‘The Brady Bunch’: Why Florence Henderson Called the Spinoff Variety Show ‘Going From the Penthouse To the Basement’
The Brady Bunch still has an international fan base despite airing its final episode almost 50 years ago. Starring Robert Reed (Mike Brady), Florence Henderson (Carol Brady), Barry Williams (Greg Brady), Maureen McCormick (Marcia Brady), Christopher Knight (Peter Brady), Eve Plumb (Jan Brady), Mike Lookinland (Bobby Brady), Susan Olsen (Cindy), and Ann B. Davis (Alice Nelson), the cast was recruited to try out a song-and-dance version of the show in 1976.
While the sitcom was beloved by audiences, the variety show was cancelled in its first season after bombing in ratings.
Eve Plumb opted out of ‘The Brady Bunch Variety Hour’
Though The Brady Bunch was cancelled at the end of season 5, the cast was recruited for a new spin on the show. Unfortunately, one “Brady” passed on the offer.
“Within 18 months of doing that last episode, we were all back together again,” Henderson wrote in her 2011 memoir Life Is Not a Stage. “Well, almost all of us. Eve Plumb was the lone cast member to opt out, resulting in the ‘Fake Jan’ phenomenon.”
With Plumb being replaced by Geri Reischl, the rest of The Brady Bunch alums were set for the variety show. Designed to replicate the popular Donny and Marie show, the hour consisted of songs and skits rather than the scripted 30-minute plot lines from the sitcom. Henderson noted the sharp contrast in performances.
“Talk about going from the penthouse to the basement,” she commented. “From one of the most beloved television series of all time to what some TV historians regard as one of the all-time worst.”
‘The Brady Bunch’ cast was mixed on musical talent
Ratings soared after the cast appeared on Donny and Marie, giving ABC the idea for the Brady family to have their own variety show. While Henderson had the most experience in musical performance, her co-stars were at varying levels.
“Among the kids, Barry was very musical and caught on quickly,” Henderson said. “Geri Reischl, who replaced Eve, was selected for her musicality. Mike Lookinland was pretty good as well. … Maureen McCormick had good musical talent.”
Though Henderson noted a few strong vocalists, she realized they couldn’t carry the entire cast.
“Chris Knight would be the first to admit that he couldn’t sing a note and couldn’t dance,” The Brady Bunch alum explained. “Variety wasn’t Susan’s strong suit. Bob was not a natural song-and-dance man, but he cast himself enthusiastically into it and gave it his best shot.”
Susan Olsen vividly explained the problem with ‘The Brady Bunch Variety Hour’
Henderson referred to commentary by Knight and Olsen in the book Love to Love You Bradys: The Bizarre Story of the Brady Bunch Variety Hour, which provided some insight to the show’s failure.
“Chris went on record saying that ‘the idiocy and incompetence of all the people around is like working with remedial talent,'” Henderson recalled. “Susan summed it up best: ‘Florence would have been into it, but we were all taking a dump in her church. She’s the one with the experience in this field and she’s got to lug our sorry asses along with her.'”
Though The Brady Bunch Variety Hour had some A-list guest stars including Tina Turner, Farrah Fawcett, and Milton Berle, the show never saw a second season due to low ratings. Thankfully, the demise of the ill-fated show didn’t tarnish the memory of the original sitcom.
“Just like the double-knot spandex jumpsuits that will only stretch so much, the show could not overcome the obstacles despite the best intentions of most who were involved,” Henderson wrote. “After nine episodes, the show was put out of its misery. Viewers may have been turned off to The Brady Bunch Variety Hour, but it had little diminishing impact on the franchise.”