On this day in 1969, American television audiences hear the soon-to-be-famous opening lyrics “Here’s the story of a lovely lady who was living with three very lovely girls…” as The Brady Bunch, a sitcom that will become an icon of American pop culture, airs for the first time. The show was panned by critics and, according to the Museum of Broadcast Communications, during “its entire network run, the series never reached the top ten ranks of the Nielsen ratings. Yet, the program stands as one of the most important sitcoms of American 1970s television programming, spawning numerous other series on all three major networks, as well as records, lunch boxes, a cookbook, and even a stage show and feature film.”
Created by Sherwood Schwartz (whose previous hit sitcom was Gilligan’s Island), The Brady Bunch followed the story of Carol (Florence Henderson), a widowed mother of three blonde daughters, who marries architect Mike Brady (Robert Reed), a widower and the father of three brown-haired boys. The blended family lives together in a suburban Los Angeles home with their cheerful housekeeper, Alice (Ann B. Davis). The show focused primarily on issues related to the Brady kids–Greg (Barry Williams), Marcia (Maureen McCormick), Peter (Christopher Knight), Jan (Eve Plumb), Bobby (Mike Lookinland) and Cindy (Susan Olsen)–who ranged from grade-school age to teenage. Although set in the late 1960s and early 1970s, a time of political and social upheaval in the United States, The Brady Bunch generally avoided controversial topics and instead presented a wholesome view of family life, tackled subjects such as sibling rivalry (including Jan’s now-famous complaint about the focus on her sister: “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia”), braces and dating.
After 177 episodes, ABC cancelled The Brady Bunch and the last original episode aired on August 30, 1974. However, the show soon became a massive hit in rerun syndication. The show’s various spin-offs have included a 1977 variety program, The Brady Bunch Hour; a 1988 TV movie A Very Brady Christmas;the 1995 big-screen parody The Brady Bunch Movie (with Shelley Long and Gary Cole as Carol and Mike) and its follow-up A Very Brady Sequel (1996); and the 2002 TV movie The Brady Bunch in the White House. In 1992, Barry Williams published a best-selling memoir titled Growing Up Brady: I Was a Teenage Greg, which provided a behind-the-scenes look at the show and revealed that life behind the Brady Bunch cameras was less wholesome than it seemed on TV.