TV TIMES: Here’s the story… of a lovely, endless love affair


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The Brady Bunch (1972-73)

In September 1969, a cheesy and ultimately kitsch sitcom that would go on to become an institution had its première on America’s ABC network. Only four months later, on 25 January 1970, The Brady Bunch had its Australian début on Channel 10 Sydney in the absolute primetime slot of 7:30 Sunday nights. Despite its then progressive premise of the blended marriage, The Brady Bunch was firmly rooted – at least to begin with – in traditional 60s American family values and, already seen as outdated, it never rated especially well on its first run in the US. Indeed, the Sydney Morning Herald TV critic’s review of the first episode, published the week before it aired, said simply, “Three cute kids plus three adds up to six, and about five more than I can take. Goodbye”. Despite all of this, or maybe even because of it, by 1973 it was consistently one of the highest rating programs on Australian television. It regularly pulled enough viewers to make the list of Top 10 highest-rated shows for the week, particularly in Sydney and Melbourne and even going on to the dizzying heights of becoming the second-highest rated program in Perth during 1976, two years after production ended.

Throughout the 70s and 80s The Brady Bunch was a mainstay of the afternoon and early evening schedules of stations all over the country, with at least one episode of the series (or one of its spin-offs) screened somewhere in Australia every year from 1970 until 1990. By then, the tattered old film copies of each episode had been transferred ‘as is’ to video and you could rarely get through the famous opening titles without the picture and audio skipping ahead multiple times. It was definitely time to put them out to pasture.

With the release of The Brady Bunch Movie in 1995 and the aptly named A Very Brady Sequel the following year, Network Ten saw an opportunity to capitalise on the revived popularity of the series and wheeled it back out – cleaned-up and remastered – for another two prime-time runs. Fast-forward to January 2011 and the launch of the network’s digital station, Channel 11 – and just as I’d suspected, there was The Brady Bunch nestled proudly among the program line-up at 5:30pm just like it had been for so many years before, only this time it was Monday to Sunday – seven days a week! And in that curious way of digital and pay TV scheduling, it wasn’t just on once but multiple times a day… you know, just in case you hadn’t already seen that particular episode on any of its hundreds of earlier outings over the years. To date, Channel 11 is now halfway through its fifth back-to-back re-run of all 117 episodes of the series – once they reach the end they just go right back to the start! The teenage kids revert to nippers and Mike and Carol have to go through the whole wedding and that nasty Fluffy v. Tiger stoush all over again. With only a season-and-a-half left, I wonder if the end really will be the end this time?

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The Brady Bunch (1969-70)

And yet for all the reruns, the DVDs, the movies and the variable-quality spin-offs, I still have the Foxtel box set to record it every single day. The Brady Bunch remains an oddly reassuring presence in my life, a constant in an ever-changing world. 38 years after the last episode and more than 30 years since I sat down to watch the series end-to-end for the first of hundreds of times, how can I still love it this much?

Maybe it’s a ‘time and place’ thing, a warmth generated from memories of what else was going on as eight year old me watched, enthralled, dreaming of becoming a Brady. Or maybe it’s just that, having seen it so many times, I’m intimately acquainted with almost every aspect of it. The volume of obscure trivia I can spout about The Brady Bunch is almost endless – and a bit frightening! For example:

  • The pilot episode (The Honeymoon, 26/09/69) was actually filmed in October 1968, eight months before producers finally got the green light for a series.
  • Mike Brady was written out of the last episode (The Hair-Brained Scheme, 8/03/74) after Robert Reed refused to be involved, arguing that its premise was utterly preposterous and bordered on slapstick.
  • The Brady Bunch had four spin-offs: the animated Brady Kids (1972-74); the cheesy-with-extra-cheese Brady Bunch Variety Hour (1976-77); The Brady Brides (1981); and the brand’s sole attempt at drama, The Bradys (1990). The cartoon had the most of what success there was, lasting 22 episodes over two seasons.
  • For Season 3 producers re-used the opening title ‘grid’ from Season 2, but recorded a new arrangement of the theme song; for Season 5 they recorded a new opening title ‘grid’ but re-used the Season 3 theme arrangement; neither example of recycling was ever explained.
  • There were four Brady Bunch movies: A Very Brady Christmas (1988), a made-for-TV movie featuring the original cast; The Brady Bunch Movie (1995), a highly successful cinematic release featuring a brand new cast; its almost-as-successful sequel featuring the same cast, A Very Brady Sequel (1996); and The Brady Bunch In The White House (2002), a made-for-TV movie featuring another different cast. The first three were ratings or box office successes; the fourth wasn’t.
  • There’s a door at the top of the stairs in the Brady house – nobody ever opened it and whatever was concealed within was never revealed.
  • The girls’ cat Fluffy and Carol’s parents were never seen again after the wedding episode.
  • Other than the position of the front door being more or less accurate, nothing about the internal layout of the house matched its external view.
  • In pop culture it was long-held that the Bradys were nine people in a large house with only one bathroom and no toilet; the laws of American TV land in the late 60s meant that they weren’t allowed to show toilets, which explains that one; but there was clearly another bathroom in the Bradys house – Mike & Carol’s ensuite in that strange and always unseen void space behind their bed. Alice must’ve used a bed pan. Or maybe the laundry tub.
  • After the show ended, almost anyone asked to describe Carol Brady would’ve said she had a blonde flip. Florence Henderson only sported the famous flip for two of the show’s five seasons and it was only truly blonde for one of them.

