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The Big Picture

  • Gilligan’s Island
    was created as an escape, providing simple laughs and a message of learning to live with one another. The critical scorn never bothered creator Sherwood Schwartz, who wrote and produced for people, not for critics.
  • The appeal of
    Gilligan’s Island
    lies in its simplicity and innocence, despite its plot holes. The show followed the adventures of a group of castaways and their attempts to get home, with each attempt constantly thwarted by the clueless Gilligan.
  • Gilligan’s Island
    continued to live on in a series of follow-up projects, including animated series and made-for-TV movie sequels. Despite the show being canceled after three seasons, its beloved castaways remained in the public eye for years to come.



In the mid-1960s, television viewers looking for intellectual, dramatic fare knew they wouldn’t find it on Gilligan’s Island, and that suited creator Sherwood Schwartz just fine. He didn’t intend for the show to be anything more than an escape — a preposterous, formulaic sitcom that stood on the strength of its cast, Gilligan (Bob Denver) in particular, to deliver laughs and a simple message of learning to live with one another. The critical scorn never bothered Schwartz, who once said, “I know what the critics love. We write and produce for people, not for critics.” Gilligan’s Island would become one of television’s most beloved shows over the course of three seasons before being canceled in 1967, prior to a planned fourth season. Ironically, while more prestigious shows would come and go, never to be heard from again, Gilligan’s Island lived on in a series of follow-up projects that kept the castaways in the public eye for years after its “cancelation.”


Gilligan's Island Bob Denver and Dawn Wells Poster

Gilligan’s Island

Seven men and women are stranded on an uncharted island following a torrential storm.

Release Date
October 16, 1963

Creator
Sherwood Schwartz

Cast
Bob Denver , Alan Hale Jr. , Russell Johnson , Jim Backus , Natalie Schafer , Tina Louise , Dawn Wells

Main Genre
Comedy

Seasons
3


‘Gilligan’s Island’ Begins With a Three-Hour Tour

Part of the appeal of Gilligan’s Island lies in the simplicity of its premise and its innocence (the only malicious thing about the show is the name of the boat, a thinly-veiled shot at the FCC chair who had derided the “vast wasteland” of television). The series begins with the two-man crew of the S.S. Minnow, Captain Jonas “The Skipper” Grumby (Alan Hale Jr.) and first mate Gilligan, who set sail on a three-hour tour from Honolulu with five passengers on board: millionaire Thurston Howell III (Jim Backus), his wife Eunice “Lovey” Howell (Natalie Schafer), Hollywood movie star Ginger Grant (Tina Louise), “The Professor” Roy Hinkley, Ph.D. (Russell Johnson), and Kansas farm girl Mary Ann Summers (Dawn Wells). Shortly into the excursion, the S.S. Minnow runs into a storm, which ends up with the ship running aground on an “uncharted desert isle” in the Pacific Ocean, leaving the boat’s passengers and crew castaways.


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From there, the series followed the adventures of the group and their attempts to get home, attempts that were constantly thwarted through the inadvertent actions of the clueless Gilligan, a comical vicious circle that endeared it to the viewers. The show has a huge number of plot holes, each bigger than the one that scuttled the Minnow. The passengers all have tons of clothing, at least more than would be warranted for a three-hour tour. The Skipper and Gilligan, who probably should have more clothing aboard their own boat, wear the same thing week after week. The Professor can make literally anything from the resources on the island: a lie detector, a battery recharger, a bamboo sewing machine, a water pump, even a washing machine… but couldn’t fix a hole in the boat. But it all worked.


‘Gilligan’s Island’ Gets Animated in 1974

The castaways of 'Gilligan's Planet'

The castaways would resurface on Saturday morning TV with Filmation’s The New Adventures of Gilligan in 1974, bearing the unmistakable animation stylings of the studio. The first project post-Gilligan’s Island was, for all intents and purposes, the exact same show, except with the addition of an anthropomorphic monkey, Stubby (Lou Scheimer), and an “educational tag” where Skipper and Gilligan would talk about the moral lesson of the episode (Dr. Nathan Cohen of UCLA was on the production staff as an educational consultant). Most of the original cast, except for Tina Louise (who was trying to distance herself from the show) and Dawn Wells (unavailable due to commitments elsewhere), returned to provide the voices for their respective characters. Jane Webb was brought on to voice both Ginger and Mary Ann.


