The Brady Bunch: ABC's unassuming weapon in the ratings war with CBS
Here's a story of a lovely lady who was bringing up three very lovely girls, all while conquering the landscape of primetime network television. The Brady Bunch, with its wholesome, family-viewing appeal, was a ratings titan in its timeslot and was ABC's key to victory in the ongoing ratings war. By 1974, during the show's fifth season, Bridgewater, New Jersey's The Courier-News would describe The Brady Bunch as a "giant killer."
ABC originally brought the Brady family to air as a lead-in to their Friday night programming block. The show was initially meant to tee up their primetime schedule but wasn't at the time considered particularly big or important. However, The Brady Bunch quickly proved itself as a worthy adversary, frequently besting whatever network opposition CBS introduced to the timeslot.
The first show slayed by The Brady Bunch was The Tim Conway Show. Conway reunited the former Ensign Parker with his fellow McHale's Navy alum Joe Flynn (better known as Capt. Binghamton). However, that wasn't enough to draw viewers away from Mike, Carol and their Brady clan, and The Tim Conway Show was canned after just 13 episodes.
CBS unsuccessfully ran the gamut of genre and tone in an attempt to dethrone The Brady Bunch. The network attempted a coup with such little-remembered offerings as Dean Jones and The Chicago Teddy Bears. If you're struggling to remember these titles, you're not alone; viewers at the time turned away from CBS in droves, causing the network to axe both. Next was The Interns, lasting half a season. David Janssen's much-anticipated return to television after his number one hit The Fugitive was sure to give CBS the ratings boost they needed in the coveted timeslot. However, this too failed, as O'Hara: U.S. Treasury lasted for only a season before it, too, fell victim to The Brady Bunch.
So what made The Brady Bunch such a hit? It didn't seem to curry the favor of TV critics, and the show never won any awards during its initial run. Everett Lavery Jr., then-head of television production at Paramount, attributed the show's success to its "heartland appeal."
"It's like Lawrence Welk. Maybe they don't like it in New York and Los Angeles, but everybody in between watches," Lavery told The Courier-News. The show's successful run over five seasons proves that Lavery's findings were much more than a hunch.
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