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Success cures 'Cousin Oliver Syndrome' for Robbie Rist

Tuesday - 12/18/2012, 7:01am  ET

Robbie Rist as Cousin Oliver in the TV show 'The Brady Bunch' and Rist today. (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and Disney Junior)

A new hit show for Robbie Rist

Robbie Rist provides the voice of Stuffy in 'Doc McStuffins'


Neal Augenstein,

WASHINGTON - The former child actor, whose six episodes as Cousin Oliver on "The Brady Bunch" in 1974 remain forever linked to the popular situation comedy's downfall, is getting the last laugh - a hit television show.

When 9-year-old Robbie Rist joined "The Brady Bunch" midway through its fifth season, he had no idea the show was about to end, or that his character's involvement would become synonymous with what often occurs when a child actor is interjected into an established cast.

"At the time, this was like just another gig. ("The Brady Bunch") was a popular show, but it wasn't this level of cultural significance - that didn't happen until it went into syndication," says Rist, in a phone interview from Los Angeles.

Rist says he wasn't told at the time that his character - the nephew of Carol Brady, the TV family's mother - was introduced because network officials felt the rest of the cast had become too old by TV kid standards.

"I was just happy to be working," says Rist. "It was all good."

But six episodes in, with "Sanford and Son" beating "The Brady Bunch" in the ratings, the plug was pulled.

"I didn't even know it got canceled," says Rist. "We found out it got canceled just because we didn't go back to work."

Rist says the backlash didn't begin immediately, but it came with a name - Cousin Oliver Syndrome. Rist believes the phrase was coined on a website called "Jump the Shark," named for an episode of "Happy Days."

"It was a sign the show was over when Fonzie had to jump over a shark tank," Rist recalls. "There was a page on the site called New Kid in Town, and it was about all the kids that were brought into television shows, like Little Ricky for ‘The Lucy Show.' And the photo they used for the mascot was mine."

Rist says he thought it was hilarious,

"I'd already gone through my ‘Oh my God, I was nine, what if I never have another job again' phase," he says. "I was already past it by that point."

After "The Brady Bunch," Rist appeared on several TV shows, including the role of Ted Baxter's son, David, on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and four guest appearances on "CHiPs."

As an adult, Rist began working as a voice-over actor. His role of Michelangelo in the "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" film series made "Cowabunga, dude," a popular catch phrase.

A few years ago he auditioned for a new Disney Television Animation show, "Doc McStuffins."

"At this point in the game, I've been doing this for 40 years," Rist says. "I read for things and I promptly forget about them."

When he was offered the job, Rist began to really read the scripts.

"I've been on ‘The Brady Bunch,' ‘The Mary Tyler Moore Show,' I was one of the voices in those turtle movies," says Rist. "These are pretty big popular things that have kind of entered the cultural bloodstream."

'Doc McStuffins' is one of the roles Rist is most proud of, he says.

"It's a television show that exists to alleviate children's fears," says Rist.

The series is about a 6-year-old girl who pretends to be a doctor who can "fix" toys, with help from her stuffed animal friends. Rist provides the voice of Stuffy, a stuffed blue dragon who tries to be brave but doesn't always succeed.

The show is now in production for its second season, airing on Disney Junior. "Doc McStuffins" creator Chris Nee tells WTOP she was aware of Cousin Oliver Syndrome when Rist auditioned - and didn't think twice.

"I've loved Robbie Rist since he was a kid," says Nee in an email. "We cast him based on the incredible 'dragon-ness' of his voice."

Nee says Rist's voice has a growl in it of a well-lived toy life.

"He's hilarious and his voice is unique," she says. "The part we didn't realize when we cast him was how much of a heart we got in the bargain. He brings to life a character that is so funny and also incredibly sweet, a combination I couldn't have written to if Robbie weren't cast in the role."

Rist says many things have happened for a first-year show that are rare.

"They started cranking toys out, and that never happens with a first year show," Rist says. "They were right to do it, because apparently it's the hot Christmas gift this year. They can't keep them in stores. They can't keep them stocked."

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