Campiest TV Show Ever: “The Brady Bunch Variety Hour”

Difficult to see gem, kept from public view for our own safety or because it's just too good?
The Brady Bunch Variety Hour Florence Henderson and Robert Reed

I’m no academic and can’t explain to you in wonky-talk what camp is. I just know it whens I smells it. To me, there’s just intentional camp and unintentional camp (the juiciest kind). “Pink Flamingos” and “Rocky Horror Picture Show” are intentional while “Plan Nine from Outer Space”, “Valley of the Dolls”, and “Showgirls” are unintentionally hilarious (thinking they’re making something good that’s in reality it’s godawful). Many aspire to create camp and fall flat, while others just bore us to death. Camp needs to excel either in a good way or a bad way.

The players in and behind “The Brady Bunch Variety Hour” (with “Variety” later removed) seemed to have no clue how truly terrible and entertaining their show was, making it the perfect specimen of camp. Or perhaps they knew, tried to fix it and made it worse/better. These are nine episodes of pure gold, so far beyond being “so bad it’s good”. I mean, lame jokes, canned laughter, blindingly gaudy sets, and synchronized swimming? I’m there!

Yes, synchronized swimming. “Donnie and Marie” had ice skaters, so The Bunch needed something different, bold, and ground-breaking. Both shows were produced by Sid and Marty Krofft, previously known for kids shows like “H.R. Puffnstuf” and “Lidsville”, not a natural fit for the variety show format. Part of the problem was balance. Sonny and Cher, as well as Tony Orlando and Dawn, featured a slightly cutting sense of humor, with the men the brunt of the jokes coming from the women. This helped to counteract the saccharine showbizzy elements of ’70s variety shows, with everyone desperately smiling while performing slick versions of the day’s hits. With the Brady Bunch, we just got the wretchedly bad saccharine aftertaste.

And wow, were they ever terrible at the “variety” part. The Bunch flailed and flopped around while lip-syncing to heavily sweetened music. But you say, the Brady kids had their own musical renaissance earlier in the decade with a series of albums and hits like “It’s a Sunshine Day”. Yeah, uh, how could I forget?

Here’s a sample of their “talents”: check out this groovy disco medley:

Eve Plumb wisely opted out, having established herself in some dramatic parts, prompting the casting of fake Jan Geri Reischl. Christopher Knight who played middle boy Peter hated doing the show, thinking his singing and dancing talents nonexistent. In contrast, Robert Reed, who played the father, had a ball. This was surprising considering how seriously he took acting. During the original sitcom version of “The Brady Bunch”, Reed would argue constantly with Sherwood Schwartz, the show’s creator, over the need for reality in the scripts. And apparently, he was written out of the final episode of the original series due to one of these arguments.

Interestingly, listed among the writers of the variety show is Bruce Vilanch. You would’ve thought he’d have realized what was up and fled. Or perhaps he was happy to get paid while happily watching a fiasco unfold.

The cast survived, coming back for two more tries as The Brady Bunch. There was “The Brady Brides” in 1981 and “A Very Brady Christmas” in 1988 leading into a “Thirtysomething”-aspiring hour-long show called “The Brady’s”, another campfest.

Here’s the opening of the very first “The Brady Bunch Variety Hour”, if you can stand all the excitement. They sing a stomach-churning disco version of “Baby Face”. It’s something that will haunt you like a moldy burrito.

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