Surfing with Celebrities: Brady Bunch Actor Goes Online

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!"

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 nontraditional 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 January 22.

In development for about ten 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 funneled 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.

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