Back in 2017, I wrote a quick blog about The Brady Bunch and its nearly impossible success almost 50 years after the show aired. Having just binged the recent A Very Brady Renovation I thought I would take another whack at this particular piñata.
How it started
Remember folks this was the late 1960s and most people got three major TV channels. There was no internet and no home video. So the bar for entertainment was set pretty low. There was this producer by the name of Sherwood Schwartz, famous for making Gilligan’s Island, a very silly sitcom that was almost constantly panned by critics while getting low ratings.
Mr. Sherwood had an idea to put a blended family on television, and aided by the success of a similar film called Yours, Mine, and Ours, was given the green light. The casting process involved getting an actress and cabaret singer for the mom, a leading man to be the dad, a classic sitcom sidekick for the maid (yes it was the 1960s folks) and six unknown children to play the family.
The original 117
The show aired for five seasons. Each episode followed a predictable 30-minute sitcom format, with someone in the home having a problem that was easily solved with a gentle speech from Dad. The stakes rose over the years, as did the budgets. There were a few expensive location shoots, a few guest stars, and some new sets within the house.
Unfortunately, no amount of time in Hawaii (complete, of course, with teens in bathing suits) could slow the show’s demise. Adding a seventh kid proved so unproductive that the term “Cousin Oliver” became slang for something unnecessary and unhelpful. The show went off the air after its initial run in 1974.
But of course that wasn’t it.
During the show’s run, the Brady Kids had an animated show. This is classic early-70s Saturday morning show with all sorts of sidekicks. There’s even a bird who sounds like Cary Grant. Don’t take my word for it.
The show’s repetitive nature made it a hit in syndication, where it connected with GenX kids. And so the show kept on going. The gang (with a substitute Jan) got back together for the truly surreal Brady Bunch Variety Hour. This cheesefest has to be seen to be believed. The actors played their characters, but somehow they had a TV show.
Luckily that didn’t last long either. Not even one season.
The Brady girls got married in a TV movie and this spawned yet another spinoff, The Brady Brides. The two older sisters got married but couldn’t afford a house. Surprisingly, this was probably the best effort so far, but it didn’t last.
The show kept on going and going and going. It spawned books and toys and it seemed like it would never go away. There was even another sequel, A Very Brady Christmas, which was well received but did not become another show.
The 1990s – A Brady resurgence
The turning point for Bradymania had to be the airing of “A Very Brady Episode.” This episode of the otherwise forgotten show Day by Day, seemed to reignite some weird intrerest in the Bradys.
Of course, YouTube saves everything:
This drove countless TV shows, documentaries, and appearances by the Brady actors. It even spawned a dramatic take, The Bradys, which was intended to update the story. It flopped completely.
The phenomenon found its apex in the 1995 The Brady Bunch Movie in which younger actors played the Bradys in a hip, self-referential way. A sequel followed, and it was tempting to say that by the turn of the millennium, Brady fever had finally cooled.
But of course it never will cool completely.
If there’s one thing you should never underestimate, it’s our fondness for midcentury pop culture. The Bradys were a minor hit back then, but they’re remembered in ways that much more popular shows aren’t. Back in the early 1970s television wanted to be grittier and more downbeat. The Brady Bunch was anything but that, and it was criticized for coming at the wrong time. But fifty years later we want to remember those days as happier than they were, and the four men living all together (plus the lovely lady and three very lovely girls) are a perfect prescription for those who want to want to remember things as being a little rosier than they really were.