It’s been 40 years since the final episode of “The Brady Bunch” aired on ABC, but it definitely wasn’t a supersize sitcom send off. Not only did one of the show’s lead stars refuse to appear in the episode, but the cast wasn’t even aware that it was the final show of the series.
The episode, titled “The Hair-Brained Scheme,” aired on March 8, 1974, and it had Bobby Brady (Mike Lookinland) and his cohorts Cindy (Susan Olsen) and Cousin Oliver (Robbie Rist) hatching a get-rich-quick plan to sell massive quantities of hair tonic. When oldest bro Greg (Barry Williams) took pity on his kid brother’s lousy sales skills and actually bought a bottle of the non FDA-approved stuff, he instantly ended up with bright orange hair — on the day of his high school graduation, no less!
The episode was missing a key player, though. Robert Reed, who for five seasons had painstakingly played patriarch Mike Brady on the series, refused to appear in it.
Reed was a notorious stickler for authenticity on the show, so after he read the script for “The Hair-Brained Scheme” he issued a major manifesto to producer Sherwood Schwartz about the “slapstick” plotline. The rambling memo was reprinted in full in Williams’ 1992 tell-all “Growing Up Brady,” with Reed comparing the episode’s farfetched plot to a superhero turning up on “M*A*S*H”: “When the kid’s hair turns red, it is Batman in the operating room,” the actor wrote. “I can’t play it.”
Schwartz stood by his script (the showrunner’s fact checking even included a call to Clairol), and he immediately wrote the Brady dad out of the episode. But when Reed showed up on the Paramount set anyway, Schwartz stopped short of having him hauled off by security.
“What about those six kids, looking at their father being hauled out of the set?” he said. “I’m not going to allow that, that’s a terrible thing to do to the kids.”
See Sherwood Schwartz talking about Robert Reed’s refusal to appear in the episode here.
With Season 5 a wrap, the series went on its usual hiatus. But two months later, the cast members got the shocking call that the show had been canceled.
On his blog, Williams addressed the cast’s unceremonious send off: “We expected (and we were told) that there would be a sixth season so we didn’t film a ‘wrap up’ episode,” he wrote. “I enjoyed doing the show each year and was hoping they would send Greg off to college and develop different types of story lines. Also I wanted to do more musical episodes. But I got over it.”
Olsen, who played “the youngest one in curls” on the show, didn’t have to get over it. The then 12-year-old was actually relieved when the series was axed. In an interview with Cult Film Freak, she said, “I felt the show had gone on long enough and I was going through a very awkward stage. The producers didn’t know what to do with me … I wanted the show to end before there was some very special episode where Cindy gets her first bra or period or something equally mortifying.”
Of course, it was just a few years later that the original “Brady Bunch” cast (minus Jan) reunited for the “Brady Bunch Variety Hour,” and, strangely, Reed seemed to be the biggest fan of the campy musical sketch show. During an appearance on “The Mike Douglas Show,” he raved about the Brady family’s glitzy new format, adding, “I haven’t had as much fun in 20 years!”
See the final “Brady Bunch” episode “The Hair-Brained Scheme” here.