comical shows of this deteriorating innocent nature: Nanny and the Professor and the more widely known The Partridge Family.
Once The Brady Bunch entered off-network syndication following its original series run, someone came up with the idea to reunite Florence Henderson, Maureen McCormick, Mike Lookinland and Susan Olsen on ABC variety hour Donny and Marie in the fall of 1976. The fictional family was about to make a comeback. Fast forward to today, and they have never left. And they never will.
Everyone is an expert on The Brady Bunch
Again, there are probably not many things we don’t know about this fictional family. But let me offer 10 facts and observations that may tickle your Brady fancy.
1. The competition included Bob Denver
When The Brady Bunch premiered in the fall of 1969, it faced two shows you may not be all that familiar with: CBS comedy The Good Guys with Bob Denver post-Gilligan’s Island, and NBC western High Chaparral. It led into a short-lived comedy called Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, which was loosely based on the 1936 Gary Cooper theatrical of the same name.
That same season, failed CBS sitcom The Tim Conway Show (one of several attempts by The Carol Burnett Show regular to find success in his own series) stepped in for The Good Guys; and comedy The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (with Hope Lange and Edward Mulhare) replaced Mr. Deeds Goes to Town.
2. Donny and Marie replaced the Bradys
Aforementioned Donny and Marie, the series that led to spin-off No. 1, The Brady Bunch Hour, stepped into The Brady Bunch time period on ABC in January of 1976. After The Brady Bunch ended its five-season run, ABC made the mistake of scheduling half-hour police drama Kodiak with Clint Walker in the fall of 1974.
3. One creepy scene was too hot for TV
The Brady Bunch was the epitome of innocence, with situations all families could watch together. But there was one exception that is just plain creepy. In a scene in a season four episode titled “Goodbye, Alice, Hello” (since deleted from syndication), little Bobby and Cindy, for no logical reason, announce they are going to the new neighbors’ house for a swim. But when doting Alice opens Bobby’s robe to see what bathing suit he is wearing, she discovers — egads! — he is au natural (as is Cindy).
“Who moved over there, Adam and Eve?” joked Alice. And off Bobby and Cindy went to find some bathing suits.
4. Sam wasn’t just a butcher
Two members of The Brady Bunch cast did double duty while appearing on the sitcom. Robert Reed (Mike) also played Lt. Adam Tobias on CBS detective drama Mannix; Alan Melvin (Sam the butcher) was Archie Bunker’s (Carroll O’Connor) best friend Barney on All in the Family.
5. Only one cast member won an Emmy (and she won two)
While Emmy never came calling for The Brady Bunch, one member of the clan was actually a two-time Emmy Award winner. Ann B. Davis was named Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series twice for her portrayal of Charmaine “Schultzy” Schultz in the 1955-1959 sitcom The Bob Cummings Show, which started on CBS and ended on NBC.
Interesting footnote: The Bob Cummings Show (also known as Love That Bob) was the first sitcom in television history to debut as a midseason replacement.
6. The neighbors almost got their own show
While The Brady Bunch was certainly not an example of diversity, a backdoor pilot in season five called Kelly’s Kids featured Ken Berry and Brooke Bundy as the new Brady neighbors who decide to adopt three young boys with different ethnicities. One of those kids was played by Todd Lookinland, Mike’s brother.
ABC passed on Kelly’s Kids, but in 1986 the premise was retooled as Together We Stand on CBS with Elliot Gould and Dee Wallace. After minimal interest, Together We Stand morphed into Nothing is Easy without Elliot Gould the following spring.
7. Only Bobby had a kissing scene
Mike Lookinland was the only Brady sibling to be featured in a kissing scene. It was with Melissa Sue Anderson (pre-Little House on the Prairie) in the season five episode titled “Never Too Young.” The young actors were briefly reunited in the season four episode of Little House in 1977 called “Times of Change.”
8. Carol Brady got a job in real estate
By the time spin-off The Brady Brides arrived in 1981, the kids were all out of the house and Carol Brady was employed as a real estate agent. When the two young married couples — Marcia and Wally, and Jan and Phillip — could not afford a house of their own, wise Mama Carol sold them a house to share (complete with a nosy neighbor and Alice doing all the grunt work).
In the parent series, however, Carol was homemaker who seemed to occupy her day by handing out the lunches to the kids, drinking coffee and doing needlepoint. But Florence Henderson said numerous times that she would have preferred if younger Carol did have a job.
9. Only one Brady sibling landed a non-Brady sitcom role
Only one of the six Brady siblings, Christopher Knight, found a regularly scheduled sitcom role not playing a Brady post The Brady Bunch. The series was called Joe’s World, and it aired on NBC for 11 episodes in the 1979-80 season. Knight played a character named Steve Wabash.
10. They thought about killing off Mike Brady
Had The Brady Bunch returned for a sixth season, there were three different scenarios that might have happened. One was a new actor cast in the role of Mike Brady following Robert Reed’s ongoing dissatisfaction with the sitcom. Another was to kill of his character and make Carol a widow. And a third was for Carol to become pregnant with twins.
The twist: the boy would have hair of gold, like his mother, and the girl would favor those four dark-haired men living all together. No matter what would have ultimately occurred, Cousin Oliver was not about to exit anytime soon.
On this 26th day of September, happy 50th birthday to The Brady Bunch! Here’s to another 50.