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The Brady Bunch Variety Hour
October 24, 2012 11:19 AM   Subscribe

On November 28, 1976, ABC televised the premiere of The Brady Bunch Variety Hour. Few who saw it would ever forget it.

Certainly not The Simpsons writer Steve Tomkins, whose "The Simpson Family Smile-Time Variety Hour" was an uncannily accurate parody - including its own "Fake Jan".

In the decade since its last appearance in the blue, a definitive history of the show, co-authored by Susan Olsen, has been published.
While I had yet to really begin my tasting of all the mind altering substances life had to offer, Maureen was obviously having a problem with substances. ...

But there came a point where she could not get away with it. Finally Marty Krofft had had enough and he took take a stand. Right in front of all of us, he let Maureen have it with both barrels. He gave her a tongue lashing that was truly scary. Physically, Marty is a presence. He is big and tall and has a booming voice.

When Marty began his rant I think we all were in his corner. I know I was. How dare she? Who does she think she is? You tell her, Marty! But then it was like watching an elephant stomp on a fly. It was frightening. When he was done yelling, I experienced a dichotomy of emotions I will never forget. Maureen looked wounded. Fighting tears, she looked to all of us. She looked at us with these gigantic, sad and beautiful eyes.
In her own memoir, Maureen McCormick confirms:
I did coke throughout those shows. It was the first time I'd showed up for work high. I never should have crossed that line, because once past it, I kept going. One day I showed up strung out after three straight days without sleep.
She adds:
We joked that it was the first time any of us could remember [Robert Reed] wanting to do something Brady-related. But he sang and danced without caring that he was lousy and the show itself was worse. His inner Dorothy had found her calling.
Barry Williams wrote:
... we rehearsed hard, working night and day trying to pull this debacle into shape, but it didn't help. Actually, the situation can best be described by deploying the age-old Hollywood edict that "no matter how hard you try, you can't polish a turd."
All nine episodes are available on YouTube, for those who dare. But do not miss the Disco Medley.
posted by Egg Shen (89 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite

 
Disco Medley.

I really tried but couldn't make it past 3:32. I'll try again later, in smaller doses.
The back-up dancers have awesome sparkly pot-scrubber wigs though.
posted by antiquated at 11:26 AM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Disco takes a lot of undeserved flak, but when you watch something like that medley it's a bit easier to understand why stuff like this happened.
posted by The Card Cheat at 11:27 AM on October 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


For many years, I kept pushing this down and down to the bottom of my Netflix queue. Could never bring myself to actually rent it.

Love this comment: "What if, due to some horrible accident, this video were the only surviving record of our time for future historians to study."
posted by Melismata at 11:30 AM on October 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


Alice in a duck suit has rendered me speechless.
posted by something something at 11:31 AM on October 24, 2012


There was a time when TV really was like this. It seems so distant now...
posted by mazola at 11:33 AM on October 24, 2012 [13 favorites]


Why. Why you do this.
posted by jquinby at 11:37 AM on October 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


I just watched the first link's whole dance sequence with the sound off because I am listening to Tuatara's Smuggler's Cove. I feel like I just went on a six-minute acid trip.
posted by Elly Vortex at 11:39 AM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I go against the grain on the Internet, in that I think The Simpsons still puts out a more-than-watchable product, even now in its dickety-fourth season, but even it was three times as bad as everybody always says it is, I would forgive them because the show once gave me "The Simpson Family Smile-Time Variety Hour."

I was one of those like-a-character-out-of-Reality-Bites retro loving college students and had tracked down a VHS copy of "The Brady Bunch Variety Hour" in those days when it may or may not have been shown with substances too light for Maureen McCormick in the day but illicit nonetheless. So in 1997, when I had more than a passing familiarity with the original, a spot on accurate parody was a very specific love letter to me that I will never forget.

Speaking of the mid-to-late 90s and my super-sensitive collegiat days, I'm glad we've moved past a time when Maureen McCormick can describe Robert Reed's super-bad, super-gay performances as "His inner Dorothy had found her calling." without having to worry if I should be offended. Because sometimes the description that you might once have found of questionable taste is really the best one to use.

