Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Book Review: The Way We All Became The Brady Bunch by Kimberly Potts

Perhaps the most surprising turn of events sparked by the Covid pandemic and the subsequent order to work from home was my rediscovery of The Brady Bunch.

I'm an avid watcher of MeTV, especially the westerns on Saturday and the science fiction shows later that night. More often than not, the cable box remains on that channel into Sunday morning. Earlier this year after I watched my church's broadcast on YouTube, I reverted back to broadcast TV and caught the opening of what the channel calls The Brady Brunch: a two-hour block on Sunday mornings of episodes of the Brady Bunch. Back in the spring, MeTV was running the series in order and it was the episode when the family flew out to Cincinnati and had an adventure at the King's Island theme park.

I'd forgotten how much I enjoyed this episode and I watched that group of four. Then I did it again the next Sunday. And the next. After reaching the end of the run, MeTV started doing themes: all Marcia, all Bobby, etc.

My interest in the show piqued, it was serendipity when podcaster Ken Mills interviewed Kimberly Potts on his POP podcast. Turned out Potts was there to talk about her new book: The Way We All Became the Brady Bunch: How the Canceled Sitcom Became the Beloved Pop Culture Icon We Are Still Talking About Today. (Yes, it's a long title.)

Perfect! I got the book on my Kindle and, in between two digital covers, had nearly all my Brady Bunch questions answered.

Of all places to start, Potts began the book with The X-Files. The penultimate episode recreated the famous interior of the Brady house. That a science fiction show in 2002 would choose to craft a story around a cancelled family sitcom is one proof of how endearing the Brady Bunch remains.

The book is chronological, starting with the seed of an idea in the mind of creator Sherwood Schwartz and going all the way up to 2019 when the Brady kids--now, middle aged--participated in the HGTV renovation of the actual Brady house and literally everything in between. A few facts that fascinated me.

Schwartz conceived of the idea in 1966, but the network wasn't ready for a show with a mixed family. It wasn't until the 1968 film Yours, Mine and Ours starring Lucille Ball and Henry Fonda premiered that ABC gave the show a shot.

I didn't really know how bad Robert Reed was on set about the scripts and how Schwartz was running the show. While the actor never feuded in front of the child actors, he was a pain, so much so that he boycotted the fifth season finale...which turned out to be the series finale. That the episode dealt with Greg's high school graduation is a pretty crappy hill on which to die. Still, Reed returned for every single reunion show for the rest of his life. Yet, through it all, he loved his six TV kids, even taking them on a vacation and giving them all small home movie cameras, the footage of which became a TV special.

Speaking of specials, Potts discusses all the various spin-offs and specials along the way, including a forgotten-by-me thing called The Brady Bunch Variety Hour. Yes, it really happened, and there's proof on YouTube. I kept a list and I plan on seeking out as many as I can. Did you know Reed and Florence Henderson guest-starred on the Love Boat in character? I have got to find that one.

I enjoyed Potts's description of the sheer volume of tributes throughout the years, from sitcom to dramatic show, that paid tribute to The Brady Bunch. Much like Star Trek, The Brady Bunch never truly went away. It just morphing and changing with the times.

And it’s the simple love for this show, the loving parents, the six kids, and Alice (!) that had propelled this show into the 21st Century. Kimberly Potts’s book is essential reading if you want to learn all there is to know about this sitcom.

Why has it endured? It all comes down to Sherwood Schwartz’s vision for the show, a lesson we all can learn:

The Brady Bunch was going to be another example of what he believed was one of the most important ideas in life: that any group of people, no matter how different, no matter how little they might seem to have in common, could learn to live together. He wanted the show to be groundbreaking and modern, to reflect this new and significant sociological change with he prevalence of blended families, and it did. He couldn’t have planned for the decades-long impact his slice of Americana would have on television and every other avenue of pop culture, but it did indeed achieve that, too.

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@Barrie Summy


Lucy said...

It's nice to have that kind of nostalgia about something, isn't it?

You might also like Barry Williams' (Greg Brady) book Growing Up Brady. He talks about getting hired, the relationships, the episodes and reunions and touring with the other kids singing from the point of view of someone who lived it. Sounds similar to the book you reviewed but from a different perspective.

Thanks for reviewing.

Barrie said...

Your last paragraph gave me a lump in my throat. I have a sister who loved the Brady Bunch and must get her this book. Thank you for sharing your journey. Great review!

Powell River Books said...

I remember watching The Brady Bunch back when it was original. MeTV gives us so many old classics. - Margy

Linda McLaughlin said...

This isn't a show that I watched very often, but I enjoyed your review of the book. Glad you are having fun watching the reruns. I've gotten hooked on reruns of Star Trek: The Next Generation on cable. Every night but Saturday at 9PM.

Sarah Laurence said...

Wow, what a fascinating trip down memory lane! I wasn't allowed much TV (only an hour during weekdays) so I didn't follow any show, but I did see some of them. Growing up in multiracial NYC with plenty of divorced families, the suburban show seemed so tame. I can now appreciate it for how groundbreaking it was. This might be my favorite of your reviews!

Scott D. Parker said...

Lucy - I already have the sample of Williams’s book on my Kindle. It’ll be the next Brady thing I read.

Barrie - I know, right? And that’s from early in the book. It gave me a prism through which I could read and learn the rest of the story.

Marty - My wife tells me I’m a younger person in an older person’s body. But there’s a reason so many of these old shows hold up: it’s because they are good.

Linda - TNG is my favorite iteration of Star Trek. Have you seen Picard?

Sarah - Thanks for the kind words. One thing I brought away from reading this book and constantly watching the old shows was how good Reed was on screen being not only a loving father but a loving husband. It was Florence who quickly surmised why Reed was having such a difficult time acting their intimate moments. She helped him through it, and he did great work.

And it is fascinating how a tame show like Brady Bunch can be so ahead of—or right in line with—its time.

Jenn Jilks said...

I'd not heard of it! Thanks for pointing it out.

David Cranmer said...

I grew up Brady and once in a while stop and thoroughly enjoy an old episode. And I had no idea they were on The Love Boat in character! That's wild!