The real story of The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan's Island
How TV's youngest exec delivered this slam dunk.
Image: CBS Productions/Hanna-Barbera
In 1980, Brandon Tartikoff was the president of NBC Entertainment. At the time, he was just 30 years old, making Tartikoff the youngest big kahuna in television history. The world was his oyster. It was a short ladder to the top. In '76, he was a program director at ABC. The following year, Dick Ebersol brought Tartikoff over to NBC in hopes of rescuing the network's failing comedy programming. Following the much-reported "rural purge," NBC struggled to find a new identity and hoped the young executive could bring them out from behind ABC and CBS.
Seemingly, one of the first things he did as an executive was contact Gilligan's Island creator Sherwood Schwartz to commission a "Movie of the Week" featuring Gilligan, a mad scientist, and the Harlem Globetrotters.
Were things really that simple for Tartikoff the wunderkind?
Schwartz's son, Lloyd was a producer on The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan's Island. The Tampa Bay Times asked the younger Schwartz if that's really how easily the film came to be. "That's conceivable," said Schwartz.
Hamilton Cloud, Tartikoff's director of motion pictures for television, provided further details. "That's possible, I suppose. What I remember was Sherwood coming in and saying 'Why don't we do a show with the Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan's Island?' and it was an instant, you know, sell. But he might have gotten the idea from Brandon [Tartikoff] originally.
"It just clicked," said Cloud. "We had done a couple of Gilligan's Island movies that had performed very well. And so we were sort of looking for another one, and that sounded perfect."
So, when the dust settles, who do we credit with the brilliantly unique idea of putting a trickster basketball team on an island of castaways?
"I heard the story," said Lloyd Schwartz, "even though I produced this show, that it was Fred Silverman. But it very well could have been Brandon [Tartikoff], because they were of similar minds. At that time I know that Fred was very high on both the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders and The Harlem Globetrotters and was trying to get them guest starring in different shows, so this may have been a fallout where Brandon knew that and suggested it or it may have been Fred's idea himself."