News from the Archive

Bringing Back Bradys

July 21st, 2016
Florence Henderson

“You can’t reheat a soufflé” was Paul McCartney’s wise answer in the ‘70s when people would ask him about the possibility of a Beatles reunion. Sir Paul was exactly right. When any popular band reunites for an album, it’s almost never as good as the work that came before. The same principle holds true for television shows.

I’ve been fooled countless times. No matter how many times they disappointed me, television reunion shows (and we’re not talking about reboots here, we’re talking about bringing back original cast members) would always get me excited. The Odd Couple: Together Again with Jack Klugman, Tony Randall, AND Penny Marshall in 1993? How could it be bad with those people in it? The Return of the Beverly Hillbillies in 1981? Yes please, they got creator Paul Henning to write a script! Mary and Rhoda in 2000? I was so excited for that one I nearly burst! None of these turned out to be any good. At all. Who the heck decided to replace Irene Ryan as Granny with Imogene Coca anyway?

The king of the television reunion has got to be producer Sherwood Schwartz. By my count, he did three Gilligan’s Island reunion movies. Each more insipid than the last, until it finally devolved into (I kid you not) The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan’s Island, which starred not only the original castaways, but a pre-Oscar-for-Ed-Wood Martin Landau. I shudder to think of it. The highlight was Mr. Scatman Crothers scatting “Sweet Georgia Brown” while the Globetrotters practiced for their game against a team of evil robots (again, I kid you not.) It was downhill from there. Sherwood Schwartz talked about how all the Gilligan’s Island reunions came about.

Schwartz’s other series of reunions involved what was certainly his most successful show, The Brady Bunch. For those who don’t know (I can’t imagine you’ve read this far if you don’t) The Brady Bunch was a half-hour sitcom that ran from 1968 to 1974 about a large, blended family. Only, it didn’t really end in 1974. For the next twenty-five years it kept coming back, again and again in different ways to suit each era.

As a kid, I loved the Bradys. I was completely mesmerized by them from a very early age. I actually remember them from their network run (yeah I’m pretty old) but when they went into syndication on WNEW channel 5 out of New York, that was it. I must have seen each episode 50 times from ages five to twelve. It got to the point where I would say the dialogue along with the characters. Not just the famous “Don’t play ball in the house” type lines either. Entire scripts. There was something about the show. The colors, the lighting, the music- I can’t even tell you. Thing is, I don’t believe I ever once laughed at anything on the show other than the brilliant Ann B. Davis as Alice, who I still laugh at to this day. I was a Brady addict.

When it was announced in 1976 that the Brady family would be doing a variety show, my little head exploded. “Variety show? Like Donny & Marie, only with THE BRADYS?” was my thought. As far as I was concerned, there was no way this would not be the best thing that had ever or would ever be on television. The show was to be produced by Sid and Marty Krofft, the guys who brought us H.R. Pufnstuf and Sigmund and the Sea Monsters. It was actually produced over the strenuous objections of Sherwood Schwartz, who eventually relented because he didn’t want to deprive any of the cast of jobs.

Sherwood’s first instinct was right. The show was really terrible. First off, none of the Bradys could sing or dance, save for Barry Williams and Florence Henderson. This left us with six out-of-tune and out-of-step performers. Well, five, actually. Eve Plumb, who’d turned in a critically-lauded performance in Dawn: Portrait of a Teenage Runaway earlier that year, declined to participate. They hired Geri Reischl, who could sing and dance somewhat, and from that day forward would be known the world over as “Fake Jan.” Increasingly in that era, variety shows felt the need to have a central gimmick for their chorus girls. Donny & Marie had an ice rink, which worked nicely. The Brady Bunch Variety Hour  had a full-length pool on stage, with an all-female dance troupe called The Krofftettes, who performed water ballet. But what worked for Esther Williams in the ‘40s in big, splashy MGM musicals did NOT work in a videotaped, ‘70s variety show. The one good thing about The Brady Bunch Variety Hour was that it inspired the brilliant parody on The Simpsons, “The Simpson Family Smile Time Variety Hour.” They even had a “Fake Lisa.” 

