“Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!” That and other classic lines from the popular (wildly popular in syndication) TV series, The Brady Bunch, are known and repeated even by those who never saw the show. In assessing the series’ appeal, most viewers turn to it as a wholesome piece of family entertainment. After all, in the Brady household, the word “stinker” is considered profanity! Yet the show’s premise did not strike some Hollywood movers and shakers as virtuous back in the day. In fact, it touched on subject matter that many found threatening to traditional notions of home and hearth.
Sherwood Schwartz, the creator of The Brady Bunch, received his inspiration from a 1966 news story that cited research showing 30 percent of marriages involved children from prior unions. Divorce rates had gradually risen since the end of World War II. That statistic, combined with the ancient phenomenon of young widowhood, made second–and third–marriages more common. This occurred against a backdrop of situation comedies that almost invariably presented intact families with Mom, Dad, and kids. A few featured widows and widowers going out on an occasional date. The dynamics of merging two families in a second marriage were uncharted waters.
Schwartz, no stranger to anything uncharted after his success with Gilligan’s Island, thought audiences were ready for something non-traditional. In 1966, there were nearly a half-million divorces to nearly two million marriages…and the gap was narrowing. Though the divorce rate would begin to skyrocket by the late 1960s, the number at the time convinced Schwartz that times were changing and with them, moral values. Accordingly, he wrote a pilot where a widowed man marries a divorced woman. The not-so-easy integration of their respective children was to be the comic center of the plots.
He did not have any takers among the three major TV networks. The idea was too raw for what executives thought would appeal to viewers and garner decent ratings. Two years later, however, the very same idea made it to the big screen in a movie entitled Yours, Mine and Ours. The subject couple had 18 children between them and hilarity ensued as they all learned to live together. Panned by critics, the motion picture was nevertheless well-received by the public.
One network, ABC, started paying attention. Ordering 13 shows for the fall of 1969, the network seized upon Schwartz’s notion that viewers would receive the blended family concept well. Once apprised of the show, however, the producers of Yours, Mine and Ours menaced Schwartz and ABC with legal action for stealing their idea. It was to no avail since the idea was based on a true story and the movie’s title was too similar to that of Schwartz’s original script.
Despite another haggling over the show’s name and other issues, the Brady Bunch ran for five seasons, enjoying seemingly eternal life in reruns. Two satire movies followed as this beloved program retains its innocent appeal.