There’s a surreal quality surrounding The Brady Bunch that has transcended television time and space.
What first aired from the fall of 1969 to the spring of 1973 as ABC’s original half-hour family sitcom (created by executive producer Sherwood Schwartz – of Gilligan’s Island)
has transmuted over the decades into syndicated reruns; with sequels, retrospectives and remakes on additional networks (CBS and NBC); for the big-screen and small; with DVD releases; on the live stage or the printed page; and certainly online.
First there was animated sequel, The Brady Kids (ABC, 1973)…
followed by The Brady Bunch Variety Hour (ABC, 1976)…
which gave birth to The Brady Girls Get Married (NBC, 1981)….
which led to The Brady Brides (NBC, 1981)…and then onto A Very Brady Christmas (1988)…which morphed into the serious-mindedThe Bradys (1990)…followed a few years later by the first feature film, The Brady Bunch Movie (1995)….and the subsequent big-screener A Very Brady Sequel (1996); then straight-to-video with The Brady Bunch in the White House…along with additional incarnations.
Ok, but why? What is the near-miraculous appeal of this increasingly popular and ever-expanding media-family franchise that made superstar names of Florence Henderson (who played matriarch Carol Brady) and Robert Reed (father Mike Brady); the former child-actors-turned-icons Barry Williams (Greg), Maureen McCormick (Marcia), Christopher Knight (Peter), Eve Plumb (Jan), Mike Lookinland ( Bobby), Susan Olson (Cindy), and ever-affable Ann B. Davis (as the lovable, wise-cracking housekeeper Alice)?
In a recent view of reruns of the original series (which is now broadcast, among other places, six times in succession on The Hallmark Channel), I began to comprehend the core of its appeal – through adult, yet childlike eyes.
Before I began to re-watch the show, I transported myself back in time, and thought, “What if I was more a child? What would I think if I saw The Brady Bunch through yesterday’s eyes?”
My reflection gave birth to this perception:
If I was a kid again and turned on the TV and was suddenly startled by a thin white line that streamed across the monitor, have it subsequently transform into a visual of an extremely welcoming woman with a pretty smile, only to have three similarly facial-clad young lasses appear to the left of the screen; followed on the other side of the screen by a pleasantly handsome man and his three charming young sons… all of it happening as a bouncingly happy music with story-telling lyrics played in the background… I’d be hooked from the get-go. I would have been mesmerized.
The colors in the Brady kitchen alone, all orange and blue, would have transfixed me. Into this mix was the perfect home setting… the amiable but at times conflicted personalities… the problems… the struggles… the challenges… all wrapped up within a thirty-minute time-frame.
It would be like watching a living cartoon…in the most beautiful, surreal way.
What more could any child want? What more could any adult want than to view life through a kaleidoscope of loving-kindness that resolved all conflict?
We’d want to experience that feeling again and again, in as many ways as possible…in as many formats as feasible.
Even The Brady Bunch Variety Hour, which many have unduly criticized - and secretly loved - over the years.
But me? I always outright loved it, for all the world to see.
The Variety show debuted two years after the original Bunch sitcom was cancelled – and I was in television heaven. The original cast, sans Eve Plumb (who was replaced by fake-but-eager Jan Geri Reischl), were all there, singing and dancing their Brady hearts out.
But they weren’t billed as Florence, Robert, Barry, and Maureen, and so forth. Instead, it was Carol, Mike, Greg and Marcia, etc. who were given the reigns.
Years later, A Very Brady Christmas (with a new Cindy, portrayed by Jennifer Runyon) became the highest-rated TV-movie of 1988, which inspired the thirtysomething-esque, more dramatic-oriented The Bradys weekly series (with Susan Olsen back as Cindy; but with Marcia now played by Leah Ayres) from early 1990… and so forth and so on into Brady-infinity.
Again, there was something surreal about it all… and there always will be.
Thank the Brady gods.
Herbie J Pilato is an actor, writer, producer, and singer who has worked for Syfy, A&E, TLC, Bravo, The Discovery Channel, Universal, Warner Bros. and Sony. As the author of a number of acclaimed classic TV tie-in books (such as The Bionic Book,Life Story - The Book of Life Goes On, The Bewitched Book, Bewitched Forever, The Kung Fu Book of Caine, The Kung Fu Book of Wisdom, and NBC & ME: My Life As A Page In A Book), Herbie J is the Founder and Executive Director for The Classic TV Preservation Society (a nonprofit organization dedicated to closing the gap between positive TV shows and education; the Creative Director for Erie Street Entertainment (a TV production company that is geared toward sci-fi/fantasy, and family-oriented material); and the President of Pop-Culture Consultants (an entertainment consulting firm). Herbie J makes frequent television appearances on shows like the TV Guide Channel's 100 Moments That Changed TV and Entertainment Tonight. He's performed on daytime soaps such as General Hospital and The Bold and The Beautiful, as well as on classic TV shows like The Golden Girls and Highway to Heaven. Herbie J's newest books include Twitch Upon A Star: The Bewitched Life and Career of Elizabeth Montgomery, which was published by Taylor Trade in November 2012, and The Essential Elizabeth Montgomery: A Guide To Her Magical Performances, which Taylor Trade will release in October 2013. For more information, log on to http://www.herbiejpilato.com/.
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