The show included sketches, including a recurring sketch where we saw the Bradys at home. But not the San Fernando Valley home we remember. For some reason, Mr. Brady moved them to a beach house in Malibu, where they had to contend with their irascible neighbor, played by Mr. Rip Taylor. In those sketches, they would talk about how they were doing a variety show for ABC. It was very hard to get a handle on exactly what was going on in those segments. None of the kids acted as they’d done on The Brady Bunch. Their personalities were all written as jerky and unpleasant. The show lasted nine episodes, before getting a mercy killing from ABC. I don’t remember being too upset over the cancellation, but I did enjoy the What’s Happening? crossover episode.

By the way, nothing that happened on The Brady Bunch Variety Hour was considered canonical. In subsequent reunions, they were back in their original house, and no one ever said anything like, “Hey, remember that time we did a variety show for ABC and moved to Malibu?” It was all stricken from the record, like George Lucas has tried to do with The Star Wars Holiday Special. In our interview with them, Sid and Marty Krofft described The Brady Bunch Variety Hour as, “the worst television series ever produced in the history of television.” 

Next there was to be a made-for-television movie called The Brady Girls Get Married in 1981. Again, the anticipation leading up to the airing was killing me. “Two hours of older Bradys!” But, for some reason, when it aired, they only aired a half hour of it! What the hell?? The network at the last minute had decided to chop the movie up into 3 half-hour episodes to air over 3 weeks. It must have been very last minute because the TV and newspaper had it as a two-hour movie event. I can’t recall anything like this ever happening before or since. As I recall, none of the boys appeared in the first half-hour segment, so it was very disappointing. It should be noted that this was the only Brady reunion project (other than a later clip special) in which every original cast member participated. Though, it seemed to me that the Brady boys (Barry Williams, Christopher Knight, and Mike Lookinland) were only present for one day of filming. They weren’t in it very much.

It eventually became clear that the show had been broken into half-hour segments in order to launch the next Brady incarnation: The Brady Brides. Marcia and Jan and their new husbands moved in together. Carol Brady and Alice made occasional appearances. The show was just terrible. It was a hybrid of the original Brady Bunch and Three’s Company. Awkward, uncomfortable sexual innuendo and canned laughter abound. None of the Brady men, including Robert Reed as Mike, were anywhere to be found. This one lasted six episodes.

The most successful, by many measures, of the Brady reunions was 1988’s A Very Brady Christmas movie on CBS. Sherwood and his son Lloyd Schwartz wrote a script that was the closest they ever came to capturing the spirit of the original series. Unfortunately, the original Cindy Brady (Susan Olsen) declined to appear. By the time that one aired I was older, and had lost interest in all things Brady. But I watched, and enjoyed it. The biggest disappointment was they’d recast Alice’s beau, Sam the Butcher, who’d been originally played by the great Allan Melvin, with some unknown actor in a Santa suit. Well, you can’t have everything. But what we did get was the budding political career of Mike Brady, who rushed into a crumbling building to save two security guards, while Florence Henderson raised her lovely voice in song. How could he lose the election after that? It turned out to be the second-highest rated made-for-television movie of the year. An honest-to-God blockbuster.

 

Not content to leave well enough alone and go out on a Brady high note, CBS commissioned a new series on the strength of the Brady Christmas ratings. The Bradys premiered on March 9, 1990. I got though 20 minutes of it, and it cured me of my seemingly endless Brady fascination. This time, Maureen McCormick declined to participate. Which means you could actually do a Brady reunion with three girl replacements! Leah Ayres, Geri Reischl, and Jennifer Runyon could be Fake Marcia, Fake Jan, and Fake Cindy. THAT I would watch. 

With The Bradys they tried something different: a one-hour, family drama, replete with early ‘90’s style truth bombs. Bobby Brady became a paraplegic, and Marcia Brady battled alcoholism. Spinning off a half-hour comedy into an hour drama had been done before with Lou Grant and Trapper John, M.D. and it worked for those two shows. Not so with The Bradys. The first episodes had no laugh track (one was added in later episodes to try to boost ratings.) It was not fun watching the Bradys struggle with real life issues. What had made the original so great was it was pure fantasy of a perfect family. With that gone, there wasn’t much left. And, to be honest, while all the adults were great (Florence Henderson, Robert Reed, and Ann B. Davis), some of the children had grown up to be not the best actors in the world. True to Brady reunion form, this one lasted but six episodes.

