''The Brady Bunch''
The story behind the show's TV debut 29 years ago
”Happy families are all alike,” wrote Tolstoy, though he could never have imagined The Brady Bunch. The shiny, cheerful ABC sitcom told the tale of a yours-and-mine blended household: Single mom Carol, mother of three blond daughters (Marcia, Jan, and Cindy), meets and marries single dad Mike, father of three brown-haired boys (Greg, Peter, and Bobby). With the help of their jovial housekeeper, Alice, this group not only forms a megaton nuclear family but melds into a model of ’60s suburban stability that endures decades later as a treasured vision of bell-bottom kitsch.
It all started on the day the Brady’s got bunched: the Sept. 26, 1969, debut episode, in which Mike and Carol’s wedding goes mildly awry. Time branded the show ”perhaps the most cynically commercial offering of the season.” In 117 episodes over five seasons, the family grappled with such gripping issues as scuffles over bathroom time, usually resolved when Mike (Robert Reed) and Carol (Florence Henderson) had a helpful talk with the youngsters.
Although ABC canceled the Bunch in 1974, the series just wouldn’t die. Soon syndicated, it spawned numerous spin-offs, including a 1977 variety show, The Brady Bunch Hour, which lasted four months; 1981’s series The Brady Brides, dumped after two months; and 1990’s topical The Bradys, in which son Bobby is paralyzed (canceled fastest of all). In 1988’s TV movie A Very Brady Christmas, Mike gets trapped at a construction site, but his family gathers to sing Christmas carols. Very Brady indeed.
As real-world American family life grew increasingly fractured, adults who had watched the original show as kids revisited the Brady’s. A popular early-’90s stage show, The Real Live Brady Bunch, reenacted scripts of well-known episodes. In 1992, Barry Williams (Greg) published the best-selling memoir Growing Up Brady, in which he recalled romancing Maureen McCormick (Marcia) and going on a (chaste) date with Henderson. On the big screen, 1995’s spoof The Brady Bunch Movie (starring Shelley Long as Carol) was a hit, leading to A Very Brady Sequel.
The stars’ offscreen sequels turned out to be more complicated. Henderson faced down stage fright to land her own cooking show on The Nashville Network. Many of those who portrayed Brady kids no longer act regularly. And in 1992, at the age of 59, Reed succumbed to colon cancer, complicated by an HIV infection, a reminder that all families are alike in eventually facing fate.
TIME CAPSULE/SEPT. 26, 1969
AT THE MOVIES, bandit buddies Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (Paul Newman and Robert Redford) ride into theaters in one of the most popular Westerns of all time; nominated for seven Oscars, Butch Cassidy would win four and inspire Redford to name his Utah film workshop after his character.
IN MUSIC, the Archies’ ”Sugar, Sugar” sticks at No. 1 for its second week. After that spoonful of sugar, listeners would sour on the group, a fake band based on the teenage comic-book gang. In later years, Archies singer Ron Dante would become publisher of the lit mag The Paris Review.
IN BOOKSTORES, Laurence J. Peter’s best-seller The Peter Principle poses the notion that workers are often promoted up to their level of incompetence, a theme that would infuse Scott Adams’ hit comic strip Dilbert in the ’90s.
The Brady Bunch