They may share a first name, blond hairdos and a blended family domestic situation, but The Brady Bunch's Carol Brady (played by Florence Henderson) and Step by Step's Carol Foster are distinguished by one key trait.
"Carol Brady never had sex, that we know of," says Step by Step's Suzanne Somers, who played Carol Foster opposite Patrick Duffy's Frank Lambert in the popular ABC sitcom, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this month. "There were a bunch of kids, but I don't know how she had them! Frank and Carol ... were a very sexy couple. The whole show was about trying to get laid, but a kid always walked in the room." (Watch our video interview above.)
When Step by Step premiered in 1991, critics certainly noted its resemblance to the classic '60s family sitcom... often in harsh terms. ("The nitwit's Brady Bunch" read one negative review.) Like Carol and Mike before them, Carol and Frank find new love after previous marriages and decide to get hitched, bringing their respective brood of kids along for the ride. Despite mixed reviews, the show caught on with audiences and ran for six seasons as part of ABC's popular "TGIF" lineup, which also included Family Matters and Boy Meets World. (Step by Step's seventh and final season aired on CBS from 1997 to 1998.) And Somers believes that popularity was due to how the writers brought The Brady Bunch concept of blended families into the present day.
"When Step by Step presented a blended family, it was more prevalent," she explains. "[In the '90s] we were into the second generation of people who were blending families. The first generation was the hardest... and I think we put a positive spin on it in Step by Step where the kids weren't filled with angst over what it was. That's kind of the goal when you're blending a family."
Somers has firsthand experience with combining two families into one. When she married her second husband, Alan Hamel, in 1977, they both brought children into their union. And much like Frank and Carol, Alan and Suzanne are a sexy couple. "I like who I am, I like the way I look," Somers told Yahoo Life about their very active sex life. "I take good care of myself. When I walk down the hallway toward my husband naked, then I know he's just really enjoying looking at me."
Somers says that she still keeps in touch with her TV husband... not that Hamel needs to be jealous. "We will always be dear friends," she says of Duffy. "I usually get in touch with him on his birthday — he was born on St. Patrick's Day, so it's really easy to remember! We always have a virtual drink together."
Meanwhile, her onscreen children have gone on their own paths, both in and outside of the industry. "I see them at television events," Somers says of the now-grown cast of child actors who played Carol and Frank's children. Staci Keanan, for example, played Carol's eldest daughter, Dana, and now has a thriving legal career as a law professor and a deputy district attorney for Los Angeles County. "I'm so proud of her," Keanan's TV mom says. "She was always very academic and anything that she attempted, she succeeded. So there's not doubt in my mind that she's gone on to have a successful law career."
On the other hand, some of Step by Step's younger cast members experienced more serious growing pains. Angela Watson, who played Carol's middle child, Karen, sued her parents when she discovered that they had squandered her earnings from her TV career. Watson went on to found the aid organization, Child Actors Supporting Themselves or CAST, with the aim of helping other young stars avoid similar problems.
Somers says that she wasn't aware of Watson's behind-the-scenes drama at the time they were shooting Step by Step. "Her parents were at the studio every day, maybe they felt they were entitled, I don't know. Clearly, Angela was too young to work out any kind of financial deal for herself... so if that's what happened, I'm really sad about that. That's the trouble with child actors: they reach a point where they need their own lives. It's kind of like what's going on with Britney Spears and her father. He needs to let go."
Somers made a point of leading her own life even while shooting Step by Step. The actress published books and launched entrepreneurial endeavors whenever she wasn't on set. That approach grew out of the circumstances that led to her early departure from Three's Company — the sitcom that rocketed her to stardom. "I got fired for asking for pay commensurate with the men on Three's Company," she explains. "[Step by Step executive producers] Tom Miller and Bob Boyett came to me in the second season and said, 'We're giving you a raise so that you're making the money that Patrick is making.'
"It was such a great thing that they did, and it made me feel so positive about the show," Somers continues. "I had said I'd never work for anyone ever again, but I had all my other businesses going... so I could never be in that position again. If I didn't like what was happening on Step by Step, I personally had no qualms about leaving, legally, whenever I wanted to. But it was such a pleasant experience that I didn't want to leave!"
— Video produced by Stacy Jackman and edited by Steve Michel
Step by Step is currently streaming on Hulu