TV and Reality

Despite rumors to the contrary, TV hasn’t changed much in the past 40 years. Oh, you may hear a few words on the tube that viewers were not allowed to hear back in the seventies—like sex, pregnant, and lesbian—but as far as content goes, things are still pretty much the same.

Take the ABC drama Eight is Enough, which was basically a seventies version of Nineteen Kids and Counting only with better hair, cooler clothes, and about half the cast members. If you don’t know what I mean, I suggest you Google some photos of the Duggar clan, do the math, and then see for yourself whether the threads and coiffures worn by the Bradford family don’t somehow look MORE modern despite having been off the air for more than thirty years. In any case, both shows focus on the adventures of a large family, only instead of taking a bus, an RV, or multiple cars to town, the Bradford brood could travel by station wagon.

Not to brag, but my two brothers and I lived in an eight-child family long before the Bradfords made it to the small screen, thanks to our dad’s marriage to our first step mother, who had five kids. Let the record show that neither of my two step brothers looked a thing like Willie Ames or Grant Goodeve, and my two real brothers are still way cuter than Nicholas ever was. And our stepmother, Betty, looked and acted a lot more like Joan Crawford circa 1949 than Abby Bradford circa 1978.

Unlike Mrs. Bradford, who was a teacher, Betty did not work. I don’t know what she did before she became our step mom, but I suspect she would have made a great reality TV personality given her fondness for snapping her fingers and saying “What Betty wants, Betty gets.”

Actually, even back in the seventies, our version of Eight is Enough would have made for great reality TV. We had the rebellious oldest sister Lori, who ran away from home on a regular basis and once took her two sisters with her. And there was Heidi, who once jumped out of a tree and landed on the chainsaw my dad was using a few feet below her.

And if that wouldn’t make for enough drama, our step siblings were often grounded for committing what Betty referred to as ‘Night Raids.’  These heinous crimes, which involved one or more of her kids sneaking out of their bed(s) in the middle of the night and eating cake, cookies, or whatever dessert was left over from the day before, occurred at least weekly, and led to long, drawn out trials and sentences commensurate with how long it took the accused to fess up.

My brothers and I were never tried nor convicted of such atrocities. I’d like to say this was because we had exceptional criminal minds and were smart enough to either avoid detection or frame our step siblings, but the sad truth is that the three of us would sooner have eaten our own flesh than get out of bed without authorization, since doing so for any reason could earn you a lick or two of Betty’s favorite belt and a sentencing enhancement of no dessert for a week.

Like the TV series, our version of Eight is Enough had a short run. In fact, it was bumped out of its time slot by another drama called Johnson vs. Johnson, which did not star Dustin Hoffman or Meryl Streep but was clearly ahead of its time, having predated the critically acclaimed Kramer vs. Kramer by three years.

Not long after Johnson vs. Johnson ended its run, our dad married a woman with three kids, and my brothers and I got our own version of The Brady Bunch. As was the case with Eight is Enough, the Johnson Bunch differed greatly from the Brady Bunch. For example, we had four girls and two boys instead of three boys and three girls. Second, my brothers and I were all blonde and lovely, while our step siblings were all brunettes and wicked. And third, although I have no way of proving it, I’ll bet neither Mrs. Brady nor the person who inspired her ever sang in a honky tonk or raided their children’s piggy banks in order to pay for a bottle of Coffee Brandy.

Fortunately, the Johnson Bunch ran for fewer seasons than did the Brady Bunch. And while it was followed by several seasons of our version of One Day at a Time and Good Times, living in a single-parent home and/or in the projects with just my dad and two brothers was still better in my view than being part of Enough, or a Bunch of anything.