… and I could go on and on. But I won’t. Like I said, obscure trivia. Almost endless.

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The Brady Bunch (1970-72)

The 80s truly was the golden age of 60s US sitcom reruns. Australian TV had them all on an endless loop – I Dream Of Jeannie, Hogan’s Heroes, Bewitched, Here’s Lucy, Gilligan’s Island, Get Smart – but for me none of them ever measured up to The Brady Bunch. They were the antithesis of my tiny nuclear family – and I loved them for it! Certainly none of the others got into my subconscious the way The Bradys did. I lost count of how many dreams I had about finding myself in ‘my room’ in that enormous house, playing with the kids on the Astroturf lawn, squeezing a tenth person around that little kitchen table to have pancakes for breakfast, or getting scolded in that distinctly less-than-harsh way that Mike and Carol always scolded the kids.

Other sitcoms have sucked people in, just like The Brady Bunch sucked me in all those years ago. M*A*S*H, Happy Days, Family Ties, Cheers, The Golden Girls, Roseanne, Seinfeld, Friends, Everybody Loves Raymond, and not forgetting the current darling of the sitcom rerun set, Modern Family. Oddly enough, most of them have been endlessly repeated by Channel Ten too! But wherever they’ve been screened, all will have diehard long-term fans who find themselves sitting around twenty or more years after the show ends, knowing implicitly what’s about to happen, exactly what someone’s about to say, how many episodes there were and where episode <x> sits within the overall run of the show, when they first aired, who wrote and directed them… somebody will know. Somebody always knows.

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The Brady Bunch (1973-74)

In the meantime, I’ll lament the demise of the old-school sitcom and its old-fashioned values, from a time when there was no sex, no swearing, no internet porn. And never mind comfort – people still dressed in their Sunday best when going anywhere by air. Nobody was ever pregnant out-of-wedlock, or into drugs, or did anything illegal ever (except maybe that time Greg Brady smoked, but that was clearly more a health concern than criminal behaviour!). There was no struggle for equality – women clearly knew their place was in the home or, if working, they accepted that they were tea ladies or secretaries who typed letters. Being gay was still just about being very happy; I suspect Mr Brady knew all about that. Nobody was ever any more naked than they had to be, kids got excited about finding $2 and parents never struggled for money. Aside from brief one-off admissions that teenage sons might need “privacy” because they’re getting older, there’d be no specific detail about exactly what that was supposed to mean and Dads never had to trouble themselves with ‘birds and bees’ chats with their boys. Moms were more likely to be concerned with their girls’ reactions to braces, glasses and lost dolls than they would be about training bras and first periods. Dad could go off to work while Mom and Housekeeper juggled the day’s chores – going to the grocery store, washing, ironing, vacuuming, sweeping the patio and, ever so occasionally, heading downtown for an extremely restrained shopping spree – and somehow Dad and his single salary still managed to afford two cars, a caravan, a trip to the Grand Canyon, three phones, pocket-money for six kids, all the bills and a salary for a live-in housekeeper who went on all their vacations with them but still managed to have her own vacations without them as well. Things would happen and they’d never be spoken of again – and that was perfectly normal. Relatives would come and go and it wouldn’t matter that they’d never been mentioned before, nor ever again. That was, apparently, quite normal too. Pets would be there one minute and gone the next, but kids were never upset by their mysterious disappearance. It was all just normal. Very calm, very happy and very normal.

