The Brady Bunch is one of the strangest success stories in the history of television, running five modestly-rated and poorly-reviewed seasons from 1969 to 1974, then becoming a (sometimes ironic) hit via its seemingly endless reruns - resulting in big-screen spin-offs, multiple revivals, and a general cultural ubiquity. Now, on the fiftieth anniversary of its debut, TV historian and entertainment journalist Kimberly Potts dives into its history with The Way We All Became the Brady Bunch: How the Canceled Sitcom Became the Pop Culture Icon We Are Still Talking About Today (out now from Grand Central Publishing), an all-purpose guide to all things Brady.
In this excerpt, Potts explains into the origin and execution of one of the show's signature touches: its iconic opening credit sequence.
FROM "THE WAY WE ALL BECAME THE BRADY BUNCH"
Schwartz’s next big project was pairing the finished theme song with an opening sequence that would, harkening again back to Gilligan’s Island, make The Brady Bunch a must-visit prime-time destination for viewers from the first seconds to the closing tag scene that punctuated nearly every happy ending.
One of Schwartz’s philosophies of TV production was that “close-ups are what television is all about.” Trying to regularly get close-ups of nine different characters into the episodes would be challenging enough, but trying to get them all into a sixty-second opening would have flummoxed a less creative producer. While sitting in his office doodling ideas one afternoon, Schwartz drew a checkerboard, and immediately recognized it as his solution. Nine squares, nine openings, nine smiling Brady family faces (including Alice!) to fill them. Simple enough.
Except that nothing else about getting The Brady Bunch to the airwaves had been that easy, and this opening sequence, too, would provide a few extra challenges. For one, yes, there were nine smiling faces, but the order in which they appeared in those nine boxes was very important. The six kids were mostly newcomers, but the three adult stars of the show were veterans, with agents to whom details like the exact wording of the introduction for each weekly episode mattered greatly. It was in Ann B. Davis’s contract, forexample, that she would get a unique intro, so she appears last in the opening sequence, in the middle square, with the words “And Ann B. Davis as Alice” providing a shout-out to her status as an Emmy-winning comedy veteran.
For the Brady parents, Florence Henderson’s face is the first one that pops up in the checkerboard (or tic-tac-toe board, grid, Brady box, and many other terms people have used to describe that three-by-three square that we all agree reminds us immediately of The Brady Bunch). The girls appear to her left on the screen, followed by Robert Reed and the Brady boys, to his right onscreen. But when it comes to textual billing of the stars’ names, Reed’s name appears first, then Henderson’s. Davis’s special credit is the last name in the sequence; the kiddos’ names aren’t displayed at all, and those precise details are all a result of contractual obligations.
With those general decisions made about the overall layout of the grid, Schwartz knew he wanted something more than a static image to greet viewers at their TV sets when “Here’s the story . . . ” started to play. Visual effects artist Howard Anderson would sprinkle something extra on the tic-tac-toe idea to make it the oft-copied icon of graphic design and ensemble roundup videos the Brady opening became.
It wasn’t Anderson’s first time at the TV title sequence rodeo.
His father, Howard Sr., was a Hollywood special effects whiz who created the storm effects for Cecil B. DeMille’s The King of Kings, the 1927 middle movie of the filmmaker’s trilogy of biblical stories. As a preteen, Anderson Jr. worked at the special effects company his dad launched, and after stints at UCLA, as a camera operator, and in the Navy, he joined the family business in 1946 with his brother and helped run it for nearly five decades.
Among the younger Anderson’s most famous projects: the title sequences for I Love Lucy and The Addams Family, and later, Cheers, Charlie’s Angels, Happy Days, and Little House on the Prairie. Lucy’s satin heart, the snapping fingers in the Addams opener, and the spinning record and neon title of Happy Days were all handiwork of Anderson and his company.
As well as Star Trek. Anderson and his brother Darrell created the opening credits for Gene Roddenberry’s hit (one of the only TV series to enjoy an enduring pop culture presence that rivals The Brady Bunch), and just as importantly, they were responsible for the transporter effects. Scotty’s ability to beam Captain Kirk and anyone else onto the starship Enterprise was made possible by the fine work of the Anderson brothers. It was Howard Anderson’s idea to film individual videos o feach of the nine Brady Bunch cast members looking up, down, to the left, to the right, to the upper left and right corners, to the lower left and right corners, and straight ahead. Howard personally shot the videos, directing the actors to hit all the directional looks and hold each one for five seconds, as he had meticulously planned the timing of the looks to match up with specific lyrics in the theme song. The looks on their faces in those moments? Actor’s choice (Anderson confessed he was partial to Florence Henderson’s facial expressions in the opening credits). Speaking of confessions, the Andersons did additional effects work for The Bunch throughout the series, including Peter being haunted by the ball that breaks his mom’s favorite vase in the dream sequence of season two’s “Confessions, Confessions.” For the opening credits, the key to making Schwartz’s idea and Anderson’s vision a reality was the multi-dynamic image technique, a creation by Canadian filmmaker Christopher Chapman. All nine videos could be merged into one, with eachseparate section showing one of the Bradys looking all around the grid to his or her siblings and parents in their own individual squares.
Chapman invented the process for his film A Place to Stand, produced for the World’s Fair event Expo 67, a celebration of Canada’s centennialyear, in Montreal. The movie was a dialogueless, eighteen-minute ode to life in Ontario, and before it won the Oscar for best live action short, more than two million people, some waiting in line for hours, saw it inthe Ontario Pavilion at Expo 67. Chapman, hired by the Canadian government to make the film, spent a year shooting footage of Ontarians at work and play. He shot the province’s most beautiful locations, from city to farms, sunny waterfronts to snowy ponds where a father, his son, and a dog were ice-fishing with a tree branch. He zoomed in on a little boy and a sports fan noshing on hot dogs, alongside video of frankfurter buns baking inside a factory. Using his original technique,he was able to show as many as fifteen images at a time on-screen, and fill those eighteen minutes of documentary running time with nearly ninety minutes of footage. An estimated 100 million people across the world saw Chapman’s film when it was released into theaters, but that’s just a fraction of those who’ve seen the split-screen innovation in action since. Steve McQueen was such a fan of the work after seeing it in a private screening that he recommended Norman Jewison, his director on The Thomas Crown Affair, see A Place to Stand. Jewison did, and decided to use the multi-image process in that 1968 Oscar-winning film’s memorable opening sequence. But most viewers will recognize the technique from television, where it’s been used in the credit sequences for Mannix, Barnaby Jones, Dallas, The Bob Newhart Show, and24.
And, of course, The Brady Bunch. In the Hollywood Reporter headline on Christopher Chapman’s 2015 obituary, he was credited as the “Oscar-Winning Creator of ‘The Brady Bunch’ Effect.”
Excerpted from "THE WAY WE ALL BECAME THE BRADY BUNCH: How the Canceled Sitcom Became the Beloved Pop Culture Icon We Are Still Talking About Today." Copyright © 2019 by Kimberly Potts. Reprinted with permission of Grand Central Publishing. All rights reserved.