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Behind the scenes of the surreal, silly 'Brady Bunch Hour'

Forty years ago, the Bradys returned with sequins and jazz hands. Here are things you might not know about the variety show.

Image: The Everett Collection

The Bradys got into some comically silly scrapes over five years of television. Marcia's nose swelled after getting hit in the face with a football. Jan invented an imaginary boyfriend named George Glass. Alice's militant identical cousin Emma turned the house into a boot camp. It was all good, clean fun from 1969 to 1974. But who could have imagined that, a few years later, the Brady Bunch would be back on TV, singing, dancing and doing the Hustle in front of synchronized swimmers?

On Thanksgiving weekend, 1976, the Bradys returned to our living rooms with The Brady Bunch Variety Hour. A mix of music, comedy and swimming, the special was produced by Sid and Martty Krofft, the trippy visionaries behinds kids entertainment like H.R. Pufnstuf and Sigmund and the Sea Monsters. Nearly 20 million people tuned in, about 31% of American households. 

It proved to be such a hit that the network quickly ordered a full series, with the title shortened to The Brady Bunch Hour. The variety show premiered in January of 1977. After a strong start, viewers steadily tuned away. By May, after just nine episodes, the disco-fied Hour was done.

We have never forgotten the goofy, incredibly of-its-time show. The 2009 book Love to Love You Bradys is a fantastic resource for fans. Here are some some fascinating insights into The Brady Bunch Hour.

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1

Marty Krofft came up with the concept, inspired by 'The Jack Benny Program'

The Kroffts took a bold approach to the show, crafting it as a show-within-a-show continuation of the sitcom. In other words, it took place in the "universe" of The Brady Bunch, as a sequel of sorts. The actors remained in character throughout, as the audience was supposed to believe that Mike, Carol and the kids landed a television series. (Why would an architect get a job singing and dancing, you ask? Just go with it.) This format was inspired by Jack Benny, who took a similar approach to his classic radio and TV shows.

Image: CBS Television Distribution

2

It was also inspired by reality television.

In an even stranger, ahead-of-its-time twist, the Hour treated the original sitcom as a documentary. The idea was that The Brady Bunch had been a reality show peeking into the everyday lives of the family, which had made the Bradys famous. Hence, their newfound celebrity had earned them a variety show. This concept was inspired by a groundbreaking 1973 PBS series, An American Family, which chronicled the real breakup of the Loud family.

Image: The Everett Collection

3

Robert Reed was thrilled at the idea.

Reed had infamously grown tired of the sitcom near its end, butting heads with creator Sherwood Schwartz. Mike Brady didn't even appear in the final episode of The Brady Bunch. A sixth season was discussed without Reed, but the show was not renewed. However, a few years later, Reed jumped at the chance to do the variety show. "I've always wanted to do something I've never done as an actor," he said in a 1977 interview. The Kroffts had no problem bringing him aboard. 

Image: The Everett Collection

4

Eve Plumb was into the idea, but ended up turning down the show.

Others, especially the kids, were harder to convince to come back. Eve Plumb famously did not reprise her role of Jan, though she was not against the idea. She agreed to do the Variety Hour special, but balked at the commitment to a full season. She was up for a few episodes, but when the network presented her with an all-or-nothing contract, she walked. Plumb had aspirations of being a more serious actress.

Image: The Everett Collection

5

Paris Hilton's mom was almost Fake Jan.

Geri Reischl ended up replacing Eve Plumb, and did a fine job of it. The other finalist for the role was Kathy Richards, who had appeared on Family Affair. She met hotel heir Richard Hilton at the age of 15, and married him in 1979. A couple years later, the two had their daughter Paris.

Image: CBS Television Distribution

6

Chris Knight truly could not sing.

Peter's "Time to Change" voice crack in "Dough Re Mi" was no stretch for Knight. "Singing and dancing were anathema to me. I never had talent in this area," he says in Love to Love You Bradys. "I can't hear it. I can't feel it." Nevertheless, he boogied right alongside the rest.

Image: The Everett Collection

7

Ann B. Davis had left Hollywood for a religious life.

As the Kroffts were putting together their outlandish program, the former Alice was living in Colorado, volunteering for an Episcopal bishop. She led worship and performed chores around the vicarage. Initially, there was no plan to have Alice return, but the housekeeper ended up back with the Bradys.

8

It was the breakout writing gig for Bruce Vilanch.

With his blond mop top and thick glasses, Vilanch is best known as unmistakable part of Hollywood Squares. His work for celebrities, writing jokes for the public appearances, was detailed in the documentary Get Bruce. The Brady Bunch Hour was his first steady TV gig, as he was brought in for edge.

Image: AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes

9

Sherwood Schwartz had no involvement — and despised it.

"I only saw one half of one episode. I despised it. I thought it was ridiculous. It made no sense," the Brady Bunch creator says in Love to Love You Bradys. Tell us how you really feel, Sherwood.

Image: CBS Television Distribution

10

They worked in front of a live studio audience for the first time.

The actors were used to canned laughter. The original sitcom and much of the variety show were with filmed in a closed studio. However, the closing performance of each Hour was taped in front of a live audience. 

11

Ted Knight backed out of his guest appearence.

Notable guests like Tina Turner, Milton Berle and the kids from What's Happening!! turned up as guest stars. Appearing on the show was a commitment, involving hours of rehearsal and pre-recording. Mary Tyler Moore star Knight was slated to appear in the third episode, but backed out. Vincent Price replaced him.

12

The swimming pool was a big splash.

The most unique aspect of the show was its pool, in which the Kroffettes would swim for Ester Williams–like routines. Sounds fun! Actually, it was rather grueling. Filming the watery bits sometimes took place in the middle of the night, in a cold studio. One swimmer got an infection. Two others quit. However, thanks to its glass sides used for underwater filming, the pool attracted a crowd of ogling men, including Christopher Knight, Chevy Chase and Paul Shaffer. The later two were filming another special at the same studio.

Image: CBS Television Distribution

13

The kids hung out with Chevy Chase behind the scenes.

Because Chase was a presence around the KTLA studio, he ended up hanging out with cast members. He wandered around the studio carrying a fake hand, using it to shake with others. Reischl, Susan Olsen and Mike Lookingland (Jan, Cindy and Bobby) ended up relaxing in Chase's office, playing piano and singing.

Image: AP Photo/Nick Ut

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