Also, I've always found her, in interviews and such, to seem like a lovely woman, so maybe I shouldn't say anything, but watching that video I can't ignore it: I wonder how many years of playing Cindy Brady it would have taken Susan Olsen to not just completely stomp on the delivery of a punchline. The material is absolutely the worst, but somehow she just makes it sink even further. Even without the baby talk, it's a wonder she can walk.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 11:50 AM on October 24, 2012 [8 favorites]


This just confirms that no matter how coked up or spaced out Marsha was, I pick Marsha over Jan (and the fake Jan) and Mary Ann over Ginger.

"...no matter how hard you try, you can't polish a turd." Like.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 11:51 AM on October 24, 2012


Love this comment: "What if, due to some horrible accident, this video were the only surviving record of our time for future historians to study."

My time-traveling neighbor from the distant future reports that anthropologists who had unearthed tapes of the show had previously assumed that Alice was some kind of household luck deity, and they built their careers on the discovery.

Still though, it wasn't nearly as confusing as The Hanna-Barbera All-Star Comedy Ice Review or Legends of the Super Heroes, both of which caused a number of highly-placed suicides among discredited academics.
posted by JHarris at 12:05 PM on October 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


"...no matter how hard you try, you can't polish a turd." Like.

Oh my god, we've become facebook!
posted by HuronBob at 12:05 PM on October 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


Disco takes a lot of undeserved flak, but when you watch something like that medley it's a bit easier to understand why stuff like this happened.


Maybe, but I also think one's response to the Disco Medley depends on your affinity for disco. Because once they started "singing" Turn the Beat Around, I didn't feel like demolishing disco; I felt protective, like disco was a baby seal and the Brady Kids plus Fake Jan* were swinging clubs, and maybe I should dive in front of them.


* Even if you had never seen the original show, it's pretty easy to spot the fake -- which one of these kids was cast for a variety show this year rather than a sitcom six or seven years ago? Hint: she's the one who can sing.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 12:11 PM on October 24, 2012 [6 favorites]


MCMike: Did you ever read Barry William's biography of the Brady Bunch? Susan Olsen hated playing Cindy, fucking hated it. "If she were in my school, we would have egged her locker", she said of Cindy. At six years old, she asked her mother, "why do I keep having to say stupid things [while in character]?"
posted by Melismata at 12:13 PM on October 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


There was a time when TV really was like this. It seems so distant now...

Yes. Now we have much more shiny turds, like Dancing With The Stars and Celebrity Apprentice.
posted by The World Famous at 12:15 PM on October 24, 2012 [7 favorites]


I wish it could all be expunged from the akashic records.
posted by Burhanistan at 12:17 PM on October 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


In that disco medley, at 4:00+, when you think they can't go any further, they go further....
posted by mikelieman at 12:56 PM on October 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


Oh. Oh dear.

Thanks for the post, I think.
posted by zarq at 1:02 PM on October 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


There was a time when TV really was like this. It seems so distant now...

Yeah the 70's was all variety shows, it was madness, from Sonny and Cher, the Captain and Tennille, wtf? Does anyone remember Shields and Yarnell? Weren't they mimes or something?

I had to watch all of these disasters trotted out one after the other, with Barry Manilow popping up in every one. What ever show he was a guest on we had to watch. I love my sister.

My eyes, they glaze over from the horror of those suppressed memories.
posted by Max Power at 1:04 PM on October 24, 2012


I wish I had an award to give the genius who first said "Let's make a Brady Bunch variety show! And let's give it to Sid and Marty Krofft to produce!"

I remember watching this show when I was a kid. Specifically, Episode 6, because I remember the guest appearance by the Ohio Players (though, strangely, it's Rare Earth's "I Just Want To Celebrate" that I remember the Bradys and the Ohio Players performing, not Three Dog Night's "Celebrate.")

But this:
"Cindy asks Peter if she is pretty, and Peter responds in the affirmative taking special note of her eyes. Peter tells Cindy she’s turning into a woman because she doesn’t make any sense. Cindy takes note of the turkey Marcia brought home, Redd Foxx enters and asks who’s she calling a turkey. Redd explains that he’s just observing. Cindy asks him why the USA has never had a black president, Redd explains that the father of the country was black and what white person would name their child George Washington? Peter asks who would name their kid Winston Beaumont? Redd asks what ever happened to that freak? Peter invites everyone to see what happened."
I had no idea. I had also entirely forgotten the Kroffette Dancers and the synchronized swimming routines. Like I said, genius.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:08 PM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Does anyone remember Shields and Yarnell?