If only real life was that simple. Then again, I’m not sure it ever really was.

SPIN CYCLE: The 20 Year Itch?


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What’s not to love about 70s-wear?

I absolutely can’t wait for my genuine 90s 70s-style flared jeans to come back into fashion! It’s not wishful thinking either, it’s inevitable.

The 70s has always been my favourite decade. At one time or another, everyone’s proclaimed – mostly with tongue firmly planted in cheek – the superior nature of their own decade of birth, solely because they were born in it. That aside, the little I actually recall of the 70s I recall with great fondness, if only vaguely. It’s what I subsequently learnt about that fabulous decade that’s always left me wishing I’d been born ten or fifteen years earlier, just so I could’ve been old enough to truly embrace a world of impossibly flared trouser legs, platform shoes, wing-like collars, jumpsuits and strange new fabrics that probably didn’t breathe particularly well.

Sadly I was only five years old by the time New Year’s Eve revellers were ushering in the bold new world of the 1980s. I’d tried more than once to create my own home disco – a stylish mustard-coloured barrel vacuum cleaner was my stage, its nozzle was my microphone and flicking the light switches on and off was about as hi-tech as it was ever gonna get! But I can only lament that I was never old enough to fully immerse myself in the musical and fashion debauchery of that time. Anyone who had the good fortune of escaping the 80s was able to look back on it as an entire decade of fashion delinquency that should’ve never been allowed to happen! So it’s mildly ironic that some commentators of the day – the same ones who were probably looking at their electric typewriters through glasses half the size of their face, with enormous hair, wearing grey acid-wash high-waisted jeans and weighed down by the world’s biggest shoulder pads – should’ve so often delighted in describing the 70s as “the decade that fashion forgot”! Even as a kid I never got it, I always loved everything about the 70s – the music, the funky houses, the shag-pile carpet, Chiko Rolls, the peculiarly Australian fascination with Fondue, the giant Australian-made cars constructed entirely of reinforced steel with their scalding vinyl seats and molten-metal seatbelt buckles. But above all else, I adored the unique clothing! So when it all came back into vogue in the early 90s, well… you probably can’t even begin to imagine how very often I creamed myself with delight!

I was watching the wonderful Myf Warhurst’s Nice on ABC1 the other night and she was looking at fashion fads from down the years. One of her guests commented that the fashion cycle typically means it’s 20 years between fads and styles going out of fashion and coming back ’round again. Even with fashions being recycled on an every-other-decade basis, some become such a hybrid of the original as to be almost unrelated to it. But with the speed of the digital world and our youngest generations apparently possessing the attention span of fleas, has the ‘chronic hysteresis’ of the fashion cycle actually contracted?

In the last hundred-or-so years we’ve seen it happen time and again. While the 1920s was arguably the decade where fashion truly became more twentieth century than nineteenth, the late 1930s, the 40s and at least half of the 50s were all about flare, width and excess for both men’s and women’s fashions – wide collars and lapels, wide-legged pants, wide ties.

By the end of the 1950s everything had narrowed right down. Today, ask anyone what they’d wear as 60s-themed fancy dress and they’d almost always go as some weird crossbreed of styles from the late 60s through to the late 70s – the 1969 hippie / Woodstock look, the Jimmy Hendrix-style striped flares, the stringy suede vests, the over-sized pink or orange-tinted round sunglasses, probably a perm, lots of flowing floral or paisley material; in fact, 60s mainstream fashion was dominated by relatively conservative designs with tiny collars, narrow-lapelled suits, stove-pipe trouser legs and pencil-thin ties, a look which carried on into the early 70s.

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Big enough to house the population of a small European nation

Seams and cuffs soon started moving outward again and by 1974 the world was awash with any kind of design that was higher, wider, floppier and generally larger than it needed to be: culottes and bellbottom trousers were so wide as to give the allusion of perpetual motion, with small children walking along the street sucked into a vacuum of excess material, never to be seen again! Suit lapels were equally wide, presumably for no other reason than to counterbalance the absurd width of the trouser legs; if you’ve ever looked at a modern suit breast pocket and thought how pointless it was, imagine how pointless they were in the 70s when they were completely hidden behind the lapel! Open-necked shirts sported collars so wide that sufficient rapid movement of both could quite easily propel the average man on the street skyward, such were their wing-like proportions. Dangerously high platform shoes were worn by women and men alike and big hair abounded – ridiculously over-sized perms, unisex shoulder-length dos, inconceivably large Afros big enough to house the entire population of a small European nation; it really was all about having as much hair as possible for most of the 1970s.

