In 1969, the Mets ran away with the World Series, Woodstock made a muddy imprint on youth culture and U.S. astronauts walked on the moon. The year also brought what, in retrospect, stands as a TV milestone: the premiere of a seemingly harmless sitcom that would begin a merciless march, powered by endless reboots.
News this week, via Deadline.com, of plans to develop a new version of "The Brady Bunch" comes nearly 43 years after a lovely lady and her daughters joined forces with a man named Brady and his three boys to create an saccharine-fueled eight-headed television juggernaut.
For those who care to explore the Brady mystique, the flip retort would be to go ask Alice. But we'll take a stab at unraveling the secret behind the Brady hold on the pop-cultural psyche: The original show, which ran from 1969 to 1974, essentially served as counter-programming to the TV news. During a time of social and political upheaval, the Bradys offered a family-friendly fantasy land in which the biggest problems were a broken nose or being menaced by Vincent Price in Hawaii. No date or performer for the prom? No worries – Davy Jones is in town!
What's harder to explain is the show's enduring grip, long after the peak of plaid. Syndication and the growth of cable helped spread the cult of Brady to new generations. So did decades of reboots, from those that strived to capture the old magic with an aging cast ("The Brady Bunch Variety Hour,” "The Brady Brides," "A Very Brady Christmas") to efforts milking the show's retro camp value (the Shelley Long-Gary Cole flicks and “The Real Live Brady Bunch” stage show starring Jane Lynch from the 1990s).
The new show, to be produced for CBS by Vince Vaughn, reportedly focuses on the grown-up Bobby Brady as the patriarch of a large blended family created not by death but by divorce – a concession to the times. But perhaps the key to the Brady Bunch’s refusal to fade away is that the original show is literally timeless – it’s not part of this time, and it wasn’t even part of its own time.
Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.