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Brady Bunch was firmly rooted – at least to begin with – in traditional 60s American family values and, already seen as outdated, it never rated especially well on its first run in the US.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?
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.
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.
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.