Gilligan's Island creator Sherwood Schwartz laughed off his critics

The show flopped with critics, but fans knew it was great.

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The most popular things aren't always the most critically acclaimed. Especially in television, praise and awards don't always translate to viewership. Shows that are well-regarded by cultural commentators might go completely unseen by the masses. Conversely, a show might prove incredibly popular with the viewing public and be completely dismissed by those who write about TV. 

In the '60s, Gilligan's Island was a massively polarizing show. On one hand, it was a moderate hit with audiences. The series' first two seasons finished in the top 30 in the Nielsen ratings rankings of 1965 and '66. But, like The Beverly Hillbillies three years prior, Gilligan's Island failed to impress the press.  

According to The Los Angeles Times, program analyst James Cornell, of the N. W. Ayer ad agency, predicted Gilligan's Island would be the 74th most popular television show of the season. Every year, Cornell did a pre-season ranking of the rating's race to estimate which shows could advertise to viewers most effectively. Of the 96 television shows airing in 1965, Cornell predicted that Gilligan's Island would bet toward the bottom twenty in popularity.

Despite such negative expectations, by May 1965, Gilligan's Island was the seventh most popular show on television. Series creator Sherwood Schwartz was entitled to a sense of pride. 

"I've never claimed Gilligan was the greatest thing since the wheel," said Schwartz. "But when someone asked me recently if I thought it was, I said to him 'Which wheel?'"

The break was a long time coming for Schwartz, who'd been writing comedy for 25 thankless years. Gilligan's Island was his first of several "creator" credits throughout the coming years, and the show's ratings doubtlessly helped push his career forward. Before his successes as a series creator, Schwartz was credited as a writer for radio programs like The Bob Hope Show, and The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. After switching to TV, Schwartz wrote for I Married Joan and The Red Skelton Hour before he sent the S.S. Minnow on that fateful three-hour tour.

The fact that Gilligan's characters connected with audiences should be no great surprise, as the series was the culmination of decades in comedy. Schwartz learned how to reach out to viewers using archetypes that presented a very palatable form of social satire.

"My characters are broad, but I have six types whose patterns of social behavior make them react to type regardless of where they are," said Schwartz.

"The Skipper is the physical brute. Then there's the rich man and his wife, the glamour girl, the intellectual and the country girl. Gilligan, of course, is the innocent," he explained. Beneath its slapstick surface, Gilligan secretly operated as a clever class commentary. 

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Katret 10 months ago
This site needs a moderator to keep comments on topic 🙄
Bapa1 11 months ago
Considering how much he made in syndication money, (while the cast did not) he was laughing all the way to Mr. Drysdale's bank!
CaptainDunsel 11 months ago
Galaxy Quest - The Thermians' (who believe all human television is real) reaction to "Gilligan's Island"...
Jayceezy 11 months ago
Gilligan's Island has amazing symbolism, the seven characters could never quite get off the island! In fiction, an island represents "Purgatory." Think of 'Lord of the Flies' or 'Lost'. The characters, according to Schwarz in another interview, represented the '7 Deadly Sins', Gilligan = Sloth, The Captain = Gluttony, Mrs. Howell = Anger, Mr. Howell = Greed, Ginger = Lust, Mary Anne = Envy, The Professor = Pride. As long as the characters exhibited their sins, they could never leave purgatory, for 99 episodes. Sherwood Schwartz wrote the theme song, too, as well as the theme to 'The Brady Bunch.' So, 'island = purgatory', my personal favorite is 'The Prisoner' and the village. In that show, Number 6 wakes up every day and doesn't need a shave, fully clothed, no names just numbers. There's a lot boiling in that pot.
Bapa1 Jayceezy 11 months ago how many sins did The Bradys represent?
SalIanni Jayceezy 11 months ago
I think of Gilligan's Island as being like "The Wizard Of Oz". For me, the characters break down this way: Mary Ann is Dorothy, Gilligan is the Scarecrow, the Professor is the Wizard, Mr Howell is the Tin Man, the Skipper is the Cowardly Lion, Ginger is the Wicked Witch, and Mrs. Howell is Auntie Em. It makes sense once you begin to see the show in this fashion.
CaptainDunsel 11 months ago
Those who can, do.
Those who cannot do, teach.
Those who cannot teach, criticize.
MadMadMadWorld 11 months ago
Few people said G.I. was a "terrific" series. But it was FUN, with I and others enjoyed it then (1964-67), and that was what the audience wanted to see! I still get a kick out of reading back then on one woman who actually called the U.S. Coast Guard, and insisted they "rescue" 7 stranded people on that "remote South Pacific Island." She was so out of it, and had to be told it was only a tv sitcom!
Runeshaper 11 months ago
Wow! Impressive to shut out a 74th place estimate (-:
LoveMETV22 11 months ago
Gilligan's Island was a fun series. Aside from what critics/networks thought when the show originally aired, it seems to be a popular series still many years later. Glad MeTV has it currently for 1 hour each week, as it had run longer in previous years.
Moody LoveMETV22 11 months ago
Yes, I agree. It was a fun show to watch as a kid but I do have a hard time watching it these days. It wasn't a great show by any means but it was just silly comedy which was popular with families in those days. It was entertaining & that's all that counts, right?
LoveMETV22 Moody 11 months ago
Yes, a silly comedy that's fun to watch, "occasionally". The show has left the broadcast schedule a few times, so it's obviously disposable. But if it's going to be on, 1-hour on Sunday is enough.
MadMadMadWorld Moody 11 months ago
S'right! [Senor Wences (ventriliquist), on the Ed Sullivan Show, if you didn't get the reference]
justjeff LoveMETV22 11 months ago
Yeah..... I loved the show as a kid, but it gets a bit tired and predictable when you're a senior citizen who is well-versed on the 'general' TV sitcom formula, and have seen many of the MeTV shows more often than not... This is why Dick Van Dyke and Andy Griffith stand out - they weren't as 'formulaic'...
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