TODAY   |  March 01, 2010

The Bradfords are back

Long before the Octomom there was the hit ’70s TV show “Eight Is Enough.” Meredith Vieira chats with some of the cast members who played this great TV family.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> [ female announcer ] splenda?.

>>> this morning we're kicking off a very special series, great tv families reunited. over the next week, we'll be bringing together the cast of some classic tv shows that you grew up with. we're starting with the bradfords of the classic tv show , "eight is enough." it was the late 1970s , the vietnam war had recently ended and the nation was still reeling from the watergate scandal . television was at a crossroad and people craved the stability of american family life. enter "eight is enough." the series focused on tom bradford , played by dick van patten and his eight children. david , the eldest, living on his own. mary, the brainy one, attending medical school . joanie, the artsy one. susan the tomboy, nancy, the pretty face , always searching for direction. elizabeth, the typical teenaged all- american girl . tommy, the rebill yus bad boy of the bradfords. and nicholas , the sweet-faced youngest of the clan.

>> living in this family is like living in a small town .

>> premiering in march of 1977 , the show tackled the tough issues of sex, drug abuse and single parenthood. things that would have been taboo in primetime a few years earlier.

>> david , this is beautiful. where did you find it?

>> during production of the first season, actress diana hyland , who played their mother, joan bradford , passed away . with tom now a widower, he found love again with school teach er abby, played by betty buckley . she married him during the second season. although the series rated in the top 20 throughout its run. "eight is enough" was canceled after its fifth season. as the staple of tv pop culture , the bradfords were able to perfectly mix the idyllic world inside their household with real-world problems. earning them a place as one of the great tv families. * eight is enough to fill our lives with love *

>> and here they are for the first time as a cast in more than 20 years, let's bring them out one by one. beginning with dick van patten who played tom bradford , come on out, dick, have a seat. nice to see you.

>> i watch you every morning, you're terrific.

>> you're terrific, too. have a seat.

>> betty buckley , who played abby, come on out, betty.

>> nice to see you. have a seat.

>> grant goodeve , the oldest son, david . nice to see you. laurie walters was joanie. good do see you. connie needham played elizabeth. you look like a flash from the past. and willie aames played the bad boy tommy. nice to see you, willy. and joining us from los angeles , diane kay who played nancy. good morning to all of you. look at the smiles on all of your faces, what is it like to be reunited here?

>> i'm so happy to be with all of them again, i really mean it it's great.

>> it's great. it's kind of a gift. we thank you for getting us all together.

>> can you believe that it's been more than 20 years?

>> it's been a while .

>> it's been a while .

>> they all look the same.

>> and to think -- i look at you, dick, and i realize, having read the notes last night, what i didn't know before, was you were not the original choice.

>> no.

>> to play tom bradford . how did you convince the producers.

>> they shot it for three days with someone else and freddy silverman, the head of abc and he looked at the rushes and said, get dick van patten . he's funnier. he has a funny bone.

>> and you ended up, you're the dad with these eight kids, and at the time the show was filmed, they were kids. did you become a father figure with the cast.

>> i was surrounded by all of these wonderful actors and they were all so natural. they never looked artificial when they were acting, they were real. so i think that's what made the show such a hit. their acting. i really mean that. the writer of the script did a wonderful job.

>> connie, what was it like on the set?

>> goodness -- it was a lot of fun. it was an awful lot of fun. i was just thinking of this one particular day when we had one of those hours and hours of dinner scenes. and -- we were getting really -- you know, a little annoyed. and a little frustrated. and you know, a little grumpy. and dick says to all of us, he says, you know, you're going to miss this, once it's taken away, you're really going to miss it. you're really lucky.

>> and do you?

>> i do. i do.

>> i do, i do.

>> i remember him saying that to us.

>> grant, favorite moment, if there is one?

>> my favorite moments were the times that i would do scenes with dick. who was the father figure , was much funnier than my own dad. to the point that we would get the giggles sometimes, the laughing and we would hold up production sometimes for half an hour because we couldn't gather ourselves.

>> we couldn't look at each other with a straight face, we would laugh.

>> and i secretly wished for that. it was so entertaining.

>> will, you played the bad boy on the show. you know, the --

>> a troubled teenager.

>> we were just talking about that backstage. and actually laurie was the one who brought it up. said, you laugh more these days, you were such a serious young man. and i guess i was. but i'm laughing now, we've been laughing all morning.

