Question: I've seen the numerous "sitcom scandal" shows (including yours) that talk about how Robert Reed used to fight with Brady Bunch producers about the show. My question is, did people know that and talk about it when the show was on or is it something people only talked about after his death? Thank you. Marjorie O., Annandale Va.
Televisionary: If they read TV Guide, they knew it when the series was on the air, Marjorie. In an April 1970 interview, just eight months after the show's September 1969 launch, Reed was already giving voice to his disappointment in its direction and problems with his boss, Gilligan's Island and Bunch creator Sherwood Schwartz.
"I thought the show was going to be something else that it was going to be more realistic; that we would be real humans," Reed, a veteran of legal drama The Defenders before playing Mike Brady, said, not pulling any punches. "The pilot turned out to be Gilligan's Island with kids full of gags and gimmicks. At first I went along and decided to do the best I could. But now I argue. Once on The Defenders I stayed home because I objected to a script, and I had to pay for a day's shooting. Now I argue on the set, and I think the show is better. But Sherwood is a compulsive rewriter; and as an old gag man, what he writes is gags. I can always tell what he has put into a script it's like riding along a smooth concrete highway and then hitting a rough spot of asphalt."
Schwartz, of course, had his own view of the relationship. "This isn't a hokey series, but Bob is so used to Defenders reality that he can't get used to situation-comedy reality," he said. "If we say that Denver has a population of so many thousand, he'll look it up and tell us how many thousand the population really is. He's always on the phone to The Los Angeles Times or the police department or looking in the encyclopedia to check some matter of fact. His attitude is one of pure logic.
"For instance, in the third show, he said that the kids could not come into his den. In the 19th show, the kids did come in, and Bob said, 'But we said the kids couldn't come into the den.' He doesn't realize that by the 19th show, people won't remember what we said in the third. So now, whenever they come in, we have Bob say, 'You know you're not supposed to come in here.' On another show, he was supposed to tell the kids, 'You look full.' Bob objected to the line he said, 'You don't look full. You feel full.'
"But these qualities of sincerity and honesty come across on the screen and contribute to the character. That's why I think Bob does such a good job in the role. But if I a situation-comedy producer were hired by The Defenders, I wouldn't try to tell them how to run the show."
Despite the disagreements, however, Reed admitted that even though doing formula TV day after day could be boring, the job wasn't a bad one. "I always look forward to going to the studio even to arguing with Sherwood," he said.
Co-star Florence Henderson, in the meantime, had the opposite problem. Her image was so squeaky clean and playing über-mom Carol Brady only added to that, certainly she took great pains to convince a TV Guide reporter that she was anything but. She showed up for the interview in a miniskirt, pointing out that it was the longest one she wore on the show. "The other day I wore a cocktail dress up to here," she said, pulling the skirt up to demonstrate, "and a reporter on the set wanted to know how the housewives would like it. 'I don't know about the housewives,' I said. 'Their husbands will love it'."
She also made a point of letting him know she told blue jokes, drank and was a one-time smoker. And she, too, wasn't shy about requesting line changes. "The other day the script had me conversing with a friend," she said. "The friend's lines sounded like those of a 17-year-old who is repeating the fifth grade. I said, 'I wouldn't have a friend like that.' So it was changed. Sometimes I am bothered when a script is not believable. I think an audience wants to see people as they really are sad, angry, not always nice."
Indeed. And when Schwartz asked her whether Carol would knit, sew or crochet in living-room scenes in which she and Mike were sitting around, Henderson asked what Reed would be doing. "He'll be reading," Schwartz told her. "Well, let Bob knit, and I'll read," she replied. (They eventually compromised, settling on needlepoint.)
Oh, and just for accuracy's sake, Marjorie: The sitcom-scandals special you refer to was a TV Guide production. I personally had nothing to do with it and cannot take any credit for it.