After his company, the former Discovery Communications, bought Scripps Networks Interactive in March 2018, David Zaslav immediately began looking for ways to make a big splash and “supersize” the audience for HGTV and the other networks in his expanded portfolio. During an early meeting with his new management team, the Discovery Inc. president and CEO recalls, he told them, “Let’s open up the lens. There’s a lot of great characters and properties and opportunities out there. What would we do if we could do anything?”
The first answer came that July, when reports surfaced that the Brady Bunch home—i.e., the house in L.A.’s Studio City that had been used for exterior shots in the iconic ’70s sitcom about a blended family with six siblings—was on the market. During an HGTV development meeting, director of programming Robert Wimbish suggested making a bid on the property, which quickly led Kathleen Finch, Discovery’s chief lifestyle brands officer, to email Zaslav with the idea. Within moments, Zaslav—who had watched a Today segment about the house that morning with his wife, Pam (“She said to me, ‘That’s my and everyone I know’s favorite house. That’s the house we all wanted’”)—was on the phone with Finch. “I said, ‘It’s done; we’re doing it,’” recalls Zaslav, who ended up paying $3.5 million to secure the property. “We would have paid anything for this. It really wasn’t an auction, because we were buying it.” Notes Finch, “I had no idea that he would react so enthusiastically, because he wrote a big check to overpay for a house. But he wants us to think big—and that’s really fun.”
Both execs, to paraphrase The Brady Bunch’s iconic theme song, knew it was much more than a hunch that the pricey property would ultimately lead to an audience and advertiser bonanza. That split-second decision to take such a big swing—one that Finch said would have never been considered under HGTV’s previous owner, Scripps—has led to A Very Brady Renovation, which debuts Monday, Sept. 9, on HGTV. The series reunites all six Brady siblings—Barry Williams (Greg), Maureen McCormick (Marcia), Christopher Knight (Peter), Eve Plumb (Jan), Mike Lookinland (Bobby) and Susan Olsen (Cindy)—for the first time in 15 years. The actors team up with eight HGTV all-stars from shows like Property Brothers (Jonathan and Drew Scott), Hidden Potential (Jasmine Roth) and Flea Market Flip (Lara Spencer) as they renovate the property to make it an exact replica of the house featured on the sitcom, including elements like the floating staircase and the kids’ Jack and Jill bathroom. With a 130-day shoot and a 150-person production and construction crew, “it’s definitely the biggest thing we’ve ever done” at HGTV, says Finch.
And while TV’s reboot/revival craze has quieted somewhat after recent fizzles like Murphy Brown, execs and media buyers alike see A Very Brady Renovation as a slam dunk that, like Fox’s hit BH90210, offers a novel twist on a beloved TV series. “This one was a no-brainer. The Brady Bunch is one of the most iconic shows ever. HGTV is bringing it to their network in a way that’s really on-brand,” says Sharon Cullen, executive director of integrated investment, Hearts & Science. “It’s a home-renovation show at the core that just happens to have one of the most iconic casts participating.” Given that the series is likely to draw both Brady Bunch fans and the network’s core audience, Cullen adds, “I’d be very surprised if this show doesn’t do extremely well for HGTV.”
That’s because The Brady Bunch is one of the few series with devoted fans of all generations. As Discovery’s chief U.S. advertising sales officer, Jon Steinlauf, points out, “It ran for five seasons”—from 1969-1974 on ABC—”but it feels like it ran forever,” because it was heavily syndicated for decades, and even today is ubiquitous on streaming platforms like Amazon, CBS All Access and Hulu.
Advertisers and buyers, who swarmed the Brady siblings during Discovery’s New York upfront in April, have already flocked to the series. “We’re selling it really hard,” says Steinlauf, who has secured twice the amount he usual charges for a 30-second ad Monday nights on HGTV. He’s also lined up three major sponsors, including Wayfair (see sidebar), to create custom content, much of it ’70s themed, around the show. “This is doing very well with advertisers,” he said.
Yet despite Zaslav’s early bravado about the project—he announced Discovery’s Brady Bunch house purchase during the company’s August 2018 earnings call—execs grappled with a major hurdle early on: none of the six Brady siblings had signed on, and in fact hadn’t reunited as an entire group for a decade and a half. Many of the previous Brady reunions and spinoffs over the years—like The Brady Bunch Hour, The Brady Brides or A Very Brady Christmas—had been missing at least one original cast member.
Finch, who hadn’t batted an eye about the home’s $3.5 million cost (“That’s just money,” she says), admits that she “did not sleep for a couple of days” as she worried about wooing the cast. “If they had not signed on, I would have been personally devastated, because they make the show.”