I always confuse them with Holmes and Yoyo.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:10 PM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is surely the most trivial thing I've ever posted here, but I just noticed Chris Knight looks a lot like Rory McIlroy.
posted by davebush at 1:17 PM on October 24, 2012


I remember Shields and Yarnell -- they could be pretty amusing. Also, Pink Lady (and Jeff).
posted by Rash at 1:19 PM on October 24, 2012


Yeah the 70's was all variety shows, it was madness, from Sonny and Cher, the Captain and Tennille, wtf? Does anyone remember Shields and Yarnell? Weren't they mimes or something?

You've left out Donnie & Marie, The Barbara Mandrell Show, The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour...

There were actually some pretty great variety shows. The Smothers Brothers show, for example. Some might say that The Carol Burnett Show was a variety show, but it was actually more of a sketch comedy show than anything.

Really, the "talented [YMMV] host/hosting team plus an ensemble and weekly guests doing things on television to entertain for an hour or so" kind of show has been around as long as television has existed. There is, I'm sure, a direct lineage which can be traced back to vaudeville and burlesque traveling troupes. It split some time back and one branch became late night talk shows, and another branch became hosted act shows like Ed Sullivan and today's competition shows (which bring in a new element of repeat performances by the same crew and the threat of "elimination" if they aren't good enough, an interesting twist. Imagine how different Ed Sullivan would have been if he had the same people on week after week and pronounced some of them unworthy to return on air rather than just never inviting them back to his cavalcade.)

And if you look back on the formative years of Saturday Night Live, with the Not Ready For Prime Time Players, that was a variety show. It was much less about sketch comedy back then, and more about being entertaining on-air in whatever form. Those early seasons are masterpieces of television experimentation.

(And yes, I remember Shields & Yarnell. I worked for Robert Shields making jewelry for a short time while I lived in Sedona. He's a fascinating man.)
posted by hippybear at 1:22 PM on October 24, 2012 [7 favorites]


Look, I can sit through this stuff, but not sober. At least the Star Wars Holiday Special had Hungry Jack commercials to look forward to.
posted by emjaybee at 1:26 PM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


There was a time when TV really was like this. It seems so distant now...

As far as I can tell, all Japanese television is like this, all the time.
posted by FatherDagon at 1:29 PM on October 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


When I was a child, I watched one of these with my mom.

She was confused by the fact that Mr. Brady now had an afro.
posted by freakazoid at 1:29 PM on October 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


I worked at Universal during the 70's. Part of my job was to watch all of their product broadcast on prime-time. To this day I will rarely voluntarily turn on a TV...
posted by jim in austin at 1:30 PM on October 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


Octobersurprise, do you know in what episode that 'skit' appears? I'm dying to watch it.
posted by Partario at 1:31 PM on October 24, 2012


It just occurred to me that a hip reboot of Laugh-In might work now.
posted by davebush at 1:31 PM on October 24, 2012


There was a time when TV really was like this.

Yes and no.

There was something uniquely insane about this show - even by Sid & Marty Krofft standards, which is saying something. I feel vaguely frightened when I watch it.

There's almost a punitive quality to the gratuitously ugly clothes, the demented medleys, the artificial cheer. (Also the spooky aspect that one of the children has been replaced by an impostor and no one notices.) It's as if Allan Carr was the computer in "I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream".

That said, I did find 25 seconds of beauty among the horror: Tina Turner's dancing.
posted by Egg Shen at 1:32 PM on October 24, 2012 [9 favorites]


do you know in what episode that 'skit' appears?

Episode 6, presumably. What's weird is that my recollection of watching that episode, with the Ohio Players, is one of those very vivid fragments of childhood memory, but I'd forgotten about the skits entirely.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:51 PM on October 24, 2012


Well, it wouldn't be a '70s variety show without Rip Taylor. *flings confetti and glitter all over the damn place*


But seriously, who the hell greenlit this?
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 1:57 PM on October 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


There was a time when TV really was like this.

