Scott D. Pierce: Good heart and syndication turned ‘The Brady Bunch’ into a pop-culture icon

(Photo courtesy of HGTV) The original "Brady Bunch" kids in front of the Studio City, Calif., house that served as the exterior for the 1969-74 series — Maureen McCormack, Christopher Knight, Susan Olsen, Mike Lookinland, Eve Plumb and Barry Williams.

Mike Lookinland was 8 years old when “The Brady Bunch” premiered and he became famous as Bobby, the youngest of the Brady boys. Today, he’s 58, and the longtime Utahn has long since made peace with the fact that he’ll forever be best known as part of an American pop culture phenomenon.

For something he did when he was a kid.

“It doesn’t bother me at all when I’m recognized” as Bobby, Lookinland told The Salt Lake Tribune. “So many people have great memories of the show, that it was part of their lives.”

But why? In a lot of ways, “The Brady Bunch” was nothing special. Just one of umpteen TV sitcoms about families in the late 1960s-early 1970s. Yes, it had a hook — a blended family formed by the marriage of a single father with three sons and a single mother with three daughters, but that barely played into the show (other than the theme song) after Season 1.

Blended family aside, it was pretty generic. “And our show was never a real blockbuster on Friday nights,” Lookinland said.

Far from it. On ABC, the sitcom was the No. 56 show on TV in its first season (1969-70); it peaked at No. 31 in its third season (1971-72); it was No. 54 in its fifth and final season (1973-74).

So why did it become such a phenomenon, airing endlessly on broadcast and cable TV and spawning multiple spinoffs (“The Brady Kids,” “The Brady Bunch Hour,” “Brady Brides,” “A Very Brady Christmas,” “The Bradys”), two theatrical films (with different casts) and, on the eve of the show’s 50th anniversary, “A Very Brady Renovation,” an HGTV series about the real house that served as the exterior for the family’s home?

“It just hit it at the right time in the right way,” Lookinland said. “And not until after we were canceled.”

As it turned out, the show was far more successful in syndication.

“When ‘The Brady Bunch’ really hit was when it was on in the afternoon,” Lookinland said. “Kids would come home from school and make a peanut butter sandwich and sit and watch ‘The Brady Bunch’ by the tens of millions.

“The reason it stays is the good-heartedness. But the way it got into the hearts of so many millions of Americans is because they syndicated it after school.”

And there was something about the wholesome parents and their six kids that was comforting to kids whose families weren’t as stable.

“People tell me all the time that their own families weren’t like that. And the show helped them feel like there were normal families out there,” Lookinland said.

And, unlike some of the past Brady projects, he said “A Very Brady Renovation” recaptures the feeling of the original series.

“The good-hearted feel that the show had is a match to the good-hearted feel that HGTV brings to all their shows,” Lookinland said.

SHUTTING CINDY UP • Anybody who ever watched “The Brady Bunch” and paid much attention to the exterior shots of the house couldn’t help but notice that layout of the sets didn’t match the outside. Including Susan Olsen (Cindy), who had just turned 8 when the show premiered on Sept. 29, 1969.

“I looked at that house and thought to myself, ‘No way. That could never be the set. It’s a one-story house,’” Olsen said.

She was right. That’s the premise behind “A Very Brady Renovation,” in which the original Brady kids help renovate the house so the inside looks like the TV sets.

But when 8-year-old Olsen asked the producers about the discrepancy, “They said, ‘I’ll have you know that if you walk into that house, it looks exactly like this set.’”

She spent years “trying to wrap my brain around that. And finally my mother said, ‘They were just trying to shut you up, honey.’”