It's very rare that a writer knows exactly where his ideas come from. However, in the case of "The Brady Bunch", I know exactly what inspired that show. It was just a 4-line filler piece in the Los Angeles Times. Just a statistic. It said that year, 1965, 31% of all marriages involved people who had a child or children from a previous marriage. It was just a statistic, but to me it indicated a remarkable sociological change in our country. 31% is approximately one third of all marriages. That's a huge statistic.
As a writer, frequently in situation comedy (in radio I had written the first two years of "Ozzie and Harriet"), I saw the immediate possibility of brand new story lines. Not only could there be sibling rivalries, but there could be cross sibling rivalries. And the problems each parent would have trying to convince the "new" children that they loved them just as much as their own, etc. It opened up a whole new avenue for stories. And stories are the ingredients that keep a series alive.
Sometimes it just takes a simple four-line statistic to be the key that opens a new door.
I immediately sat down to write a format based on this concept. And to avoid exposition, I wrote a theme song which explained how these two families became one. I believe exposition is the enemy of entertainment, so the less of it, the better. If all exposition could be avoided by a theme song, every episode could start the story on page one. Actually I had learned this lesson with "Gilligan's Island" some years earlier. There's a whole chapter about the importance of avoiding exposition in a book I wrote called, "Inside Gilligan's Island." The theme song, in that case, was a major factor in selling the show to CBS.
Like "Gilligan's Island," "The Brady Bunch" was a new concept. And new concepts, by the simple fact they are "new," are more difficult to sell because there's no antecedent to refer to. It's easier to sell a series idea that's similar to a successful series, because then executives who buy it have an excuse if it fails. But if they try something really new and different, they have nothing to blame except their own judgment.
At any rate, after I wrote the format, I wrote the pilot episode in which the couple are married and the new family is formed. Then I visited the three networks. At that time, 1965, that's all there were, three networks. Fox had not yet been born and cable channels were still way out there in the future. There was just CBS, NBC and ABC.
Interestingly enough, all three networks were very interested in this new idea, and anxious to move forward. However, each network had it's own approach to the opening episode which I had written. NBC took exception to the last sequence in the script in which Mr. and Mrs. Brady are uncomfortable on their honeymoon because they had left their kids with Alice, who was Mr. Brady's housekeeper. The realize their honeymoon would be more complete if their kids were with them. NBC took the position that no sane couple on their honeymoon would go back and get the kids. I took the position that it would make Mr. & Mrs. Brady a unique couple, and the audience would love them for showing that kind of concern. So much for NBC.
At CBS, they objected to any script which specifically was designed to be a pilot episode. In this case it was the marriage of Mr. & Mrs. Brady. CBS wanted what they called the sixth or seventh "slice." In this way the audience would learn information from week to week about how this series got it's start. This was their general approach, at that time, to all new series. I maintained, because "The Brady Bunch" was the first marriage to bring two different families together, it was a departure from all other previous family series, and it required an explanation for the audience. That's what I hoped to accomplish by having the marriage in the first episode. They held firm. I held firm. And then I went to ABC.
At ABC, they loved the script exactly the way it was. Except they wanted me to make it an hour and a half long. That was the year Barry Diller, at ABC, had "invested" the two hour TV movie, except the two hour TV movie was an hour and a half at that time. I didn't see that as a problem because I felt my half hour script could be the third half hour. I could use the first hour to show how the couple met, the problems of courtship, which involve the man, the lady, and the kids from both families. It seemed like an ideal way to get to the half hour marriage script I had already written.
But ABC liked my script just the way it was. They just wanted me to make it longer. I maintained that I needed more story to make it an hour and a half long, but they didn't want more story. They just wanted me to make my script longer. I told them I couldn't make my half hour script last for an hour and a half without making it duller. They told me if I turned it into an hour and a half TV movie, they would then buy the series. But I didn't believe it. A half hour show stretched to an hour and a half, wouldn't achieve a rating and that would discourage them from making it into a series.
And so, even though each network wanted to do the show, none of them were prepared to do it the way I wanted. Maybe it would have been just as successful the way each Network wanted to do it. But a writer has a vision, and if it's a strong enough belief, he or she is forced to live with it.
I returned to the networks in 1966-67 to discuss the same series, but they were insistent, and I was insistent as well. Then fate intervened. A feature movie was released with Henry Fonda and Lucille Ball as the stars, and it made a great deal of money. It was called, "Yours, Mine and Ours." It was almost exactly the way I had suggested to ABC I could do "The Brady Bunch," as an hour and a half TV movie; how the couple met, the problems with the courtship with all the kids, and the marriage. The movie added another child which was a result of the new union. It was as though someone else had done the pilot film for me. ABC phoned me and said, "let's start talking".
And that's how "The Brady Bunch" finally came on the air in 1969. The producer of the feature thought I had stolen his film as the basis for my series. I had abundant proof that I had been working on the series for three years. And besides, "The Brady Bunch" had been registered with the Writers Guild in 1965.
And you will never guess my original title for "The Brady Bunch." It was "Yours and Mine". I suggested that the producer of "Yours, Mine and Ours" look at the registration date at the Writers Guild for my series, "Yours and Mine". I said he was lucky I didn't sue him. I never heard from him again.