Hello, I'm Johnny Cash.
posted by BeeDo at 1:58 PM on October 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


All these years later I wracking my brain to figure out why, but for some reason my family watched pretty much any and every TV variety show Back in the Day. I'm guessing it's because there were only three networks to choose from back then. I do remember that some were a shade more interesting than the others, if only for their weekly "musical guest" - for example, The Captain and Tennille were known for showing a variety of different artists who had a hit in the Top 40, including Heart, Kansas and Alice Cooper. No, these artists didn't appear live on stage - it was the very early days of the music video and they showed clips like "Barracuda" and "Dust in the Wind" before you could see them on a regular outlet like MTV.
posted by Oriole Adams at 2:14 PM on October 24, 2012


That said, I did find 25 seconds of beauty among the horror: Tina Turner's dancing .


Wow -- those legs in that dress could turn Mr. Brady heterosexual. Like I keep watching the video over and over again but am looking over my shoulder, worried that I'm going to get busted because it's just so.... wow.

It just occurred to me that a hip reboot of Laugh-In might work now.

I have been dreaming of that since early 2002. Something about George W. Bush post-9/11 just screamed like we were ripe for it. Except my theory also included the argument that Justin Timberlake was the 21st century Goldie Hawn, so you may want to take my 'ideas' with a grain of salt.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 2:15 PM on October 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


That said, I did find 25 seconds of beauty among the horror: Tina Turner's dancing.

I watched this, along with the next 90 seconds or so, and I'm now sitting at my desk feeling strangely wacked on a drug that probably doesn't exist, and I'm looking around to see if the world looks as strange to everyone else as it does to me right now.
posted by mudpuppie at 2:22 PM on October 24, 2012


Yes. Now we have much more shiny turds, like Dancing With The Stars and Celebrity Apprentice.

Don't forget the latest boilerplate of TV programming integrity, Honey Boo-Boo.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 2:25 PM on October 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


There was a time when TV really was like this.
Yes and no.

There was something uniquely insane about this show...
You're right in identifying differing quality within the genre -- and this is definitely on the polished turd end -- but the genre itself looks weird from modern eyes.

When was the last prime time variety show anyway?*

I'm guessing the last Jerry Lewis Telethons sort of hit that mark, but those were strange in their own right.

----
*Google says there was a Nick & Jessica Variety Hour in 2004. Apparently.
posted by mazola at 2:51 PM on October 24, 2012


Oh this post is beautifully awful! I know what I'll be watching tonight!

Like Oriole Adams, we watched every variety show that was on TV when I was small. I guess it was easier to watch those shows with me than to explain what was going on in Maude. There was one Captain and Tennille special when the Captain got rid of his hat (tossed it in the water) and I bawled because without the hat, he wasn't a Captain to me.

Anyway I was a huge fan of the Brady Bunch when I was four (Robert Reed was a very very handsome man, no matter what hairstyle he sported), and remember being very sad and confused that the family got a new Jan.

By the way, Rosie O'Donnell had a variety show in 2008 that flopped.
posted by kimberussell at 3:27 PM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


For people working in the entertainment industry in those days, cocaine must have been like coffee is to the rest of us. It was just natural that you would have to imbibe huge amounts of it before you could be expected to face all the crap you had to do for a living.
posted by Countess Elena at 3:28 PM on October 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


You have to figure that more people than just Maureen McCormick were doing serious drugs for this to have made its way onto TV.
posted by octothorpe at 3:31 PM on October 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


Don't forget the latest boilerplate of TV programming integrity, Honey Boo-Boo.

I'm not sure what I find more unbearable, this dance medley or Honey Boo-Boo. This is a quandry.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 3:40 PM on October 24, 2012


If only there were a place where I could watch Bea Arthur singing about drugs with a closeted A-list actor.

Seriously, though, the time machine built into the core of the internet gestalt being is a potent reminder that you'll never see the lost Cathedral of Chalesm because it was never there. The things of your day that seemed normal and fun and hilarious mostly aren't, and you missed the good stuff because you were either trying to get your feathered hair right, looking for the right teal chintz jacket with epaulettes, slouching around in flannel, or watching Survivor.

