The Brady Bunch is a well-known classic of TV and of Americana in general. The show about a large family, mixed by remarriage, defined many of the tropes viewers take for granted in modern sitcoms, and its family values would serve as an (arguably unrealistic) sort of cultural paradigm for years.
This sitcom has so woven its way into TV history, that it’s sometimes hard to remember that it only aired for 5 seasons. Though it was certainly a popular show during its run, it would truly only become the cultural icon that it is today during syndication in the years following its cancellation in 1974.
It can be even harder to remember one character introduced in the last season who was so disliked, his name would become nearly synonymous with the cancellation of the show.
‘The Brady Bunch’ was all about family
The Brady Bunch was all about interpersonal relationships within the family. Though there were storylines that addressed their lives outside the family home, most of the themes of the show were clearly centered around the household of Mike and Carol Brady, and each of their three children from previous marriages.
The show addressed their developing relationships with each other and the lessons to be learned around redefining family and belonging.
Though this wasn’t the first sitcom to be focused on this particular theme, it was among them. Previous popular sitcoms had typically focused on couples rather than family life like Bewitched or had wild gimmicks such as Green Acres and The Brady Bunch was a rather sharp departure from this familiar formula.
While it was attempting something different in showing how mundane American life could be entertaining, it was similar in style to previous sitcoms and other studios would soon take note.
‘The Brady Bunch’ added a new character to keep things fresh
As The Brady Bunch ran into its 4th and 5th season, the competition was getting stiff for ratings. The show was still very popular, but shows like Sanford and Son and The Partridge Family had started to eat into the show’s viewership, and the network was beginning to look for a way to boost popularity.
Today, it’s an old story that adding a new character to a show with a waning appeal is a delicate maneuver to perform correctly. But in 1974 the show did just that.
They brought a new 9-year-old cast member into the show in an effort to bring a fresh feel to family dynamics. Cousin Oliver, played by Robbie Rist, was not seen as a welcome addition to the cast by fans. BestLife reports the character was “instantly loathed.”
Though his appearance probably wasn’t wholly responsible for the show being canceled just 6 episodes later, it certainly didn’t help.
What is Cousin Oliver Syndrome?
When Robbie Rist joined the cast of The Brady Bunch, it was just another job for him. He was already a well-accomplished child actor, having credits on many cartoon voice-overs, TV advertisements, and movies.
The show was popular, but it did not have the cultural status it would reach in later years. As such, he had no idea how it would define his career at just 9-years-old.
TV fans have come to refer to an introduction of a young new character to stimulate interest as “cousin Oliver syndrome,” which is usually viewed as a show nearing the end of the road. Rist still hears about this from fans to this day, who told PopEntertainment.com in a 2009 interview: “When people meet me, they still see that 9-year-old head on this 45-year-old body, because it’s so fresh in their memory.”
He continued: “I’m basically Haley Joel Osment, and they’re all ghosts. They always wanted to say something to me.”
Though many child stars regret their stardom or feel cursed by fans’ focus on their early projects, Rist considers himself lucky. He’s had a very successful career as a musician and actor, particularly in voice work. He doesn’t think his Brady Bunch character’s infamy has hurt him, and he doesn’t think his character ended the show.
He revealed: “Really, the show was over after Hawaii. It was just a dinosaur that was too stupid to find its tar pit. The show didn’t go out with a bang, it went out with a whimper. They just didn’t renew. There was no final episode.”
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