The Bradys slammed the lid on any further scripted Brady reunion shows, as did the tragic death of Robert Reed two years after the run of The Bradys ended. But the culture was far from done with them. In 1992, Jill Soloway, who would later create the groundbreaking Amazon show Transparent, developed “The Real Live Brady Bunch,” in which actors recreated original Brady Bunch scripts on stage. Whatever that elusive element was that so mesmerized me as a child, Soloway was able to capture and deconstruct brilliantly. It was a smash, running for months on end in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. Original cast members included Jane Lynch, Andy Richter, and Christine Taylor, who would recreate her eerily perfect characterization of Marcia Brady for 1995’s wonderful “The Brady Bunch Movie.” Both these projects captured, parodied, and deconstructed what Generation-X loved about The Brady Bunch. The Bradys became as cool and relevant as Nirvana or Candlebox. I was back in the cult of Brady, and thought the movie and stage show were hysterical. Sherwood Schwartz was ambivalent about the postmodern nature of the movie, but I’m sure was glad it was a smashing success.

That is the story of how The Brady Bunch surfed the wave of cultural zeitgeist for almost thirty years. For more stories about revivals, reunions, and reinventions, search our site

- by John Dalton

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Remembering Garry Marshall

July 20th, 2016
blog post image

We’re sad to learn that show creator/director/producer Garry Marshall has passed away at the age of 81. Marshall began his career as a journalist, before moving into comedy writing for The Joey Bishop Show, The Dick Van Dyke Show, and The Lucy Show, among others. In the 1970s, Marshall created some of the most beloved and iconic sitcoms of all time, including The Odd Couple, Happy Days, Mork & Mindy, and Laverne & Shirley, which starred Cindy Williams and Marshall’s sister, Penny. Marshall’s series were often spun-off from each other, creating a big, wacky world of hilarious characters all airing on television at the same time. They were also hugely popular: four of the top five shows on the air in 1979 were his. Marshall’s film work included the hit films “Pretty Woman” and “Beaches.”

Below are some selections from his 2000 interview:

On creating Mork & Mindy:

On the physical comedy of Laverne & Shirley:

On his favorite Happy Days episodes:

Watch Garry Marshall's full Archive interview and read his obituary in The New York Times.

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And The 2016 Emmy Nominees Are ...

July 14th, 2016
68th Emmy Awards

The 2016 Primetime Emmy Award season began today with the official nomination announcement at 8:30 AM PST! Congratulations to all the nominees for the 68th Primetime and Creative Arts Emmy Awards and a special congratulations to our interviewees who were nominated this year:

Hank Azaria for Outstanding Guest Actor In A Drama Series (Ray Donovan

Tom Bergeron for Outstanding Host For A Reality Or Reality-Competition Program (Dancing with the Stars)

Anthony Bourdain for Outstanding Informational Series Or Special (Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown) and Outstanding Writing For A Nonfiction Program (Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown "Borneo")

Mark Burnett for Outstanding Reality-Competition Program (The Voice) and Outstanding Structured Reality Program (Shark Tank)

LeVar Burton for Outstanding Limited Series (Roots)

Robert Dickinson for Outstanding Lighting Design/Lighting Direction For A Variety Special (The Oscars)

Kelley Dixon for Outstanding Single-Camera Picture Editing For A Drama Series (Better Call Saul - "Rebecca" and "Nailed")

Elise Doganieri for Outstanding Reality-Competition Program (The Amazing Race

Linda Ellerbee for Outstanding Children's Program (Nick News with Linda Ellerbee: Hello, I Must Be Going! 25 Years Of Nick News With Linda Ellerbee)

Julian Fellowes for Outstanding Drama Series (Downton Abbey) and Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series (Downton Abbey

Michael J. Fox for Outstanding Guest Actor In A Drama Series (The Good Wife)

Vince Gilligan for Outstanding Drama Series (Better Call Saul)

Louis J. Horvitz for Outstanding Directing For A Variety Special (58th Grammy Awards)

Felicity Huffman for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie (American Crime)

Allison Janney for Outstanding Guest Actress In A Drama Series (Masters of Sex) and Outstanding Supporting Actress In A Comedy Series (Mom)

Steven Levitan for Outstanding Comedy Series (Modern Family)

Judith Light for Outstanding Supporting Actress In A Comedy Series (Transparent)

James Lipton for Outstanding Informational Series Or Special (Inside the Actors Studio)

Christopher Lloyd for Outstanding Comedy Series (Modern Family)

Julia Louis-Dreyfus for Outstanding Lead Actress In A Comedy Series (Veep)

William H. Macy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series (Shameless)

Beth McCarthy-Milller for Outstanding Directing For A Variety Special (Adele Live In New York City)

Lee Mendelson for Outstanding Children’s Program (It’s Your 50th Christmas, Charlie Brown!)