I have this terrible fear that thirty years from now my grand nieces and/or nephews will be laughing at my Mighty Boosh DVD collectors' set sitting on my bedside table in the nursing home and sniggering "you thought thaaaat was funny?"

"Oh, for fuck's sake, hon. That was before we had wires in our brains. Jesus."

That's probably what I'll say, and then, apropos of nothing, I'll shout "I've got a mangina!" and suck my teeth for emphasis.
posted by sonascope at 3:44 PM on October 24, 2012 [13 favorites]


I love the 1970s. I bet I love it more than anyone else you have ever met.
I absolutely luxuriate in its nostalgia.
But I also realize that nostalgia is a mirage.
So whenever the allure of a simpler era of colorful monoculture takes its hold on me, watching clips like these is like a slap bringing me back to reality.
If I could somehow magically time travel back to 1977, I would be wanting to come straight back inside of 40 minutes tops.
Plus none of my money would work.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 3:50 PM on October 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


What amazes me is what I haven't been able to find online, when so much else is.

I wanted to compose a Gary Collins obit post, but ended up not doing so because I couldn't find any of the Born Free TV series online to use as an example of what he was truly famous for before he became TV's Gary Collins.

How can there not be any of that series online, but we have this other stuff? The mind boggles.
posted by hippybear at 3:50 PM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I could watch Bea Arthur singing about drugs with a closeted A-list actor .

Ohmygosh why isn't there a Queens of the Stone Age cover of that song yet?
posted by The World Famous at 3:50 PM on October 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


Wow. Doing drugs in Hollywood in the 1970's. This changes everything.
posted by telstar at 4:03 PM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


The seventies will always be my favorite decade. I take great delight in the fact that a mere 2 days before this show premiered, the Sex Pistols released "Anarchy in the UK".
posted by davebush at 4:07 PM on October 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


Wow. Doing drugs in Hollywood in the 1970's. This changes everything.

If they were going to do that much blow, they could have at least had the decency to record a good Fleetwood Mac album.
posted by The World Famous at 4:09 PM on October 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's got a good beat and you can dance to it.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:13 PM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


If they were going to do that much blow, they could have at least had the decency to record a good Fleetwood Mac album.

I think a prerequisite for recording any Fleetwood Mac album, good or bad, is that members performing together have to be fucking. I don't see that happening between Bea and Rock.
posted by hippybear at 4:15 PM on October 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


We could have made a robust FPP just from the Bea Arthur clip. Dear lord thats amazing.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 4:16 PM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


When I was a kid in the sixties I could tolerate my parents fondness for variety shows. But then it was Dean Martin (the Gold Digger's slit skirts were definitely an awakening of sorts for me) and the Smothers Brothers (no excuse necessary). But there was a parting of the ways in the 70s. Except for Flip Wilson and Burnett, variety shows were guaranteed to send me racing to my room to throw on the headphones for some Zep, Stones, Sabbath, Bowie or Tull.

As a family we did watch the Brady Bunch but my shit-detector definitely kicked in early on. I recall zoning out while watching the show, attaining a conscious state only when Maureen McCormick, who was just a little older than me, was on the screen. Sort of like my reaction to Susan Dey on the Partridge Family and for the same sordid reasons.

But rest assured that in no way and in no form was any of these variety shows (save maybe Flip Wilson and Richard Pryor's aborted show) seen as anything remotely hip by anyone with the least bit of "cool" back in the day. SNL in the early years - yeah, that was actually cool. If Maureen had to do as much coke as Belushi to get through making this dreck, I totally understand.
posted by Ber at 4:24 PM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Cindy" sums up by saying that coke really wasn't a problem for Maureen, despite heavy use. Wow, again.
posted by telstar at 4:34 PM on October 24, 2012


There was only one good variety show in the entire 70s. They even made disco work.
posted by Jon_Evil at 4:36 PM on October 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


do not miss the Disco Medley

There is almost nothing I won't inflict on people via Facebook. This is the "almost".
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 5:07 PM on October 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


I have been dreaming of that since early 2002.

Plywood, paint and youtube and you can make this dream yours.

