Classic TV: We Used To Be Entranced With Big Families, from ‘The Brady Bunch’ to ‘The Waltons’

by Suzanne Halliburton
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Classic TV used to involve big, beautiful families.

They could be blended — think “The Brady Bunch“. Or just huge because of birth, like “Eight is Enough” big. And they didn’t look much like the average family. Today’s household features, on average, two kids 18 or under. Back in 1960, the average household was about the same.

Yet consider some of these popular now Classic TV shows.

Classic TV: “Eight Is Enough” Was Based Off Real Family

Classic TV show “Eight is Enough” ran from 1977 to 1981. And it was all about the Bradfords, a family of 10. The show withstood the death of actress Diana Hyland, who played Joan Bradford, the mother of all eight of the children.

Hyland, who was engaged to actor John Travolta, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1977 and only filmed four episodes. She died within days of the show’s premiere. Writers incorporated the death of her character into the show’s plotline.

This classic TV program was based on the life of newspaper columnist Tom Braden. Except on TV, he was known as Tom Bradford. He married Abby in season two. So his kids did have a step mother.

The show ranked among the top 20 in the country for its first four years. But it was canceled after its fifth season in 1981. Coincidentally, The Waltons, another big family drama, was canceled the same year.

Here are some fun facts about this classic TV show. Mark Hamill played the oldest son, David, in the pilot. But Hamill asked out of his contract so he could play Luke Skywalker in Star Wars.

The show elevated some of its stars to teen idol status, including Willie Ames and Ralph Macchio, who played a family cousin in the final season. He later went on to fame as The Karate Kid and a semifinalist on “Dancing With the Stars.”

https://youtu.be/RfIsyJ2n5RA

For The Waltons, 7 Kids Were Plenty To Feed In The Great Depression

We love a good family drama in our classic TV viewing, especially shows based on another time in history. “The Waltons,” a story also based on real-life, told the story of a family living in rural Virginia during the Great Depression and through World War II.

John and Olivia Walton were parents to seven children, including John Boy, the oldest son. The grandparents also lived in the house on Walton’s Mountain in Virginia. John-Boy, played by Richard Thomas, was based on the life of writer Earl Hammer, who created the show.

Hammer was the narrator, who introduced this classic TV show in each episode and then ended it. Then we heard the now-iconic “good nights.” Each family member wished everyone a good night, from Grand Pa to Elizabeth.

The show was a critical hit and well represented at the Emmys. It won best drama in 1973. Richard Thomas also won the Emmy for lead actor in a drama that season. Michael Learned, who was Olivia Walton, won best lead actress in 1973-74 and 1976.

Ellen Corby, who was John Walton’s mother, also won an Emmy three times for Best Supporting Actress. Will Geer, who was Corby’s husband, was Best Supporting Actor in 1975. Beulah Bondi, who was a guest star, won an Emmy for Lead Actress in a Single Performance. That was in 1977.

In its first six seasons, The Waltons ranked among the 20 most popular shows in the country. This classic TV show went off the air in 1981. But fans needed more. There were six more movies.

https://youtu.be/cp7_u0kcQRo

The Brady Bunch Gave Us Blended Family Of Six Kids

“The Brady Bunch” is classic TV by definition. It told us the story of a man named Mike Brady. And Mike Brady had three boys. He met Carol, who had three girls. This group somehow sparked a family. That’s the way they became the Brady Bunch, the sitcom that lasted from 1969-74.

If you watched the show, you either had a crush on Greg or Marcia. Cindy and Bobby probably annoyed you. Jan was the mixed up middle child. Peter often got into a bit of trouble. You wondered what happened to Tiger the dog. You know, ground-breaking big plot-line kind of stuff.

The family grew by one when cousin Oliver came to live with the Bradys. The show’s creators admitted they added Oliver because the youngest Brady kids were getting too old. But fans didn’t respond well and the show was canceled.

The show was popular in reruns, but it never cracked the top 30 in its original run. When the show went off the air, Greg was nearing high school graduation. And Marcia probably had a Friday night date at the local pizza place.

The Brady kids released six albums. There were so many Brady specials after the show was canceled. It’s like they never left us. Fans even were able to catch up with the original cast of kids when they got together for HGTV’s a Very Brady Renovation.

Enjoy a Brady classic song.

For Partridge Family, 5 Kids Meant a Great Band

“The Partridge Family” also ran about the same time as “The Brady Bunch”, premiering in 1970 and ending in 1974. But it was a twist on other classic TV comedies. Shirley Partridge was a widowed mother of five talented musicians. The show was partly based on the pop group, the Cowsills.

Unlike “The Brady Bunch,” the Partridges did crack the top 30 in the ratings. It was top 20 from 1971-73. America loved the family as it sang songs and toured parts of the country in an old school bus.

In real life, the only ones in the cast who sang or played music were Shirley Jones and teen heartthrob David Cassidy, her real-life stepson.

In an interesting twist, David Cassidy tried to shake his wholesome TV image by posing nude for the cover of Rolling Stone. Judy Norton, who played Mary Ellen on “The Waltons,” posed nude for Playboy years later to shed her good-girl reputation.

David Cassidy also proved to be a major concert draw. He filled the Astrodome in Houston and London’s Wembley Stadium. Susan Dey, his TV sister, also went on to more fame, starring in the 80s smash, L.A. Law.

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