Sunday, August 26, 2012

Classic TV: Gilligan's Island (1964)

What started as a "three hour tour" has turned into a cult classic creeping up on 50 years.

Gilligan's Island launched on CBS in 1964, the brainchild of writer-producer Sherwood Schwartz, and has remained a beloved favorite in syndication and on cable ever since ending its network run in 1967 after three seasons. The popularity of the series was such that not one, but two animated follow-ups were produced, sandwiched around a trio of made-for-TV movies that aired on NBC during the early 80s.

Audiences were already familiar with some of the cast. For example, Alan Hale, Jr. (Jonas Grumby, the Skipper) had previously appeared on Biff Baker, USA & Casey Jones. Jim Backus (Thurston Howell III) was, at the time, also the voice of Mr. Magoo, whose Famous Adventures series also bowed in 1964, but lasted just the one season. Of course, Bob Denver (Gilligan) was already a fan favorite from his days as Maynard G. Krebs on The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. Suffice to say that Gilligan was completely different from the work-phobic Maynard would be an understatement.

As previously documented over in Saturday Morning Archives, Schwartz reassembled most of the cast, save for Tina Louise (Ginger), who'd disassociated herself from the franchise, and Dawn Wells (Mary Ann), who had conflicting commitments, for the animated New Adventures of Gilligan, 7 years after the original series had ended. Just a few short years later, with Schwartz developing projects for NBC, the network landed a series of TV movies that saw the castaways return home to the mainland, then ultimately return to the island and turn it into a tourist paradise, now armed with modern technology. The last of those films co-starred the Harlem Globetrotters, along with Scatman Crothers (ex-Chico & The Man), Martin Landau & Barbara Bain (ex-Space: 1999 & Mission: Impossible), with David Ruprecht subbing for Backus as the newly created Thurston Howell IV. Gilligan's Planet rehashed the New Adventures series, bringing the castaways back to their original network, CBS, in 1982, but was beached after 1 season.

In recent years, TBS tried rebooting the franchise with a "reality" show, The Real Gilligan's Island, which was, if memory serves, a colossal flop. You know what they say. If it ain't broken, you don't fix it, which is what the TBS suits tried to do. Dawn Wells resurrected Mary Ann, or a facsimile thereof, for a commercial that has probably been forgotten. I think it was for Western Union, but I can't be certain of that.

Anyway, here's the season 2 open & close. The Wellingtons, who'd recorded the theme the first season and appeared on the show, were jettisoned in favor of an anonymous artist who recorded a more up-tempo version. George Wyle, who co-wrote "The Ballad of Gilligan's Island" with Sherwood Schwartz, would later be Flip Wilson's bandleader.

On the whole, it was wholesome fun. Too bad the TV-movies don't get as much airplay as the series anymore.

Rating: B.


magicdog said...

When I was a kid I used to love watching this show in syndication. It was essentially a live action cartoon.

Eventually I got bored with it, especially all the missed opportunites the group suffered to get rescued. I began thinking how could those people that found them (the Cosmonauts, Harold Hecuba, the Tarzan Actor, The Mosquitoes) in all good conscience leave them there and not tell anyone about them? To me that seemed cruel.

I was relieved to see them rescued in the first TV movie, but got peeved when they ended up stranded AGAIN! At least subsequent movies (which I think were meant to set up a more regular TV series) had them rescued and opening the resort. It reminded me of "The Love Boat" style of story telling with people coming to the island for a vacation and having issues which ultimately get resolved by the crew's interventions.

One thing you can always count on, is going to any random person in the street and have them sing the theme song! Just about everybody knows it!

Oh, and those Ginger vs Mary Ann debates!

hobbyfan said...

It's funny you bring up the comparisons to "Love Boat" with the TV-movies.

I remember reading that the 2nd film was produced with an eye toward creating a "Love Boat"/"Fantasy Island" type anthology series, using the castaways as the glue holding the show together. Schwartz felt like he wanted some of Aaron Spelling's ratings success, but at that time, NBC wasn't exactly primo television, no matter how hard they tried. It wasn't until first "A-Team", then some fella named Cosby, broke the top 10 that NBC began its resurgence.

Personally, I was waiting for them to tease, at the very least, some interest between Gilligan & Mary Ann, but, well......