Get a CGI version of Mitt/Barack saying "sock it to me" as part of the fast cuts.
posted by rough ashlar at 5:22 PM on October 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


I will not hear another generalized hate-word against variety shows, for once there was The Manhattan Transfer.

And also: Marcia, Marcia, Marcia! Why aren't you sharing your stash?!
posted by the sobsister at 6:08 PM on October 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Mom always said don't do coke in the house!
posted by dr_dank at 6:18 PM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Why is that show any weirder than this from NBC in 1980?

There were a zillion variety shows and specials from the era. Bobby Vinton. The Captain and Tennille. Don Ho. Every night in the 1970s, you could find this sort of entertainment on TV. Bob Hope was still going with it into the 1990s.

It seems weird to you because the entire genre is forgotten. It isn't in syndicated reruns and little of it was released on DVD. But believe me, in 1976, The Brady Bunch Variety Hour didn't seem so strange. TV was desperate to find mass-market programming that crossed the 1960s generation gap -- and this is what resulted.
posted by Yakuman at 7:07 PM on October 24, 2012


I like how the word "dance" is plastered all over the set, so the viewer can tell what it is they're doing.
posted by telstar at 8:13 PM on October 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


But seriously, who the hell greenlit this?

Cocaine is a helluva drug.
posted by jonp72 at 8:24 PM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Can we also talk about The Bradys? Seriously, how did this happen?
posted by crossoverman at 8:31 PM on October 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


I honestly never thought I'd ever watch a series of videos where I felt like I needed to watch the 1968 Elvis NBC TV Special to wash out my brain. Yet here we are. I will, of course, need to watch a few hours of live Led Zeppelin to wash the Elvis TV Special out of my brain and reset myself to default settings. It's going to be a long night.
posted by The World Famous at 9:13 PM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


sonascope: "If only there were a place where I could watch Bea Arthur singing about drugs with a closeted A-list actor . "

The absolute best thing about that video is the rather large amount of alcohol that the two are consuming while extolling the dangers of mind-altering substances....
posted by schmod at 9:17 PM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


emjaybee: "Look, I can sit through this stuff, but not sober. At least the Star Wars Holiday Special had Hungry Jack commercials to look forward to."

No kidding. These clips almost make the Star Wars Holiday Special look outright watchable.
posted by schmod at 9:18 PM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


All of these old video clips make me feel like I now know what an acid trip is like. It's somewhat frightening.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 10:44 PM on October 24, 2012


I just watched that David Winters and Shaba-Doo THE BIG SHOW clip and I feel like I have just snorted some serious coke off the floor.

If anyone asks why we needed to fight the punk wars show them that.

These clips almost make the Star Wars Holiday Special look outright watchable.

Oh, you'd think so, wouldn't you? You really would.
posted by Mezentian at 3:44 AM on October 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


There were a zillion variety shows and specials from the era.

Even Mary Tyler Moore had one. With Swoosie Kurtz, Micheal Keaton and David Letterman!
posted by octothorpe at 6:53 AM on October 25, 2012


Marty Krofft still has an office at a CBS lot. I foresee a reality TV/variety show hybrid in the future.
posted by mrhappy at 7:10 AM on October 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


These clips almost make the Star Wars Holiday Special look outright watchable.

Oh, you'd think so, wouldn't you? You really would.


Yes, "watchable" may be a stretch. But for those who weren't born in the 70s -- or whose memories are blurred (because of youth rather than drugs), they do help explain the Star Wars Holiday Special... at least a bit.

As for a reality TV/variety show hybrid with Marty Kroft at the helm, if you're thinking about casting nobodies to compete, as much as I may have mocked the TV genre within, I'd be watching that -- if not trying to compete.

But the more I think about variety and the possibility of it existing today, the more I realize it pretty much exists fully and completely. What is American Idol if not a variety show with a rotating, winnowing cast? Sure, there was the occasional break out star, but for most of the competitors, even the winners, the biggest spotlight will be when they are on that stage. And, unless the show has changed from the first season and my awareness of it, they filled the time with really cheesy commercials for Ford and Coke that were as bad as anything the Bradys put to screen.

