The Life and Times of The Brady Bunch: Essay

Many people compare themselves to others, sometimes to fictional others. It is not uncommon for someone watching television to compare themselves, their family, or what they own to what they see on T.V. The Brady Bunch (1969-1974) was a sitcom that lasted 117 episodes, but faired moderately in the ratings (never reaching the top 10 in the Nielsen ratings).[1] The Brady Bunch existed in a sea television culture that focused on the changes of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, but it instead focused on what would be considered traditional values akin to television shows of a previous era.[2] The Brady Bunch was not big on social commentary, but focused mainly on moral and ethical challenges of the family. It is the family itself that gave the show its uniqueness; an eight member family living under one roof (and Alice, of course). But how real is the Brady family? Is it an accurate representation of what a 1970s American family looked like? In fact, the idyllic charm of the Brady family life was not a good representation of American Family life during its airing and can be contrasted to not only to real American families, but other television programs of the time.

The Brady family consisted of eight members: Mike and Carol Brady (the parents); Greg, Peter, Bobby, Marcia, Jan, Cindy, and Alice Nelson, the housekeeper. The Brady’s are what is known as a “blended family”, where a family includes children from previous marriage (it is never officially stated why/how Mr. and Mrs. Brady were separated from their first spouse). The family lived in their middle class home which was said to be located in California. Mike made his living as an architect while Carol was a stay at home mother (assisted by Alice). The show was centered around the six kinds who varied in age, and the problems and challenges that came with being a child and growing up. The wide arrange in age between both genders allowed for storybook telling of adolescences from different angles, and there was the presence of the parents that acted as a moral guide to the storytelling.

The Brady’s had some commonalties with families of the 1970’s*, but were for the most part, a social exception to not only the viewers, but other television programs at the time. [3] The Brady Bunch competed with several different shows in the 1970’s, notably: All in the Family, Sanford and Sons, Mary Tyler Moore Show, M*A*S*H, and Happy Days, just to name a few.[4] While many of these shows tackled dramatic social and political issues (e.g. M*A*S*H and war), The Brady Bunch kept a relatively safe distance from hot topic issues and downplayed counterculture and even minorities as cast members (Newcomb does note that gender issues were addressed in the show to some degree).[5] While sitcoms, and television in general, were becoming more progressive in terms of the family and relationships, The Brady Bunch took a step back through television time and brought back a feeling of a solid, cohesive, and idyllic family unit. Sherwood Schwartz (producer/creator of the show) attempted to recreate stories and familiarities that were found in older shows such as Leave it to Beaver and Father Knows Best.

The Brady Bunch’s family comparison to its television counterparts is about as different from its audience counterpart as well. One concept, however, that not only sets the stage for show, but is the inspiration for the creation of the show is the fact the Mr. and Mrs. Brady both had previous marriages. Around the time, between 20%-30% of children were growing up with a parent(s) who had been previously divorced. [6] Schwartz took this idea and created the pilot and pitched the idea about this blended family and its growing pains to several networks. [7]  That, however, is where most similarities between the Brady’s and the American family end. The average American household had approximately 3.11 in 1970 and that would further decline over the years. [8] The Brady’s had nearly three times that many in the house (if you include Alice). The house itself was comparative more expensive than the average American home by a wide margin. In 1970, the mean worth of a house in American was approximately $26,000, and approximately $29,000 in California[9] (the house later sold for $61,000 in 1973, well above the average for the time).

While Mike Brady was employed as an architect throughout the series, Carol never had any kind of paying job. By the time the show was released, nearly 43% of women were in the work force, and the number had raised to over 50% soon after the show was canceled (men had declined from 79% to 77% in the same time period).[10] This is another one of the traditional themes that we see in The Brady Bunch –the man is the bread winner while the woman is the mom. Household income would be difficult to tell in the Brady family, considering Mr. Brady was the only earner in the house. The median yearly income in America was around $10,000 (for and individual)[11], but $12,000 for families (it should be noted that one source states architects earned an average of $15,687 a year).[12] This would make it seems that the Brady’s are living well beyond their means for their house and that many children.

The Brady Bunch had this idea of a perfect nuclear family that people wanted to be a part of or have. The problem is that the expectations of a “Brady family” were unrealistic. The Brady Bunch is somewhat of an oddity when it comes to its influence upon social life and the social history of television. Its popularity was never that high during its airing, yet it gained a large cult following and is still broadcast frequently. The messages or lessons of the episodes did not deal with radical issues, but they took a step back and used television to remind people of a different type of television and a different type of culture. The Brady Bunch’s influence on social television was not dramatic, as its effects were not felt until after it went off the air, but it still managed to send a message to young people in America about what a family should look like (whether realistic or not).

 


*1970is the baseline for the “American Family” in this report as that is a census year and the 2nd season of The Brady Bunch

[1] Horace Newcomb, ed. Encyclopedia of Television (New York, NY: Fitzroy Deaborn, 2004) 1: 298

[2] Ibid

[3] Ibid

[4] Time Warp Memories, “Top 1970’s TV shows.”, http://www.timewarpmemories.com/top70shows.html.

[5] Horace Newcomb, 1: 300

[6] Jeanne H. Block, “The Personality of Children Prior to Divorce: A Prospective Study” (Child Development , Vol. 57, No. 4 (Aug., 1986)), pp. 827-840

[7] Wendy Winans, “History of the Brady Bunch”, http://www.bradyworld.com/cover/history.html.

[8] Frank Hobbs, “Demographic Trends in the 20th Century: Census 2000 Special Report”, U.S. Census, http://www.census.gov/prod/2002pubs/censr-4.pdf.

[9] Historical Census of Housing Tables: Home Values, U.S. Census Bureau, Housing and Household Economic Statistics Division, https://www.census.gov/hhes/www/housing/census/historic/values.html

[10] Mitra Toossi, A Century of Change: The U.S. Labor Force, 1950-2050. p.22

[11] Stanford University, “United States Meadin Household Income: 1950-1990”, http://www.stanford.edu/class/polisci120a/immigration/Median%20Household%20Income.pdf.

[12] CNN Money, “The Brady Bunch – 1969-1974”, What would the $6 Million Man coast today?, http://money.cnn.com/galleries/2008/pf/0805/gallery.inflation_pop_culture/2.html.

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