Jim Backus somehow starred in two competing TV shows in the same time slot

The success of one series nearly killed another of his beloved characters.

Image: The Everett Collection

Jim Backus rose to fame by making us laugh on the hit comedies I Married Joan and Gilligan's Island. But the actor was not exactly a fan of sitcom gigs. "You're like the living dead. They throw you in in September and let you out in June," he carped in a 1969 interview. He joked that he had formed a support group for television actors called Series Anonymous to help them cope with landing roles. "They call me up, bring over a bottle of booze, and I talk them out of it."

If it seems as if Backus had an inner conflict about his job, perhaps its because he had a real-life outer conflict with his job. In 1965, he was starring in two new television shows on two different networks — and they were scheduled against one another.

One of them, of course, was Gilligan's Island, on which he played stranded millionaire Thurston Howell III. The CBS series was an immediate sensation, easily winning its 8:30 p.m. time slot on Saturday nights. The castaways earned an impressive 24.7 rating, enough to rank it the 18th most-watched show on television, according to Nielsen. That put it above the likes of Gunsmoke, Perry Mason, McHale's Navy and The Addams Family.

Meanwhile, over on NBC, the peacock network was premiering a new primetime cartoon that year, The Famous Adventures of Mr. Magoo. Thanks to the popularity of The Flintstones, The Jetsons and Jonny Quest, animation was suddenly an evening affair. NBC looked to continue the cartoon craze with a new Mr. Magoo. The lovable, excessively near-sighted character dated back to 1949. Mr. Magoo theatrical shorts had twice won Oscars in the 1950s, and a syndicated television series produced 130 episodes of the old man's adventures. Throughout it all, Jim Backus had provided the voice of Mr. Magoo.

The holiday special Mister Magoo's Christmas Carol continued the success in 1962. That yuletide treat, which placed the Mr. Magoo character into a familiar tale, inspired The Famous Adventures of Mr. Magoo, which inserted the nearly-blind fellow into classics like Robin Hood, Treasure Island and Don Quixote. There was even a Dick Tracy episode.

NBC launched the series on Saturday evenings at 8 p.m. Which was all well and good, until the network decided to move the program mid-season.

Yep, NBC pushed The Famous Adventures of Mr. Magoo back half an hour to compete directly with Gilligan's Island.

Mr. Howell drubbed Mr. Magoo in the ratings. NBC canceled The Famous Adventures of Mr. Magoo after a single season. Mr. Magoo was never quite so popular again. Talk about being a victim of your own success.

Save with
Enjoy even more classic shows on-air! Find where to watch MeTV in Washington D.C.
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?
Close

7 Comments

Post a comment
Click here to learn about MeTV's new commenting system!
teire 1 month ago
I remember this! It was a tough call at our house, we loved Mr. Magoo.
stephaniestavropoulos 1 month ago
Wow! Mr. Magoo beating out Gunsmoke! The music equivalent to that would be, The Monkees beating out the Beatles.
KathyMcKinny 1 month ago
Same actor on different networks competing for the SAME time slot would NEVER be allowed to happen today, original program would SUE in today's litigious climate
What's interesting is that today it would actually be less of a conflict, what with DVRs and view-shifting. Audiences could watch Gilligan and then Magoo or vice-versa. Only a vanishingly small handful could do that in the 1960s.
djw1120 CaptainDunsel 1 month ago
Actually, nobody could do that in the 60's.
The VCR wasn't even invented yet!
cperrynaples djw1120 1 month ago
Technically, true VCR's weren't made until the '70's, however reel-to reel machines did exist! They were very expensive, in fact President Johnson had several so he could monitor the 3 network newscasts!
Absolutely correct! I believe the earliest commercially available reel to reel video recorders were about $50,000 each. In 1965 the median U.S. household income was about $6,900 per annum. Hence "a vanishingly small handful".
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?