'Greg Brady' gives fans a place to connect

Greg Brady launches an online community to connect with his fans.

When the e-mail story pitch arrived to say that Barry Williams, who played Greg Brady on "The Brady Bunch" was launching an online community to connect with fans, I first thought, "These people really need to get lives." Then, I continued reading to learn that Williams would be available for interviews on a limited basis -- suddenly, it was as if I were 15 years old again, hoping to catch the attention of the cutest boy in school: "Pick me! Oh, please, please pick me!"

Kidhood Flashback

For the uninitiated, "The Brady Bunch" was a U.S. TV comedy that was on the air from September 1969 until August 1974. As its theme song noted, "here's the story:" A widowed architect named Mike Brady was raising three sons, Greg, Peter and Bobby (in order) and he met a woman named Carol, who was raising three daughters, Marcia, Jan and Cindy, on her own. They fell in love, married and set about blending their families, along with a live-in housekeeper named Alice.

Although the show didn't crack the Nielsen ratings' top 10, among devotees it was wildly popular, and from a pop culture standpoint the show was, arguably, significant. Until that point, few shows had featured what then were considered to be non-traditional families. Besides that, Mike and Carol Brady actually slept in the same bed at the same time and it was clear that they had amorous intentions toward one another. As we learned in later years, some of the kids had similar intentions towards one another off-camera, but that's a different story.

Fast forward 24 years and the show is still in rerun syndication, drawing in new generations of viewers, but it still has retained some core of its original fans who remain fond of the Bradys. "The people who are interested and curious and want to be connected to me, many of them feel that they grew up with me," Williams, who is 53, said when we chatted a few days after the online community got up and running on Jan. 22.

Social Nets Connect

In development for about nine or 10 months, The Greg Brady Project is part of MyLifeBrand, a Web and mobile service that lets subscribers aggregate their online communities, serving as a portal for social networks and communities. From the site, users can also create and manage their different social networks and related services, including messaging, and navigate among them from that one spot.

Williams' community, which he is actively leading, was started in collaboration with The Blake Project, which is focused on branding and marketing, and which launched the online community for the Utah Jazz professional basketball team, where players interact with fans. Williams had been thinking about the potential that a blog would give him to connect with fans and to give him a forum to talk about his work.

"I didn't want to just come in superficially: 'Hi, I'm Barry Williams and you're not,' and have it be a real self-serving blog. I wanted something that would be managed daily and changing daily," he said. Looking around the Web at what was out there, Williams found a lot of celebrity sites run by publicity departments or marketing managers, with messages ostensibly from the celebrity funnelled through intermediaries. Such sites tend to be really slick, full of multimedia and a lot of razzle dazzle, but many don't have ongoing messages from the celebrities and those that do tend to be sporadically updated. Most seem more a reflection of the image the celebrity aims to convey rather than a realistic look at an actual human being.

"Many actors spend their lives and careers creating images and perceptions and carving out ways that their personas will be perceived," Williams said, "but as I've approached this, it becomes really important that what you see and what you read has my voice."

Direct from Celebs

Now, there are some notable exceptions out there among celebrity sites when it comes to those where the celebrity actually shows up. Off the top of my head, I could think of several sites where celebrities of varying stature directly interact with fans. One is that of author T.C. Boyle, who posts some at the message board run by fans and who provides periodic updates on what he's been up to. More active online by far is outspoken Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling who posts frequently in the blog section of his 38 Pitches site and who has an ongoing, and entertaining, dialogue with both fans and critics. But, by and large, those aren't the norm for celebrity sites.

"I can foresee using the blog in ways other than just to interact or for chatting," Williams said. He's likely to invite other celebrities on board to post in an unfiltered way. He also intends to use the site to promote Smiles Change Lives, a charity he is associated with. What it's not intended to be is a Brady Bunch fan site, although it is and will remain "Brady friendly."

When I asked Williams about his identification with Greg Brady, he said he's always felt that he should use "everything that was available" to him to advance in his career, which for some years now has included performing on stage in musicals. He's soon bound for Kansas City, Kansas, for a run with the musical "Married Alive," details of which he has blogged.

For those who will be curious about such matters, he was gracious and amusing during our phone call, which was unhurried -- he seemed like he would have talked on and on had I not needed to get to other tasks. He was open to any question that came up, though I'm sure he has heard them all when it comes to the Bradys. It felt like I was talking to an old friend.

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