THE BRADY BUNCH

U.S. Situation Comedy

When it premiered on ABC in 1969 The Brady Bunch garnered mostly negative reviews. From that date until 1974, its entire network run, the series never reached the top ten ranks of the Nielsen ratings. Yet, the program stands as one of the most important sitcoms of American 1970s television programming, spawning numerous other series on all three major networks, as well as records, lunch boxes, a cookbook, and even a stage show and feature film.

In an era in which situation comedies emphasized how social climes were changing, The Brady Bunch was one of the few series that hearkened back to the traditional family values seen in such sitcoms as Leave It to Beaver and Father Knows Best. Executive producer Sherwood Schwartz conceived of the premise: a widower, father of three boys, marries a widow, mother of three girls. The concept worked as a springboard for dramatizations of an array of childhood and adolescent traumas. The cluster of children--Greg (Barry Williams), Marcia (Maureen McCormick), Peter (Christopher Knight), Jan (Eve Plumb), Bobby (Mike Lookinland) and Cindy (Susan Olsen)--provided a male and female version for three separate stages of youth. With this group the show managed to portray the typical crises of orthodonture, first crushes, neighborhood bullies and school plays, as well such homebound issues as sibling rivalry and problems with parental restrictions. Father Mike Brady (Robert Reed) was always there with a weekly homily that would explain to the children the lessons they had learned. Although mother Carol Brady (Florence Henderson) was initially written as a divorcee, and episodes of the first season did deal with the problems of children getting used to a new mother or father, the half-hour show repeatedly and firmly upheld the family as a tight unit of support, love and understanding.

Unlike All in the Family or even Julia, The Brady Bunch tried to steer clear of the political and social issues of the day. Rarely were non-white characters introduced into the series. Women's liberation and gender equality were boiled down to brother-sister in-fighting. The counterculture of the 1960s was represented in random minor characters portrayed as buffoons--or in Greg trying to impress a girl with hippie jargon.

The representation of childhood in the series as a time of blissful innocence was in marked contrast to what was happening off camera. Many of the boys and girls playing the Brady children dated each other secretly, making out in their trailers or in the doghouse of the Brady's pet, Tiger. Oldest boy Barry Williams attempted to date Florence Henderson and filmed at least one episode while high on marijuana. All these incidents (as well as Robert Reed's homosexuality) occurred behind closed doors, coming to light only a decade after the series originally aired.

The decided emphasis of the series on the Brady children made it very popular among younger audiences. ABC capitalized on this appeal, programming the show early on Friday evenings. This popularity also resulted in various attempts to create other profitable spin-off products: "The Brady Kids," a pop rock group (patterned on "The Archies" and "The Partridge Family"), a Saturday morning cartoon called The Brady Kids (1972-74), and regular appearances of the young actors and actresses (particularly Maureen McCormick and Christopher Knight), in teen fan magazines.

Following its initial network run, The Brady Bunch became inordinately popular in rerun syndication. This success can be attributed in part to children's afternoon-viewing patterns. Often programmed as a daily "strip" in after-school time periods, the show found new viewers who had not previously seen the series. The age distribution of the cast may have created appeal among a range of young viewers, and as they aged they were able to take a more ironic viewing stance toward the entertainment of their childhood.

The ongoing success of the Brady characters has continually brought them back to television. The Brady Bunch Hour, produced by Sid and Marty Krofft from 1976-1977 on ABC, had the family hosting a vividly-colored disco-oriented variety series. The Brady Brides, on NBC in 1981, was a half-hour sitcom about Marcia and Jan as they dealt with their new husbands and the trials of being married. In December 1988, CBS aired the TV-movie A Very Brady Christmas, which became CBS' highest-rated TV-movie that season. This led in 1990 to a short-lived hour-long dramatic series called simply The Bradys.

Although the dramatic series faded quickly, a live stage parody of the original series quickly became a national sensation after its debut in Chicago in 1990. Playing the original scripts as camp performance, "The Real Live Brady Bunch" seemed to tap into viewers' simultaneous love for and cynicism towards the values presented by the series. The stage show and the subsequent film The Brady Bunch Movie (1995) reveled in the kitsch taste of 1970s culture, complete with "groovy" bell bottoms and day-glo orange and lime green color schemes. Yet, although the stage production and the film gleefully deconstructed the absurdity of the wholesomeness of the Brady family, an admiration remained. Many children who grew up with the show came from families of divorce, or were "latch-key" children with both parents working. Consequently, some of those amused at the naiveté of the series also admittedly envy the ideal nuclear family that they never had and that the Bradys represent.


The Brady Bunch

Much like Star Trek, another Paramount-produced television series of the late 1960s, The Brady Bunch was underappreciated by critics and network executives, but fan loyalty has made the series a franchise for book deals, memorabilia and feature films. A cultural throwback even in its time, the family led by "a lovely lady" and "a man named Brady" has become celebrated in part precisely for its steadfast obliviousness to societal change.

-Sean Griffin

CAST

Mike Brady............................................. Robert Reed Carol Brady.................................. Florence Henderson Alice Nelson........................................... Ann B. Davis Marcia Brady............................... Maureen McCormick Jan Brady ..................................................Eve Plumb Cindy Brady............................................ Susan Olsen Greg Brady.......................................... Berry Williams Peter Brady.................................... Christopher Knight Bobby Brady..................................... Mike Lookinland

PRODUCERS

Sherwood Schwartz, Lloyd J. Schwartz, Howard Leeds

PROGRAMMING HISTORY
117 Episodes

ABC
September 1969-September 1970 Friday 8:00-8:30 September 1970-September 1971 Friday 7:30-8:00 September 1971-August 1974 Friday 8:00-8:30

FURTHER READING

Bellafante, Gina. "The Inventor of Bad TV: What Would the '70s Have Been Without Sherwood Schwartz? (interview)." Time (New York), 13 March 1995.

Briller, Bert. "Will the Real Live Brady Bunch Stand Up?" Television Quarterly (New York), Spring 1992.

Steele, Scott. "Bringing Up Brady." Maclean's (Toronto, Canada), 7 February 1994.

Williams, Barry, with Chris Kreski. Growing Up Brady: I Was A Teenage Greg. New York: Harper Perennial, 1992.

Zeman, Ned. "Seventies Something; The Era that Gave Us Bell-Bottoms, Abba and The Brady Bunch Is Coming Back. Have a Nice Decade." Newsweek (New York), 10 June 1991.

 

See also Comedy, Domestic Settings