In the early 70s there’d been a 1940s influence on women’s fashion; towards the end of the decade came the first 50s revival, perhaps inspired by Grease, though who can really say which was the chicken and which was the egg. After years of disco and flared everything, by 1979 disco was dead and everything that’d been wider than wide for most of the decade was once again narrow. By 1984, what had already shrunken down to a 60s-inspired narrow had been reduced even further to impossibly tiny proportions. Collars were so small that they almost weren’t there – eventually the fad of ‘grandpa shirts’ would ensure that they were, indeed, no longer there at all! Ties reduced to such an extent that they became no more than a small belt buckle supporting two shoe-laces. Skinny jeans made their first appearance, which was no doubt a wonderful thing for anyone with an eating disorder or no body shape whatsoever, but for the rest of us – to paraphrase Gran from Absolutely Fabulous – it was rather like squeezing toothpaste back into the tube.

By 1986, musically the 60s revival was in full swing, but fashion-wise it was a slightly different story. As if to offset the reduced proportions of almost everything, select items were getting much, much bigger. While the thin mainstays of collars, lapels, ties and pants remained, almost everything else went completely the other way, not least of which were hair, shoulder pads, jackets, jumpers, belt buckles and shoes; all of these spent the latter part of the 80s and the first years of the 90s as big as they could possibly get. In fact, if the late 80s in Australian fashion is remembered for anything at all – aside from how very hideous most of it actually was – it would be three defining unisex atrocities: Ken Done and Jenny Kee over-sized over-coloured jumpers, hugely oversized hair (including massive mullets) and enormously oversized shoulder pads large enough to form the foundations of a twenty-storey building.

Then, just when it looked like ladies’ eyebrows and spectacles couldn’t get any larger or geekier-looking, everything that had been big started to downsize, while everything that had remained narrow started to flare out again. By the end of 1992, the 70s influence was clear almost everywhere and within twelve months the full-on 70s revival had arrived. ABBA, Priscilla, Muriel’s Wedding, anything disco – if it wasn’t genuinely 70s, it was made to look or sound like it. Much of it was 100% copycat – flares, platforms, florals, paisley, brogue – though, thankfully, some of the more questionable designs and styles of the 70s – gabardine, crimplene, rayon – have remained the exclusive domain of costume hirers and senior citizens’ wardrobes.

The prominence of flares and platform shoes somehow managed to wane and revitalise three or four times throughout the 90s and into the early 2000s. But by 2003, as was inevitable, the 20 year itch kicked in again and the 80s were back – in a big way. Flares were gone, everything wide was narrow again. Skinny jeans made a reappearance and, as if they hadn’t looked bad enough the first time, by 2005 the young folk were well into the swing of wearing them with the waistline somehow supported below their butt cheeks. This was a carry-over from a fad that had started years earlier and involving much more capacious jean-wear; it had seemed obvious then that when the size and style of those jeans changed, so too would this slightly oddball style of wearing them half way down their butts with the underwear exposed and the crotch somewhere around their knees – but no, it wasn’t to be. In fact, a handful of styles have remained for longer than they were fashionable the first time… it’s been a decade-long 80s revival. Not as 80s was though, but more as 80s is, or as 80s might’ve been; hip-hop with a bit more hip, new romantic with a touch less romance and even less new.

Almost ten years on and it seems there’s a developing preference for greater width emerging from European fashion houses – it’s the 20 year itch happening all over again! But this time around, when we all jump back into our flares, pop the giant collars over the lapels of our velvet jackets and teeter about on our six-inch platforms, trying desperately not to fall off and break our ankles all Baby Spice-style, what’s it actually going to be? What exactly do you call it when you’re copying the style of a decade that very obviously copied the style of two decades earlier which, in turn, also copied two other earlier decades over the course of its own ten years?

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And what’s wrong with men in heels?

Call it a 90s revival. Call it nouveau pastiche. Call it what you want! It’s all a bit confusing but, in the end, it doesn’t really matter – I’m always just on the look-out for the next 70s revival, so I know exactly what I’m gonna call it.

Now, back to those genuine 90s 70s-style flares… all I need to do is work out how to make my waist three sizes smaller and we’re sorted!