Jonathan Murray for Outstanding Reality-Competition Program (Project Runway) and Outstanding Unstructured Reality Program (Born This Way)

Gareth Neame for Outstanding Drama Series (Downton Abbey)

Sheila Nevins for Exceptional Merit In Documentary Filmmaking (Jim: The James Foley Story) and Outstanding Documentary Or Nonfiction Special (Becoming Mike Nichols, Everything Is Copy - Nora Ephron: Scripted & UnscriptedMapplethorpe: Look At The Pictures)

Bob Newhart for Outstanding Guest Actor In A Comedy Series (The Big Bang Theory)

Hector Ramirez for Outstanding Technical Direction, Camerawork, Video Control For A Series (Dancing with the Stars

Paul Shaffer for Outstanding Music Direction (A Very Murray Christmas)

John Shaffner for Outstanding Production Design For A Narrative Program (Half-Hour Or Less) (The Big Bang Theory)

Jeffrey Tambor for Outstanding Lead Actor In A Comedy Series (Transparent)

Betram Van Munster for Outstanding Reality-Competition Program (The Amazing Race

The full list of nominees can be found here.

The Creative Arts Emmys will be held on September 10th and 11th and the Primetime Emmys Telecast will be on September 18th on ABC - be sure to tune in!

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US Presidential Elections and a New Partnership

July 11th, 2016

We're excited to announce our partnership with the Google Cultural Institute! As part of the American Democracy collection, we have collected dozens of stories from our interviewees: journalists, producers, correspondents, and news anchors who have worked for, covered, or consulted on nearly every Presidential election since 1936. Bill Moyers tells the story of LBJ accepting JFK’s offer to be his vice president. Steve Kroft gives the behind-the-scenes scoop on his 1992 60 Minutes interview with the Clintons. Walter Cronkite tells the tale of how the term “news anchor” was coined during the 1952 conventions. George Schlatter describes Richard Nixon’s many attempts to get “Sock it to me” just right on Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In.

You can scroll through one of our exhibits, "United States Presidential Elections: 1936 to the Present" below. Visit our page on the Google Cultural Institute for more exhibits and videos.

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Notes on Shark Jumping

June 21st, 2016
Henry Winkler

In 1985 at The University of Michigan, a term was quietly coined that would one day enter the lexicon and forever change the way we talked about television. Sean Connolly, Jon Hein’s roommate, invented the phrase “jump the shark” to describe that heretofore undefined moment when a television show you love starts going downhill. Twelve years later, Hein created the website jumptheshark.com where users voted on and described in comments that defining moment in their favorite shows.

The term, of course, refers to Fonzie jumping over a shark on waterskis on Happy Days. This storyline was apparently inspired by a highly publicized television event that never wound up happening. On January 31, 1977, Evel Knievel was going to jump on his motorcycle over a tank full of sharks, and it was to be hosted by Mr. Telly Savalas and Miss Jill St. John. Not to be missed. I still remember the excitement I felt as a little kid seeing the newspaper ad for the broadcast. Picture a full-page ad in TV Guide, the shark from the Jaws poster, and Evel sailing over it on his bike wearing his boss bicentennial jumpsuit and cape. 8:30 on CBS, baby! I was so there. I also still remember my bitter disappointment when my Uncle Ricky gleefully informed me that afternoon that the stunt had been cancelled due to a Knievel accident earlier in the day. How could something that was supposed to be on TELEVISION not happen?? It made no sense to me.

Eight months later, Fonzie would have his crack at it. Not on his own trusty motorcycle, no, but on a pair of jet skis. We asked both Ron Howard and Henry Winkler (full disclosure: I worked for Henry on Hollywood Squares and he’s literally the nicest guy in show business or any business) about the episode, and both say they get a kick out of the phrase it spawned, but both point out that the show thrived in the ratings for several more seasons after that episode. Of course, that isn’t the point. Jumping the shark has precious little to do with ratings. It’s all about quality.

