By Ted Nichelson
Co-author, Love to Love You Bradys: The Bizarre Story of The Brady Bunch Variety Hour
A long time ago, in a disco hallucination far, far away, I was dumb struck by an obscure show that hadn’t seen the light of day for years. The Brady Bunch Variety Hour was not only “so bad it’s good” but also marked a dark chapter in Brady Bunch history that had been conveniently swept under the rug – that dirty little secret Grandma won’t talk about. Anyone who discovers how America’s favorite family ended up in history’s worst show can’t help but fall in love with this glorious train wreck.
My involvement began innocently enough one evening in Ann Arbor, Michigan while reading through some news group postings on the Internet. I was a student at the University of Michigan and probably had more important things to do. But I was curious about this Brady Variety Hour that was being rerun on an obscure cable network in Australia. People down under were having the most entertaining discussions about this supposedly terrible show.
I became email friends with a few people lucky enough to see the Variety Hour and convinced one of them to record some episodes and send them to me on the other side of the globe. As a childhood fan of The Brady Bunch it was a thrill to see this cast of characters in a “new” series, much of which to this day has still not been viewed by American audiences since its single and only broadcast in 1976-77.
Why do cable networks refuse to air this show? Why has it not been released on DVD? Why does the Brady Bunch cast pretend it never existed? This secret Hollywood conspiracy was nearly successful until I decided I was going to expose the skeleton in the closet. From that point forward, it became a fun and interesting obsession that I have been able to share with thousands of Brady Bunch fans who are equally excited to see the secret vaults blasted open in a shower of confetti.
I began by starting a website devoted to The Brady Bunch Variety Hour, which soon raised some eyebrows. Almost immediately I received an email from Maureen McCormick’s mother, Irene, who was so very entertained by what I had put together. In the next year this was followed by interviews with cast members such as Geri Reischl, whom I spent six months trying to locate, Chris Knight, and finally Susan Olsen.
Susan Olsen dishes up the Jell-O shots during our marathon viewing of all nine Brady Bunch Variety Hour episodes in October 2004.
Susan was particularly awestruck by my website because she had suppressed her memories of the Variety Hour and was shocked to have them coming to the surface once again. Over several years of becoming friends and relocating to Los Angeles after graduation, I asked her if she would like to collaborate on a book about the series. Fans had been encouraging me to move forward on such a project for a long time, and I knew that Susan would be the perfect compliment to such a publication.
This is when the archeological dig first took on steam—and the digging ensued. It was not easy. Almost all materials to the show had completely disappeared. The network and the Kroffts, while generally helpful, all turned up miniscule quantities of artifacts. I was lucky enough to find many stray items on ebay that nobody was interested in buying. Over time I amassed a large collection of Brady Bunch Variety Hour memorabilia, some of which the Kroffts had actually given away or sold at one time or another. The Kroffts had a lot of trouble coming up with a complete set of episodes as some of their master tapes were damaged. I was lucky enough to have assistance from our video editor friend Glenn McClain who restored scenes (and in some cases audio) using additional copies that were given to me by some interns at Paramount—because nobody wanted the Variety Hour there either. The boxes came to me caked in dust.
Imagine that one of the most celebrated shows of all time could have a bastard child that nobody cared about.
Once a full set of episodes was finally put together, Susan and I sat down with our Bradyologist friend Lisa Sutton, who agreed to be the graphic designer for our proposed coffee table book. Surprisingly we sat through every single minute of each show in one sitting! Then we were off and running with interviews, interviews, and MORE interviews!
Finding everyone from the show was some of the most difficult work. These people were not on Facebook! A lot of them still had rotary phones. Almost everyone was very kind and eager to share their memories and their photographs. They did not have anything to hide and were rightfully proud of a job well-done. The friendships I made along this journey were wonderful—especially the Krofftettes, who I discovered to be an eclectic and amazing group of women. I was honored and privileged to locate and interview all eight swimmers.
The cast and crew were also helpful, and over 100 interviews later we really had a lot of great material. Unfortunately, Florence Henderson was not cooperative and was one of the disappointments of this project. I had met Florence several times and was surprised by her sharp, deliberate rebuke of me. Because all of the other cast members had participated, Susan really felt that we needed to give Florence her space and respect her wishes. Florence felt that she did not want to be a part of something she interpreted as negative. I personally found it strange that Florence would reject Susan in this way. However, Susan saw it differently and felt Florence had already done a lot of things for her in the past, so ultimately there were no bad feelings of any kind.
Florence’s assertion that I was only digging for dirt helped shape the book in many ways. I decided that we needed to have a title that conveyed affection, derived from a disco song with the word ‘baby’ that could be changed to ‘Brady.’ Thus, the phrase “Love to Love You Bradys” was conceived and suggested (to me at least) that the world loves the Bradys unconditionally, even if their dancing and singing is questionable.
Writing the book was a major challenge because of the many disparate pieces that had to be combined into a single story. But the combination of my historical text and Susan’s humorous commentary was almost magical in how they fit together. I wanted to continue my theme of loving the Bradys and always tried to write with loving thoughts so that the story would become benevolent for the reader.
The next hurdle was finding the right publisher. Yet again The Brady Bunch Variety Hour was an awful piece of you-know-what that NOBODY would touch with a ten foot pole. Door after door was slammed in my face by publishers who now might think otherwise. In a last ditch effort I decided to strike up a conversation with a librarian for one of the photo archives I frequented and asked her who she liked to work with. Her answer was ECW Press, who had just put out a successful coffee table book about High School Musical. I contacted their head publisher and they saw great potential for our project. They also would allow us creative control and would support our marketing efforts after the book was released.
Lisa and I then spent the next nine excruciating months piecing together the book bit-by-bit, somehow pulling each artifact into the chapters and making sure it illustrated what was being said in the text. Susan was tweaking our layout throughout the process with her own graphic designs and clever suggestions. It was absolutely a team effort.
Now that Love to Love You Bradys has finally become a reality, the three authors look back at our experience with pride and satisfaction. We hope that we have created something fun so that people with a sense of humor can laugh with us, and that Brady fans can come to appreciate with warmth what was The Brady Bunch Variety Hour.