Finding the right cast for a television show is an imprecise science. Most showrunners and casting agents are working on intuition to figure out which actor fits each role best. And also which group of actors will work well together. It’s why most shows fail. But there are some showrunners, like Sherwood Schwartz, who created The Brady Bunch and Gilligan’s Island, that can just sense what will work and what won’t.
In 1997, he opened up about his process to the Television Academy Foundation. And he discussed the grueling process of casting for The Brady Bunch.
“I wanted the instant recognition of blonde-haired mother, blonde girls — dark-haired father, dark-haired boys,” he said. “But I didn’t know if that was going to be true. It could be a blonde father. Then I would need three blonde boys and vice versa. So, I didn’t have to cast six kids. I had to cast 12 kids because I had to start that casting process before I got to the mother and father.”
He eventually found his 12 kids, but he had to interview 464 child actors to find them.
‘The Brady Bunch’ Nearly Looked Very Different
Casting for Mike and Carol Brady was an entirely different problem. Schwartz said he liked Florence Henderson, but she wasn’t naturally funny like another actress who he had worked with before, Joyce Bulifant, who was his first choice for the role.
Paramount had Robert Reed under contract for two other shows, neither of which made it to air. Executives “were stuck paying him all this money,” Schwartz said, but the studio didn’t have a show for him. So, they sent him to Schwartz for The Brady Bunch. He tested for the role and Schwartz thought he and Florence Henderson were great together.
“So, I now have this problem,” he recalled. “Florence can deliver jokes but she herself is too dainty and pretty really to be funny, and her voice is not a funny voice. So, now I have a talented, but not very funny person in the kitchen which is a lot of the show is going to take place there.”
Schwartz solved his dilemma by reworking the Alice character. Originally, the role wasn’t comedic. Schwartz told the original actress to play the role mean and with “any accent” she felt comfortable doing. He decided that if he could find someone funny for that role, it would take pressure off of Henderson to be funny.
Schwartz wanted Ann B. Davis for the role, but again there was a problem.
“We’re only three or four days away from potential production, and (Davis is) in Seattle doing stand-up,” he recalled. She had three weeks left on her stand-up booking, and Paramount would have to buy her out if they wanted her to wear the apron, Schwartz said.
After some arm twisting, the studio agreed and Davis was back in Los Angeles 24 hours later.
With only a few days left before production started, Schwartz had finally found his cast. And that’s the way they became The Brady Bunch.