But for me “jump the shark” is something of a misnomer. Happy Days’ best years were long over by the time that particular episode was broadcast. The first two seasons were very different from subsequent years of the series. It started out as a low-key, coming-of-age, single-camera, shot-on-a-soundstage-without-the-benefit-of-a-live-studio-audience kind of show. It had a lot in common with another series that came along much later, The Wonder Years. In season three, a live audience was put in place, as were four cameras to capture the action. Fonzie went from being a misunderstood hood to being basically a superhero who taught kids that getting a library card was “cool.” For me, the show was never as good, but I suppose “jumped the shark” has a better ring than “transitioned from single camera to four camera.” I should also note that the ratings took off in season three, so no one agrees with me on this.

The clearest instance I can remember of a show turning from good to bad on a dime was the original “Red Wedding,” Dynasty’s “Moldavian Massacre.” The shark actually jumped DURING the broadcast! It was the season five finale, and it was chugging along just fine. Steven Carrington (finally) decided to commit to Luke Fuller - good. Adam and Claudia decide they’re meant for each other - yes yes, very nice. Sammy Jo continues to plot against her aunt Krystle with an evil look-alike - well, not so great but we didn’t realize it then. And Amanda Carrington was walking down the aisle looking more like Lady Diana than ever (and that’s saying something). Then suddenly, this ridiculous development happens. A poorly staged, absurdly costumed, wholly unbelievable terrorist attack, guns ablazin’, on Amanda’s wedding. It was an awful scene. In the season six opener, we found that only the “guest stars” (Rock Hudson, Ali McGraw) had been killed. The regular cast was no worse for wear, including those we’d SEEN get shot. Oh, and of course Luke Fuller was killed. TV wasn’t quite ready for THAT duo. As John Forsythe said in our interview with him, the writing on the show was never the same. They never recovered. From that moment on, Dynasty was virtually unwatchable.

I have a theory that “shark jumping” may be on its way out. Very often I think the culprit in the decline of a series is the number of episodes they’re compelled to do. At the dawn of television, a show like My Little Margie was forced to do 36 episodes per year. Over a thousand pages of scripts, with at least two jokes per page. Advertisers demanded it, and it was important to reach 100 episodes as quickly as possible for syndication. I think 36 episodes in a year of a comedy is nearly impossible. A large order of episodes like that breeds creative burnout. Take The Honeymooners. For the 1955-56 season, Jackie Gleason decided to turn the recurring sketch into a full-fledged series. 39 episodes were produced in one year. Suddenly, Gleason called it quits. He realized that it would be impossible to keep the quality of the show up for 39 episodes a year, so he cancelled the classic series after only one season. The show was later brought back in the ‘60s, and if you ever see those episodes, you’ll understand that Gleason made the right call back in ‘56.

As a kid I remember getting into reruns of the classic Britcom Fawlty Towers. After two weeks, I noticed they were running an episode I’d just seen two weeks before. I figured the local station had messed up. My cousin disabused me of this notion. “There are only twelve episodes. The Brits do it differently.” They certainly did and Fawlty Towers is twelve half hours of perfection with nary a shark jump in sight. I believe that the basic cable (having taken a page from the BBC) phenomenon of ten to thirteen episodes a year helps keep a series fresh. I was a fan of Smallville, but only twelve episodes a year were any good. Those were the episodes that advanced the overall story arc. The other twelve episodes were just filler. Time wasters. They dragged the show down. 

Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park have navigated it perfectly. When the show began, they did eighteen episodes per year. As time went on that number was reduced to fourteen. Last year, they went to ten episodes. And in year nineteen of the show, they had their best season ever, creatively speaking. I believe that if Seinfeld had been allowed to ten episodes a year, Larry David never would’ve left and it might even still be on. 

Major networks are still holding on to the 22 episodes per year model, but I think cable channels, with their critical acclaim, ratings success, and Emmy Awards, will soon win out. Ladies and gentlemen, I believe we may see the eradication of shark jumping in our lifetimes. 

For more fun tales of creative peaks and valleys, search the collection.

- by John Dalton
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