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More Stories of a Bunch Called 'Brady'

Television * The endlessly spoofed series with devoted fans spawns two telefilms with competing angles.


It's been another typical week at Sherwood Schwartz's Los Angeles office. There were the usual letters from priests, confessing that they used to rush home from school to catch reruns of his old show, "The Brady Bunch," and requesting any suggestions he might have for sermon topics. And of course, stuck in the stack of mail is another note from another convict explaining that the cast photo he'd asked for a few years earlier has been stolen and he needs a new one for his wall. Meanwhile, there's a message from a husband and wife embroiled in a severe marital squabble over how the family dog got out of the car during the premiere episode of the series and ruined the wedding scene.

"It's fine to like the show, I guess," says Schwartz, the series' creator and producer, "but you'd think people would have better things to do."

Apparently not, at least when it comes to the Bradys. Since the premiere episode of "The Brady Bunch" was broadcast by ABC in the fall of 1969, the program has been on the air somewhere--first on the network and since 1974 in syndication. Not only has each one of those 117 episodes aired roughly 100,000 times in 55 countries, the series has inspired a cartoon show, a variety show, several spinoffs, a successful stage play and two feature films. And now, just when you thought it might be safe to go back to the suburbs, the family with the perfect teeth is back again in the form of two network movies set to air within days of each other.

Tonight Fox will broadcast "Unauthorized: Brady Bunch, the Final Days." On Sunday, NBC counters with "Growing Up Brady." Each telefilm is a behind-the-scenes look at the series, and both will apparently include not only reenactments of some famous Brady episodes but also real moments from Brady lore, such as mom Florence Henderson's date with Barry Williams, who played her son Greg. However, the two projects take very different approaches to the subject matter. As Robert Curtis Brown, who plays Mike Brady in "Unauthorized" puts it, "Get ready for the battle of the network Mikes."

As the title of the Fox film implies, nobody from the original cast participated in making the two-hour movie. "Ours is darker in tone," director Jack Perez admits. "It centers on Robert Reed's war with Sherwood Schwartz."

According to Perez, Reed, who played the clan's kindly dad, Mike Brady, was written out of what ended up being the show's final episode.

"The dueling between he and Schwartz had reached a point where both sides had had it, and Robert was written out. However, he refused to go home," Perez says. "He was the heart of the show and always had a problem with the thin plot lines and lack of realism on it."

Schwartz doesn't deny that he and Reed were at odds with each other, and agrees that the actor wasn't particularly enamored with the wholesome direction of the show.

While the Fox movie will focus on Reed, the centerpiece of the NBC film is the six kids who were the heart of the Bunch. That comes as no surprise, considering that the source material is the autobiography of Williams, who also served as co-executive producer on the movie.

"I'd say our tone in this film is respectful," says Williams, also a musician who recently released a CD, "The Return of Johnny Bravo," whose title is a reference to a Brady episode. "The show has been the target of a lot of spoofs and goofing over the years, and I don't mean this as a negative but I found that a little too obvious to do this time. I didn't want anything negative or biting. It's too easy and cheap to show everyone in bell-bottoms saying, 'Far out' and 'Groovy.' "

Instead, he wanted to do what he did in his book, show the ups and downs of being a Brady kid. "I wanted to bring the real characters to life so audiences could get to know what we were like," he explains.

Since Williams walked off the set for the last time, barely a day has gone by without at least one person approaching him to gush about the impact of the show, and that's why Fox and NBC are banking on audiences tuning in. People seem to cling to their memories of "The Brady Bunch" in the same way they never forget prom night, and Williams figures the attachment lingers because "it was an unpretentious show, one that didn't slam its morals over viewers' heads. There was a genuine chemistry we truly had as kids that people related to."

That was precisely what Schwartz, who has a brief cameo in NBC's "Growing Up Brady," was trying to do when he cast the pilot. "I didn't want to do what the executive wanted me to do. They wanted stereotypes, like the fat kid who ate all the time and the nerd with glasses who won spelling bees," he says. "I wanted normal kids, and that's what we got."

That relatability seems to be one of the reasons why the show's popularity has never really faded. Not only were the young actors just a bunch of average kids, but the story lines also strived to be as basic and timeless as possible.

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