1 9 6 9 – 1 9 7 4 (USA)
117 x 30 minute episodes
Perhaps the last of the nicey-nice American sitcoms of the period, The Brady Bunch would be anathema to today’s more sophisticated TV viewers.
At least, one might think it so – but persistent re-runs on TV are indicative of its tremendous cult following.
In 1969, however, the mass audience still thought kindly of twinkling eyes, neat hairstyles, homely looks and rows of flashing white straight teeth, and laughed merrily at the type of innocent middle-class problems that only these US sitcom families got into.
A mother with three daughters by one marriage (it was never specified if she was divorced or widowed) marries a widower with three boys, a housekeeper and a dog.
The first season focused on the newly blended family and the conflicts that arose from the merge.
After that, the remaining years were about the daily lives of a wholesome, but large, family with plot-lines familiar to anyone growing up in white, suburban, upper-middle-class America.
The show seemed to have a special formula for finding a 22-minute solution to minuscule yet melodramatic problems.
The Brady Bunch was one of the last of the American shows full of well-kept kids, trivial adventures and hopelessly middle-class parents.
The instant family was formed by Carol – with three daughters; Marcia, angst-ridden Jan and Cindy – marrying architect Mike Brady, a widower with three sons; Greg, Peter and Bobby.
The family was completed with Alice the wacky spinster housekeeper and Tiger, the family dog.
They all lived in a grand house (four bedrooms and two bathrooms) at 4222 Clinton Way, San Fernando Valley, California.
Every single person in the western world knows the Brady family. We watched them grow up and grew up with them.
We were there when they had their first dates, when Jan got her glasses – and broke them – and Marcia got her braces.
We were there when Peter dressed up as a Sunflower Girl to sell cookies after losing a bet, and when Bobby realised he was the only Brady without a trophy and lost the plot.
We shared their laughter and their tears – and their holidays to the Grand Canyon (where they stumbled upon a dusty old ghost town and were robbed by a crusty old prospector played by Jim Backus) and Hawaii (where Peter and Bobby seemingly stirred an ancient tabu curse into action).
Stories revolved around going steady, competition for the telephone, family camping trips and war over who was going to use the bathroom.
The episodes always had some moral story to tell – like when Peter wouldn’t own up to breaking Carol’s favourite vase (“she always says, ‘don’t play ball in the house’) and all the other kids are punished for covering up for him.
Numerous guest celebrities appeared on the show to help the kids with projects or schemes they had cooked up. Who can forget the episodes with Davey Jones of The Monkees and Joe Namath?
The kids ranged in age from 7 to 14 at the series’ start, and the oldest son, Greg – undoubtedly the grooviest guy at Westdale High School – soon became a real-life teen idol. Actor Barry Williams was receiving over 6,000 fan letters per week during 1971 (more than Johnny Bravo ever did!)
He and most of the other kids tried to turn their huge TV success into recording careers in the early 1970s but to no avail.
They were infinitely more successful as The Bradys on the talent contests they entered in the show.
The Brady family became big (make that HUGE) business. In addition to a Brady Bunch Saturday morning cartoon (The Brady Kids), there was The Brady Bunch Hour, The Brady Brides, A Very Brady Christmas and The Bradys.
Additionally, there have been two successful feature film send-ups of the series – The Brady Bunch Movie (1995) and A Very Brady Sequel (1996) – and a stage show called The Real Live Brady Bunch.
A short-lived spin-off made it to the air, albeit in concept only. Twice, in fact. A Brady Bunch episode entitled Kelly’s Kids aired in January 1974, with Brady neighbours Ken (Ken Berry) and Kathy Kelly (Brooke Bundy) adopting orphaned Matthew (Brady cast member Mike Lookinland’s real-life brother Todd).
They then adopt his Asian pal Steve (Carey Wong) and black friend Dwayne (William Attmore II). All was set for a successful series based on the tried-and-true Brady formula of an alternative family living and loving. Then it didn’t happen.
Brady creator Sherwood Schwartz did eventually manage to get a show based on that set-up, Together We Stand, on CBS’s schedule in the fall of 1986.
Elliott Gould played a former Portland Trail Blazers coach who, together with wife Dee Wallace Stone, headed a household of one natural son and three ethnically diverse adoptees.
After a brief time jumping around the network grid, the show left the air until February, when it returned as Nothing Is Easy.
This time around, Gould was nowhere in sight and Wallace Stone was a widow. The show was gone by the end of April.
A generation of kids who grew up with Mike Brady and his tribe were stunned when Robert Reed died in 1992 of colon cancer exacerbated by AIDS. He was 59.
The first choice to play Mike Brady was none other than Gene Hackman – “Hi Honey! Popeye’s home!”
Alice B Davis