Thursday, August 2, 2012

A New Brady Bunch TV Show

The Brady Bunch looks like it is coming back to American television:

Comments by the Blog Author

Just over thirty years ago, around 1981, there was an article in Esquire magazine that included the profound statement: "Life imitates both art and schlock." This means that life mirrors art, but it also mirrors bad art, corny art, in a word – schlock.

So it is easy to state that CBS, greedy for a large audience, will resurrect a show from forty years ago and put it on in spite of the inartistic nature of the situation behind the situation comedy. That is the kind of business television is, and everyone knows this, so it isn’t worth commenting on.

Yet this is too glib and too quick. The Brady Bunch was a trite show about a widower with three sons who marries a divorcee with three daughters. This shallow comedic situation lasted for five years on the air! It stayed shallow in spite of the talent of the lead actors.

Florence Henderson began her career on Broadway, playing significant roles.

Ann B. Davis was nominated for four Emmys and won two of them for her work with Bob Cummings on his television show in the late 1950s.

Robert Reed was a serious Shakespearean actor who had worked for four years with E.G. Marshall on The Defenders TV show as well as appearing in Neil Simon’s play, Barefoot in the Park.  He was not always happy with the shallow show where he played the father from 1969 to 1974:
"From the beginning of The Brady Bunch, Reed was unhappy with his role of Mike Brady. He felt that acting in the often silly sitcom was beneath his serious Shakespearean training. Despite his discontent with the show, he genuinely liked his co-stars and was a beloved father figure to the younger cast members. In his efforts to bring more realism to the show, Reed often locked horns with the show's creator and executive producer, Sherwood Schwartz. Reed presented Schwartz with hand-written memorandums detailing why a certain character's motivation did not make sense or why it was wrong to combine elements of farce and satire.

"Reed was particularly appalled by show's series finale, "The Hair-Brained Scheme". He sent Schwartz a memo picking apart the episode, but Schwartz did not receive the memo promptly enough to change the show as Reed wanted. As a result, Reed refused to appear in the episode altogether. Though Schwartz fired Reed from the series, the show ended up being cancelled shortly thereafter."

Wikipedia also notes that Reed never abandoned his occasional appearances as a police lieutenant on Mannix, a show with a longer run on the air (1967-1975).

Henderson and Davis weren’t as combative as Reed, but all three of them knew what they were doing as professional actors. They stuck with a silly sit-com because it was working and it kept them on the air as stars.

They were on the air together at the exact time, 1969 through 1974, when
Richard Nixon was president. They entertained America during the last years of the Vietnam war, the incident where the Ohio National Guard shot dead protesters at Kent State in May of 1970, the Cambodian incursion, the 1972 presidential election and the Watergate scandal. The show went off the air a few weeks after Nixon resigned. I think we can make an inference here that The Brady Bunch was intentional shlock, intentional fluff, in a word, escapism.

And this leads me to jump to another snap judgment. The Brady Bunch is being considered by CBS as a new show four decades later because it is tailor made for escapism. CBS has a history of masterful escapism (I give you three Paul Henning 1960s creations: The Beverly Hillbillies, spin-off Petticoat Junction and double spin-off Green Acres as examples).

Why would CBS dive into escapist comedy in 2013?
  • America is running annual deficits over $1 trillion with no end in sight
  • 2012 is providing a tedious and ruthlessly uninteresting presidential election
  • A lower percentage of adult Americans are working than at any time since the inception of records for this statistic
  • Network television is in trouble and continues to lose audience share
  • The nation has been in Afghanistan for eleven full years and counting
  • The conflict of uniting a family through a new marriage has become normal
So I think CBS is willing to bet that it will get enough chuckles to win the time slot.

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