So HGTV refused to take no for an answer, taking several of the actors out to dinner in L.A., and inviting the New York-based Plumb to the Food Network kitchen, in Manhattan, to make its pitch. “They were very persuasive, and very clear that they had to have all of us,” says Williams. For the actors, the idea of participating in something different from a typical Brady reunion was appealing. “My initial reaction to the pitch was two things: You guys are crazy, and that’s a great idea,” says Lookinland. Plus, notes Plumb, “it wasn’t about creating drama. It wasn’t a reality TV show where we all are shut in the house and let’s make each other cry. It was truly about the renovation. The biggest crisis was, ‘Oh, no, that box of tile broke!’”
For every reunion offer that comes along, “we look at each one and say, ‘Is this something that I want to be a part of?’ This was something I was very excited about,” says McCormick. “I felt that HGTV was going to do it in a really classy way, which is very important to me.”
HGTV’s quick decision to buy the home and line up the actors was apparent in some of its early talks with the cast. “They didn’t know it wasn’t a house that we didn’t work in,” says Knight. “We never worked there once, and it wasn’t really the Brady house as far as we were concerned.” Because the entire series had been shot on a Hollywood soundstage, some cast members, like McCormick, had never set foot on the property prior to starting filming last fall. To help marry the fictional TV sets to the actual home, architects added 2,000 square feet to the house’s original footprint.
Ultimately, the complete sextet signed on. While some siblings had been given a general sense of what to expect, others were more in the dark as filming began. “I didn’t know that we were going to actually be holding jackhammers and things until we got into the house,” says Olsen.
When production kicked off last fall, HGTV immediately rolled out its marketing campaign, stoking consumer interest through weekly press hits and months of social media posts from the Brady siblings and HGTV talent. In February, the network further fanned the marketing flames and gave production a boost by asking Brady fans to help them source iconic props, like the vintage radio in Greg’s attic and the ceramic donkey statue in the family room, that would appear in the finished home. By making the series “relevant” on social media for so many months prior to air, says Cullen, “they were very creative with how they marketed this.”
In addition to the social push, HGTV created seven online packages, including digital series like Building Brady and Back Home With the Bradys. “There’s a universal interest in everything Brady, so we’ve gone across all different paths we can to reach an audience,” says Loren Ruch, an executive producer on the series and HGTV’s svp of programming, partnerships and special projects. That includes tapping HGTV’s sister networks, which will air Brady-themed episodes of five different Food Network and Discovery Channel shows (Chopped, Worst Cooks in America, The Kitchen, The Pioneer Woman and Fast N’ Loud) to promote the series. The combined Discovery Inc. portfolio “controls 20% of the female viewing audience every night” across both broadcast and cable, says Finch, and the company intends to point as many of them as possible toward A Very Brady Renovation.
After all that work, execs are expecting big ratings this month. “We think it’s going to kill,” says Zaslav, while Finch says, “If you are a Brady fan and you grew up with Brady, this is appointment television. Everybody’s going to be gathering around the television to watch this the way we all did when we were growing up.” Yet even if ratings end up below those lofty expectations, A Very Brady Renovation has already been a massive success on one level: building HGTV’s reach, which it’s been doing since Discovery bought the house a year ago. “The hardest thing to do anymore in television is grow your reach,” Finch says. “This is reach gold for us.”
HGTV says fans won’t be disappointed when they see the finished product. “You have walked into your childhood when you walk into this house,” says Finch. “It is a mind-blowing experience.” According to the network, the home now appraises at $3.9 million without the furnishings or décor.
When the show’s four-episode run wraps in September, there still will be more Brady projects to come, even though the home renovation is complete. HGTV shot a fifth, holiday-themed episode of A Very Brady Renovation, which will air in December. The Brady cast loved their experience so much—“Has any project we’ve ever done since our original shows ever felt this magical?” marvels McCormick—that they hope to continue working with Discovery, and the feeling is mutual. “Yes, we are doing other projects with the Bradys,” says Finch. At least one Brady-related project is already in the Discovery development pipeline, with more to come.
Discovery, which has been increasingly trying to leverage the resources of its entire portfolio since last year’s merger, plans on repeating the same effort as it did on this project with next year’s HGTV revival of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. “I will be knocking on those doors again, saying, ‘What else can we do?’ because there are big ideas when we all pull together,” says Finch.
Meanwhile, HGTV execs are busily searching for another pop-culture landmark property to similarly renovate. But so far, “we haven’t found anything as iconic as The Brady Bunch, and one of the things we pride ourselves on at HGTV is if we’re going to do another version, we want it to be as equally special as what we’re doing now,” says Ruch.
As for the Brady home itself, HGTV is running a contest offering fans the chance to stay there for a week in December (video submissions are due by Sept. 11). After that, no one is sure what will happen there next, although Discovery’s original plan for the property—to sell the house after filming—was definitively scrapped during production. “That’s part of HGTV, that great home you can walk through the doors of, with so many memories and so much fun,” says Zaslav. “That’s going to be part of our company forever!”