The Brady Bunch: An Iconic Family But Not Royalty

“Here’s the story, of a lovely lady, who was bringing up three very lovely girls…” Gosh, what a catchy song, a stuck in the head jingle, and it’s attached to a show that I still find myself enjoying even now. The television hit The Brady Bunch was a show that lasted for five seasons, still drew attention in the after years with reunion movies and interviews, and of course the episodes still live on with constant re-runs and all night marathons shining through our modern day television screens. With the longevity of this late 1960’s series, one would easily assume that Marsha, Jan, and Cindy have the ability to still provide the real life actors with a pretty steady amount of change in their pocket. When I was younger, sitting with my eyes glued to that silly show, the re-runs, I easily would have assumed that these actors were still rolling in the money. However, after years of thinking this, my dad filled me in on the fact that things were actually close to the complete opposite. It was one afternoon while my family was spending some time at the beach, the four of us lounged out across the Cape Cod sand with some snack shack food and magazines, and my dad was entertaining himself with the book Growing Up Brady, a memoire written by Barry Williams who is famously known for his roll as the oldest brother, Greg Brady (my favorite character because obviously–those blue eyes 🙂 ).

But anyway, as my dad was reading, he would occasionally chime out some of the most surprising facts from this book he thought we’d enjoy. There were things that of course dug into the more pop culture side of the show, the behind the scenes relationships and fights that happened, tasty rumors that all the biggest fans would obviously strive to know about. Williams talked about his early years of acting, what drove him into dreaming about the industry, his first commercial gigs, and of course how he was casted into the popular Brady Bunch role. So all of this wasn’t all that major, just fun little snip its of facts that I as one of the fans would listen to. But then, away from these more useless facts, as someone interested in the creative industry, some more important facts seemed to also emerge from this memoire and it actually caught my attention just as much.

After all the talk about the brothers crushing on all the sisters behind the scenes, after all the details about the drugs on set, the stories turned into a pretty big discussion about this thing called royalties. What I would learn from these chapters is that royalties for this Brady Bunch sadly don’t come at a steady pace and as a matter of fact, they barely come at all. Sure, when the show was first running live on the air, when the magazines and newspapers and lunch box collectables were all being sold, these Brady actors were rolling in the money. But then the series ended and since this finish came at a time before the benefits fit into the category of extending into future showings, the lovely Brady Bunch would make no money from future episode air time. So Maureen McCormick would make no money every time the 1990s world watched Marsha’s face get hit with a football. Christopher Knight would get no paycheck in the mail even though someone in 2010 was watching and listening to Peter Brady say “mom always said, don’t play ball in the house”. It seems so unfair and unnatural for this to be the case and with this pattern being so common within the film industry, it is no surprise to hear that all actors in this category went on strike in 1981 for very similar rights to what Cynthia Littleton discusses in TV on Strike: Why Hollywood Went to War Over the Internet. As she mentions on page 69, “The reuse payments are crucial for helping creative talent survive lean times in an industry where workers are almost exclusively hired on a project-by-project basic, and even experienced writers, directors, and actors can go months, if not years, between jobs”.

So these writers and creative talents that Littleton discusses have the ability to make a profit even if the form of entertainment is just popping up for re-run sake. Even if it’s not live, not being shown with the purpose of being the major hit it once was, these workers will still see an income from it. This would not be the case for The Brady Bunch cast. This is where they are excluded simply because they didn’t have these benefits when their contracts were signed and when The Brady Bunch was successfully on the air. From that day forward though, after the 1981 strike when for four months no show or movie was being made at all, the studios agreed to pay the royalties every time something got repeated. So outside of The Brady Bunch cast, an actress such as Betty White will continue to receive royalties every single time an episode of the tremendous series The Golden Girls is shown. However, whenever Betty White graces the television screen as her frisky, hilarious character Sue Ann Nivens of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, she reaps nothing. No reward or royalty is given to Betty White for the Mary Tyler Moore repeat because that show was thriving during the 70s rather than 1985. Now, the Brady Bunch cast still has the chance to make some money off of certain repeats. The spoofs that were made of the show in later years, whenever those are repeated on the air, the cast may receive a paycheck and during an interview in 2011,  Eve Plumb, who starred as Jan Brady, discussed her disappointment in this. When asked whether she would ever fight to receive these same royalties for episode repeats, she said, “I don’t think so. We’ve tried a couple of times. If they use clips of the show in a movie now, they have to get our permission and pay us, but that’s usually very low money, and often we get asked to have clip usage for free. I’m a big proponent of being paid for my work [laughs], and since the going thing now is to use clips, to pay the actor, um, I’m going to continue to ask for that. I’m happy to give permission, but sometimes people tell me ‘you have to promote it and play on that all the time.’ Well, if I do, shouldn’t I be paid for it? Shouldn’t that be the benefit? Otherwise, I should go make belts in Mexico, right?”.

It’s a problem that sadly can’t be fixed for these hit actors of the past. However, at least they were able to pave the way for future creative talents. If it weren’t for them, if they weren’t desiring to see a change, then these artists in the industry now wouldn’t be experiencing anything different.

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