And even some scripted shows are often pretty much variety shows in disguise. What is Glee if not a variety show with covers of pop songs where the in-between sketches are linked together with a limp plot.

I guess my conclusion is that in thirty or forty years the most popular shows on TV now will be infinitely mockable by the cool kids at Metafilter 2042. In fact, I'm counting on it.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 7:35 AM on October 25, 2012 [4 favorites]


I will not hear another generalized hate-word against variety shows, for once there was The Manhattan Transfer.

What about the show featuring The Starland Vocal Band and a "before he was famous" David Letterman?

I vaguely remember being into a couple of variety shows when I was, like, six, and only briefly at that before being distracted first by Star Trek and then by Battlestar Galactica. Now they just remind me of something Hunter S. Thompson said:
"The TV business is uglier than most things. It is normally perceived as some kind of cruel and shallow money trench through the heart of the journalism industry, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free and good men die like dogs, for no good reason."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:32 AM on October 25, 2012


Just watched the Disco Medley. WOW. So full of...stuff. Thoughts:

- OMG, what is with the fake applause littered throughout? Far more annoying than canned laughter on old sitcoms.

- Barry (Greg) seems to enjoy his role far more than the others.

- The disco duck stuff wasn't cool or fun or funny then, and less so now.

- The kids from "What's Happening!" cameo FTW! Fred "Rerun" Berry doing his Lockers thang - w00t!

- So much glitter and sparkle.

Back on the broader subject - MCMikeNamara is right - we do have "variety shows" these days, just in a different format. I think the best example is the Dancing With The Stars program - lots of singing, featuring old and new songs; live orchestra and occasional guest performances from name-brand acts (KISS!); some half-hearted attempts at comedy, either via the hosts and judges, or incorporated into the dance routines.
posted by davidmsc at 9:29 AM on October 25, 2012


oh god what am i watching
posted by elizardbits at 11:38 AM on October 25, 2012


Here's Mary Tyler Moore dancing with Keaton and Letterman. Letterman looks horribly embarrassed to be there.
posted by octothorpe at 5:57 PM on October 25, 2012


I guess my conclusion is that in thirty or forty years the most popular shows on TV now will be infinitely mockable by the cool kids at Metafilter 2042. In fact, I'm counting on it.

Clearly you have been spared my fire-and-brimstone condemnation of Glee. Or Beauty and the Geek. Or Biggest Loser. Or Dawn Porter. Or Embarrassing Bodies. Or Border Security. Or The Bachelor. Or the Girls of Playboy Mansion. Or Funniest Home Videos. Or I Am A Secret Prince. Or Farmer Wants A Wife.

I could go on.
posted by Mezentian at 12:49 AM on October 26, 2012


It is easy to mock 70s variety shows, but you know what else was on TV in the 70s?

All In The Family
The Mary Tyler Moore Show
Barney Miller
M*A*S*H

These shows did more to address social issues of race and class and gender than anything currently on television.

They're all things I continue to watch when I see them on the schedule.

We could only hope that there are shows airing today which will be looked back upon 30-40 years from now as being Important on the level of these shows. But I can't name a single one.
posted by hippybear at 1:29 AM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


M*A*S*H really only works as sanctimonious high camp now, and even then you have to place it in an alternate reality where soldiers could have hippie hair in 1951 (to say nothing of Swit's yellow haystack of Farrah-feathered coif) and the Korean War was about three times longer (the number of episodes far exceeds the number of days in the war). Plus, the dreams episode made me laugh like a jackal even in the first run—nothing makes great art like a sitcom full of itself to that insane degree making A VERY BIG STATEMENT about war (spoiler alert—war is bad and will make you dream about tap dancing with sparklers while you're floating in a boat in a bloody wedding dress surrounded by limbs and horses).

That said, I learned to be a pompous burly homosexual from M*A*S*H, so there's that.
posted by sonascope at 4:41 AM on October 26, 2012 [5 favorites]


I could watch Bea Arthur singing about drugs with a closeted A-list actor .

Ohmygosh why isn't there a Queens of the Stone Age cover of that song yet?



Because it is thing of untouchable, dazzling beauty just as it is.
posted by louche mustachio at 5:55 AM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


All nine episodes are available on YouTube, for those who dare. But do not miss the Disco Medley .