Interestingly, the final project post-Gilligan’s Island was also an animated series from Filmation: 1982’sGilligan’s Planet. The series, like The New Adventures of Gilligan before it, brought back the original cast including Dawn Wells, who voiced both Mary Ann and Ginger (Tina Louise, again, opted not to participate). The series is technically a spin-off of the first animated series, but like that series utilized the original series as source material. In the cartoon, the Professor — somehow — manages to build a fully operational spaceship to get the castaways off of the island. Unfortunately, they crash-land on an unknown planet, with the rocket severely damaged, leaving the castaways stranded in space and leading to encounters with alien creatures. Stubby the monkey was replaced by a reptilian-like alien named Bumper (Lou Scheimer), who came to be like a pet for the group.

‘Gilligan’s Island’ Also Returned for Multiple Made-for-TV Movie Sequels


In between the two animated series, Gilligan’s Island returned in not one, not two, but three made-for-TV movie sequels. 1978’s Rescue from Gilligan’s Island finds the castaways (with Judith Baldwin as the “new” Ginger) still on the island, fifteen years after being stranded on it. Soon, a metal disc lands on the island, and the Professor realizes he can make a new barometer out of the unique metal. With the barometer, the Professor discovers that a tsunami is imminent, and so to survive the oncoming storm, the castaways build a raft (yes, we all know they could have done the same thing over the course of the last fifteen years — just roll with it). The raft gets swept out to sea where, luckily, Gilligan’s ineptitude works out in their favor, with the fire he accidentally starts on the raft drawing the attention of the Coast Guard. After returning to society and some filler about foreign spies after the disc and insurance settlement for the Minnow, the gang reunites aboard the S.S. Minnow II… which gets caught in a storm and lands on the same island that had been their home for fifteen years.


The Castaways on Gilligan’s Island from 1979 picks up shortly after the events of the first film, where Gilligan stumbles upon a pair of WWII airplanes, uncovered by the tsunami. The Professor cobbles together an aircraft using parts from the two planes, and they fly off in the Minnow III. Maybe they should stop using “Minnow” as a name, as the plane experiences engine trouble during the flight. Gilligan accidentally falls out of the plane and parachutes back to the island. The others turn the plane around to return for Gilligan, even though they won’t get another chance. Fortunately, by turning back they averted the very real possibility of crashing. Even more fortunate, they were airborne just long enough for the U.S. Navy to track them back to the island. The castaways return to civilization, the U.S. annexes the island, and Mr. Howell builds a tropical resort, one that mirrors the “no phone, no lights, no motor cars, not a single luxury” aesthetic they lived, on the island, with the others silent partners in the endeavor. That’s the first half. The second half is a Love Boat-ish affair on the resort. That’s all you have to know about that.


The final film, 1981’s The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan’s Island, sees the world-famous basketball team (clearly at the tail end of their golden era) crash-land on the island and are found by Gilligan and the Skipper, who escort them back to the resort. The Globetrotters play a friendly game against the former castaways (with Constance Forslund replacing Baldwin as Ginger) and, naturally, soundly trounce them. Meanwhile, a devious corporate raider, J.J. Pierson (Martin Landau) schemes to wrest control of the resort from the castaways, which would then allow him access to “supremium,” an ore of limitless energy that happens to be on the island. When his devilish plan is discovered, Pierson suggests a basketball game between the Globetrotters and his team of robot players, the New Invincibles, with the winner taking all. The Globetrotters have trouble playing the robots and are losing by the half. Gilligan, however, notices that they haven’t done any of their legendary Globetrotter tricks, and the Professor pushes them to be the Globetrotters we know and love. The Globetrotters win the game (actually, Gilligan, stepping in for an injured Globetrotter, wins the game), but while the game is being played, Pierson moves all the supremium to his yacht. Unknown to him, the element becomes unstable, and his yacht explodes, taking with it Pierson’s entire fortune.


That’s been it for Gilligan’s Island to date, but it doesn’t mean you can count those plucky castaways out. A proposed 2013 Gilligan’s Island movie had Josh Gad linked to write and star, while Charlie Kaufman and James Gunn pitched a film that would have taken Gilligan’s Island in a much, much darker direction, with the castaways forced to kill and eat each other to survive. Warner Bros. apparently even approved the idea, until Schwarz put an end to it (Gunn apparently has left the door open to the idea if Schwarz’s estate ever changes their mind). So we may not know exactly where and when we’ll revisit the island, but it’s a sure bet that it will happen — anywhere from three hours to fifteen years from now.

Gilligan’s Island is available to stream on Tubi for free with ads.

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