“Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale,
A tale of a fateful trip,
That started from this tropic port,
Aboard this tiny ship…”
These lines – known to nearly every man, woman and child in the English-speaking world – opened the infectious story-song that took viewers to the tropical locale of Gilligan’s Island every week. The ditty is right up there with the likes of The Beverly Hillbillies and The Brady Bunch in the category of best-known television theme songs, and has been remade in every musical style known to man: rap, polka, reggae, even heavy metal. It is and always will be a part of popular culture. This song, however, is merely one part of Gilligan’s Island‘s universal appeal.
Gilligan’s Island was created by producer Sherwood Schwartz, who would later create another ageless sitcom favorite in The Brady Bunch. The show’s story began with a small charter boat, the SS Minnow, getting lost at sea during a tour (“A three-hour tour,” that is) and crash-landing on an uncharted island in the Pacific. The boat’s seven passengers soon discovered the SS Minnow could not be repaired, leaving them marooned.
The Skipper was a good-natured (if a bit blustery) leader, and Gilligan was the dim but faithful first mate who seemed to jinx anything he touched. Also stranded were five passengers: Ginger was a glamorous movie star, and Mary Ann was her opposite, a sweet and modest country girl. Thurston Howell III and his wife “Lovey” were two socialites who soon realized their wealth was not terribly useful on a desert island (though their eternally-fresh wardrobe came in handy). However, this realization didn’t affect their snooty attitudes. Rounding out the group was the Professor, a high school science teacher who was the group’s resource for practical knowledge (but apparently, nothing involving raft-making).
The ongoing storyline depicted the group’s endless attempts to get rescued. Every week, they would either hear someone’s approach to the island via their radio (the only link to the outside world) or someone would crash-land on the island and give Gilligan and crew the hope that someone would come to rescue them all. However, it never worked out that easily. Through a combination of Gilligan’s ineptitude and flat-out bad luck, the rescue opportunity always slipped through their fingers. Among the many visitors to the island over the years were a Pacific island native tribe, some Japanese submarine pilots, and a rock band.
Gilligan’s Island ran for a mere three seasons in prime-time, but the 97 episodes they produced have run seemingly ever since in syndication, earning millions of loyal fans along the way. The gang, minus Ginger and Mary Ann, lent their voices to a Saturday morning series in 1974, The New Adventures of Gilligan’s Island, which also ran for three seasons.
Then, in 1978, the castaways were finally rescued from the island in a made-for-television movie, Rescue from Gilligan’s Island. The only cast member not to appear was Tina Louise. The next year brought another TV movie, The Castaways on Gilligan’s Island, which was intended as a pilot for a return series that never materialized. Things got stranger in 1981, with The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan’s Island, and a sci-fi Saturday morning cartoon in 1982, Gilligan’s Planet.
All of this begs the question: why is Gilligan’s Island still so popular? The answer is simple: it appeals to the ‘kid’ in all of us. There is a part of everyone’s character that is playful and fun-loving, a part that finds the show’s slapstick sense of humor as appealing and comfortable as an old pair of sneakers. As long as there are people who value the ‘kid’ inside, there will be a place on television for Gilligan’s Island.
If you were a loyal fan of these lovable castaways, we welcome all your thoughts and memories in our comments section, as we tip our hats to this iconic television series.