If I could throw tomatoes back in time...



seriously, though them's fightin' words. I think that damaged my face
posted by louche mustachio at 6:05 AM on October 26, 2012


M*A*S*H really only works as sanctimonious high camp now,

I wouldn't go so far as to call myself much of a MASH fan, and I grew up in the Col-Horsey/Radar/BJ/Klinger era, but I will not tolerate any dissing of MASH on my watch.

Suicide may be painless, but my laugh-track-backed, pathos-fueled attack will not be!

En garde!

But, seriously, I do love me MASH. I find it hypnotic. It's just so... different. But I also liked Roseanne. I think there are sporadic moments of that sort of thing in your Everyone Loves Raymonds and How I Met Your Mothers, but MASH was just amazing.

And it reminds us there was a Korean War, which is nice.
posted by Mezentian at 6:31 AM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


...but you know what else was on TV in the 70s?

THE MUPPET SHOW
posted by jquinby at 7:03 AM on October 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


you know what else was on TV in the 70s?

Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman - which I didn't get, and still don't, but was even more subversive than Twin Peaks.
posted by Egg Shen at 7:08 AM on October 26, 2012


The sad thing is that I, too, enjoy M*A*S*H, but it's terrible, terrible writing, acting, concept, and...well, everything. It's fun to watch in the way that Honey Boo Boo is fun to watch—out of control egos, bizarre drifts from the point, and the interesting social weirdness of watch social trends play out over the run of a series. It's always funny to me that they deleted "Spearchucker Jones" because they found (at the time) that there were no black doctors on record in the KW, but left in all the other ridiculous anachronistic bits.

It's also part of that embarrassing period in American media when actors were so stuck on themselves and unprofessional that they wouldn't get a period haircut for a period piece, because they didn't want to have to be seen in Studio 54 in a high and tight (see also Little House on the Prairie, Happy Days, and anything else not set in the seventies).
posted by sonascope at 7:16 AM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


they deleted Spearchucker Jones?

MASH is DEAD TO ME.
posted by Mezentian at 7:24 AM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


and the Korean War was about three times longer (the number of episodes far exceeds the number of days in the war)

False. Wikipedia notes that the Korean War went from June 25, 1950 to July 27, 1953, about 827-8 days. Wikipedia also notes that M*A*S*H had 251 episodes. You probably meant to say that M*A*S*H, as a TV show, lasted much longer than the Korean war, which would be true: the war lasted a little over three years, the show lasted 11.

Is the show camp? Perhaps. Changing attitudes towards war have not been kind to M*A*S*H; many of its truths seem more obvious now, and we haven't had a draft in decades. But we're also just coming off one intractable military conflict that lasted much longer than the Korean War, and we're trying to extricate ourselves from another, and the main reasons given for getting out of them aren't humanitarian but economic. Maybe we need a new M*A*S*H.
posted by JHarris at 7:46 AM on October 26, 2012


"...no matter how hard you try, you can't polish a turd."

This is true, but if The Brady Bunch Variety Hour has performed no other service to humanity it has surely proven the less known second half of that aphorism:

"You can't polish a turd, but you can roll it in glitter."

Also: very strange. I hadn't seen this post but somehow the internet/my brain duo teamed up to have me thinking about, and posting on Twitter, the Brady Brides earlier this morning. It's not variety, but somehow it is as excruciatingly early '80s as the variety Hour is late '70s.
posted by dirtdirt at 10:17 AM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


M*A*S*H, but it's terrible, terrible writing, acting, concept, and...well, everything.

True, utter rubbish in contrast to the Altman movie. At the time, I couldn't understand why such bad TV enthralled such a big audience, until I started polling its fans, who I quite often discovered were unfamiliar with the original film.
posted by Rash at 3:03 PM on October 26, 2012


My M*A*S*H metric is off, but still, you have eleven years of aging and character development that must be crammed into a three year war, and each twenty-some minutes of the show represented days or weeks, so many of those plotlines had to be nested and overlapped and simultaneous unless M*A*S*H takes place in the Fonziverse.
posted by sonascope at 4:46 PM on October 26, 2012


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