>> you mean you -- personally were a serious young man when you were playing that role?

>> i believe so. laurie, jump in.

>> well, yeah it just seemed it me that it's a big burden. i mean connie and willy, maybe diane , no, not diane , but certainly adam, they were children, really. and it's enormous responsibility that they've had. and willy just seemed very serious and his work and his music and his career. and you know -- i was quite a bit older than him and in a certain way kind of the way older people are invisible to teenagers. that's how i felt with willy. so --

>> that's pretty accurate.

>> and so i would watch him.

>> not that anybody was invisible. but i was pretty focused. i hear diane laughing in the background.

>> we're missing her. she is in l.a. is there anything you want to say, diane ? jump in.

>> hi everybody. i miss you. i'm warm and you're cold.

>> thanks for pointing that one out.

>> betty, it had to be hard for you. you came in in the second season, after diana hyland passed away . was it hard getting into this group.

>> it was like being a real step mother . they had only shot six episodes, i believe, with diana, but the show was a huge hit. so they brought me in, i was the idea of brandon tartikoff , the associate to brent silverman, i had done a film "carrie" and they thought the character i played would be a nice prototype to come in and marry into the family. it was pretty uncomfortable, it was a bumpy ride for the first season. but things started to calm down in season two, and really fabulous in season three and four.

>> adam rich could not be here, he played nicholas . and he did send a letter. he said although i may not there be in person, please know i'm there in spirit. i will always have a deep fondness for each of you in my heart. i consider it not only an honor, but a privilege to be a member of one of tv's greatest families.

>> ah.

>> he was the little one, the adorable kid, dick, what do you remember most about him, dick?

>> people loved adam rich . he was named nicholas . people were naming their children nicholas . he was a big hit on the show. and he was largely responsible for the show being such a big hit .

>> the show was a comedy and a drama and it dealt with a lot of issues that at that time, especially, it dealt with drugs, it dealt with sex. it dealt with a lot of heavy stuff. why do you think that you were able to do that?

>> good writers.

>> great writers.

>> it was a real hybrid in that time period , because we were never really nominated for emmys. so i think we won the people's choice award every year because they couldn't figure out if we were a comedy or a drama, because we did it all and we covered every conceivable subject matter .

>> you really did. how would you compare it with what's on primetime network television now?

>> it seems so innocent, doesn't it? we were cutting-edge then. but what is cutting-edge now is very different.

>> there were also issues behind the scenes . there was a certain amount of alcohol and drugs. willy, you've been open about it since then.

>> sure.

>> talk to me about what was going on a little bit behind the scenes . and what it's like for somebody to be a kid actor and then the show goes away?

>> well you know, it was, it was the '70s. where weren't their drugs? there were as many here in new york as there were in l.a. and you could find the same thing in chicago. i think the thing that really happened in l.a. and what i've always said about it is it's not so much that it's different in that environment. you just have access to more when it's happening. and so i, i kind of see, see that whole environment as sort of like a small high school . you know, everybody knows what's going on. everybody is dating each other. and not for any other reason than its proximity. so i wouldn't say that anything was different on certain not on our set than any of the other sets that were going on. it wasn't as big a deal as maybe people want to make it out to be.

>> that's true, i agree.

>> i wasn't aware of -- i mean there was not really aware of anybody doing anything specific. it was just that we were all at work and the days were long. and you know, you know, it wasn't that apparent in any single way.

>> yeah.

>> it went completely over my head .

>> you were too old. you didn't know what was going on.

>> you obviously didn't do enough drugs.

>> no.

>> on a sad note, lani o'grady dying of an accidental drug overdose certainly very sad for the cast. but i don't want to dwell on that as i said. looking back now, why do you feel this show was as -- i know you said the writers. but why do you think it resonated so much with the audience back then? were we looking for something because of vietnam?

>> well there was somebody at every age. you know, i think that helped. there was the young kids, the older kids.

>> i think it got to the heart of the matter .

>> you know, the soul of things, we really told very sensitive truths. and were very realistic, i think.

>> and adam was cute.

>> i got to stop it at that, guys. it is enough, the cast. you're going to be back in our next hour to tell us what you're doing now and also to answer viewers' emails, we appreciate it. we'll be back right after your local news. thank you, guys, you still look the same. i