Annals of biz idiocy

"The Brady Bunch" brings companies together.

By Andrew Essex
July 17, 2000 11:00PM (UTC)
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How does corporate America simplify the vast complexities of a megamerger?

Two words: Florence Henderson.

As the Wall Street Journal reported last week, Viacom and CBS helped make palatable their $46 billion marriage by casting their respective chief executives, Sumner Redstone and Mel Karmazin, in a split-screen parody of "The Brady Bunch" theme (for the benefit of assembled representatives from the Television Critics Association). "Till the one day when Mel K. met Sumner Redstone ...," the tune apparently went.

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This isn't the first time "The Brady Bunch" theme has turned a merger into a musical. A recent meeting held to celebrate the upcoming $3.2 billion-dollar purchase of America's largest concert promoter by America's largest radio station owner used the same device.

At a simulcast company event in April, live-music giant SFX, which owns 200 concert halls across the country (and which is about to merge with 867-station-strong radio behemoth Clear Channel), trotted out the infamous theme. Players from its vast national team appeared in split screen, nodding to the following lyrics: "Here's the story/of a bunch of companies ... That's the way we became SFX."

"That's funny," said a mildly amused Jeannie Smart, Viacom's vice president of communications, after being apprised of the thematic coincidence. "We thought we were being so original."

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Meanwhile, SFX spokesman Howard Schacter seemed flattered that another company had had the same idea. "It just seemed like a to-the-point strategic way of communicating to our 3,000 employees that we are coming together."

For the record, SFX wasn't the first corporation to appropriate the Bradys. The family has also energized commercials for MCI and IKEA. Even during the show's heyday, there were subtle indications that the Bradys possessed metaproperties: Henry Kissinger once visited the set with his daughters (though he did not appear in any episode).

To what then shall we attribute "The Brady Bunch" theme's talismanic power?

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"It's the mad genius of ["Brady Bunch" creator] Sherwood Schwartz," says David E. Brady (no relation), creator of Encyclopedia Brady, "an interactive guide to the Brady universe."

"Schwartz understood that the theme song offered the perfect vehicle to explain the show to unfamiliar viewers," Brady says. "Add catchy melodies and easy-to-memorize lyrics, and you have a piece of music that's probably as well-known as anything by Mozart or Beethoven." Schwartz also created the canonical "Gilligan's Island" theme.

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Reached for comment in his Beverly Hills, Calif., office, Sherwood Schwartz, 83, was pleased that "The Brady Bunch" theme has assumed such a prestigious role in American business.

"It certainly wasn't the original intention," Schwartz said. "I think it says something very nice. It not only brings two families together, it has a message about getting along." Schwartz paused for a moment, then added: "It would be nice if they sent me a gift."

In a sense Viacom has sent a gift. The company owns TV Land, where "Brady Bunch" reruns play in residual-generating perpetuity. The Viacom-owned Paramount also produced two motion pictures: "The Brady Bunch Movie" (1994) and "A Very Brady Sequel," released in July 1996.

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"It's achieved a certain kind of immortality," Schwartz mused. "You know, I composed the theme with one finger. I can't play piano. I guess that says a lot."


Andrew Essex

Andrew Essex is business editor of Salon.com.

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