Although hour long television series have traditionally been dominated by the broadcast triumvirate; medical, legal and cop dramas occasionally a show about a family creeps into the perception of the audience and catches on. Typically these series straddle the two most fundamental genres, comedy and drama in an effort to reflect the laughter and tears intrinsic to most families. I do admit that over the years I have discovered a number of these shows have become guilty pleasure of mine. From ‘The Gilmore Girls’ to ‘Judging Amy’ there is something especially appealing about this kind of series that I and millions of others find relaxing even reassuring. It’s like a warm bath for the mind after yet another relentless day out in the real world. Some might infer this is a feminine trait but let’s face it; there is nothing wrong with a man relaxing after work in this fashion. Recently the first season of such a series was released on DVD; ‘Eight is enough’. My late wife and I used to use it to unwind finding it quite successful in that quarter. Don’t get too used to the upbeat theme song. The instrumental selection was replaced by one of the sappiest vocals in the history of television. The premise was following the rather large Bradford family. Ostensibly the series was based on the accounts of newspaper columnist Thomas Braden who collected his recollections into as novel of the same name. Here patriarch Tom Bradford (Dick Van Patten) overseers his brood of eight children ranging in age from eight to twenty three. This spread in ages assured the greatest potential demographic and a broad selection of possible plot lines for the episodes. There was a sudden change to the general direction and central cast lineup early in this first season. He actress playing Tom’s wife Joan, Diana Hyland, fell ill and died after only four episodes were completed. The character was written out of the remainder of the first season. In the second season Tom has been a widower for a year. Usually a major change such as this would result in an instant shark jump but back then networks were a bit more committed to their programming.
The Bradford clan in descending birth order was; David (Grant Goodeve), 23, Mary ( Lani O'Grady), 21, Joanie (Laurie Walters), 20, Susan (Susan Richardson), 19, Nancy (Dianne Kay), 18, Elizabeth (Connie Newton) 15, , Tommy (Willie Aames ),14, and Nicholas (Adam Rich), 8. A major factor in the success of this series was the diversity in the spectrum of ages. The show was able to smoothly slide between the issues we face as young adults trying to determine the course of our lives through the angst that is typical of the teen years and the playful antics of a grade school child. This range also assured the ideal mix of comedy and dramas necessary to drive a series like this.
The first episode here has titled ‘Never Try Eating Nectarines Since Juice May Dispense’. It is a saying Tom and Joan used to remember the age of their children. Personally I feel that when the number of your children gets to the point that you need a mnemonic device to keep them straight it is time to consider some form of birth control or at least name tags or personalized shirts. The tight family dynamic is established right from the start with the pilot episode. The opening shot zooms in on a park densely populated with Bradfords; the traditional family reunion. Many young actors used this series as a springboard to start their careers. In this first episode the role of eldest Bradford David was played by a young actor named Mark Hamill. He left the series when is movie career took a sudden upswing later that year thanks to a little flick called ‘Star Wars’. Mom, an aspiring photographer snaps pictures as her brood scramble around in a lively game of two handed touch football. Back at home Joan and teenage daughter Elizabeth have a heated discussion over her refusal to wear a bra. When the young Bradford asks dad if the women at work wear bras he wisely ducks the question. This is fairly indicative of the problems the family faces although the topic of as young girls under garment was just a little bit naughty for network family programming.
The comedy is heartfelt and the drama heartwarming but the writers managed to keep things just short of sappy. There were attempts to address more pressing issues families in the late seventies face. The parents receive a phone call from the local police that Elizabeth was detained for possessing narcotics. When Tom and Joan get to the station house they learn the facts. The girl was out with friends when they ran a stop sign. The boy had some pot on him. Elizabeth knew he smoked it, adding everyone does but didn’t know he was holding some pills. This is also part of the general format of the dramatic side of this show. The problems were more realistically present than usual for the time but in general the Bradford kids are high spirited (no pun intended) but intrinsically good kids. The parents are depicted as doing a very good job raising such a large contingent but they realize that their kids are influenced by peer pressure and external forces.
The series realistically depicts life in a large family from the well choreographed dance at the breakfast table to the internal conflict especially between the father and oldest son. This did lead to a natural rationale for David moving out on his own albeit while maintaining an almost sense constant presence at the family homestead. This series remains the epitome of the family comedy-drama. It does have a laugh track but you can overlook it thanks to the consistently gentle way it tells these stories. There is a little something for everyone here and although many might say its corny but there is a genuine place for a show like this in your collection.