A network executive wanted the castaways to escape Gilligan's Island after the first episode
Creator Sherwood Schwartz knew the island was the star of the show as much as any of the actors.
A running gag on Gilligan’s Island is that the castaways never escape the little patch of jungle they landed on during their three-hour sightseeing tour. Even though a variety of objects and visitors wash up on the island, Gilligan and crew are never able to get back to civilization.
But if an unreceptive network executive had gotten his way, the castaways would have fixed the boat and left the island after the first episode! According to a 1965 TV Guide article, creator Sherwood Schwartz pushed back, saying, “That’s an idea for a show, but it’s not my show.”
Schwartz is well-remembered as the mind behind iconic comedies like Gilligan’s Island and The Brady Bunch. But in the early Sixties, his biggest claims to fame were the many sketches he wrote for Red Skelton.
After coming up with an ensemble comedy inspired by Robinson Crusoe, Schwartz had no trouble getting executives at CBS onboard (no pun intended) – or at least most of the CBS executives onboard.
Network president Jim Aubrey didn’t like the idea of a series stuck on a deserted island. Aubrey told Schwartz, “If you guys are in love with a deserted island, we wreck them there the first week. The second week they have a new adventure, they fix the boat and they’re off someplace else.”
When Schwartz told him that would have to be some other show, Aubrey took it literally. He turned around and greenlit The Baileys of Balboa, a sitcom about a family who gives tours on their charter boat and, wouldn’t you know it, get into different adventures every week. Except the show only lasted 26 weeks – less than a third of Gilligan’s eventual run.
Sherwood Schwartz stuck to his original vision for the show, knowing it was a winner. He told TV Guide after Gilligan’s successful first season, “Today, the network, the sponsors and the advertising agency think the star of Gilligan’s Island is – the island.”
Schwartz also reveals he picked the name Gilligan out of the phonebook because he liked how it sounded. “I wanted a name that automatically meant that it was a comedy show,” he said. “I wanted a happy name that was also funny, a name that would inspire this attitude in the viewer. I also believe in hard letters. G is a hard letter. The G’s and the L’s are crisp.”
After battling the CBS brass over other specifics (they weren’t too keen on the now-iconic theme song) and filming two different pilot episodes, Schwartz was able to get Gilligan’s Island on the airwaves. It was an immediate ratings success, even if Sherwood was almost fired from his own show early on.
One specific thing Schwartz credited for the show’s popularity? The costumes. “I’m an enormous believer in uniforms. One of the big reasons for the success of many shows is identification – the sheriff with the badge and the hat, the doctor with his white jacket, as opposed to the newspaper-reporter shows. These have failed because the actors look like other people. Whether you like my show or not, you tune into Gilligan’s Island and in one second you know what show you’re looking at.”