By Mark Lorando (NEWHOUSE NEWS SERVICE)
The hottest role in Hollywood? A feature film version of "Charlie's Angels."
"CHiPs" resurfaced last year as a movie-of-the-week, and "The Love Boat"
set sail again as a UPN series every bit as dopey as the ABC original.
And yet, one '60s sitcom was so scintillatingly insipid that no one has
mustered the courage to celebrate it. "Gilliganís Island," surely the very
best bad television series ever made, remains shipwrecked in an ocean of
schlock TV tributes, the castaways having been castaway by the same viewers
who wasted years of after-school rerun-watching wishing for their rescue.
On Sunday night, E! Entertainment Television will try to give (sing along at
home) Gilligan, the Skipper too, the Millionaire and his wife, the Movie
Star, the Professor and Mary Ann their due. "Gilligan's Island: "The E!True
Hollywood Story" takes viewers on a two-hour tour of a half-hour comedy
that lasted three seasons and, for better or (mostly) worse, defined the
careers of its seven co-stars.
One of them - Dawn Wells, who played Mary Ann - welcomed the opportunity to
take part in a serious discussion of a series that everybody loves to
"We've been made fun of for years," Wells said from Tampa, Fla., she was
making one of her motivational speaking appearances. Nobody's ever really
been through the whole history."
It is a backstage history far more humorous than the show ever was - well,
except for that one episode when the cosmonaut spaceship crashed in the
"I couldn't stand it," says former CBS programmer Michael Dann who tells E!
that the network put it on the air because it didn't have anything else
ready to go for the fall. The plan was to keep the time slot warm for 13
weeks, then plug in a real show.
When its ratings started high and got better, eventually landing the show in
the Nielsen top 20, the network was stuck with it. But that didn't mean
network executives had to like it.
"I never knew anyone in the department who liked it," Dann says. "I never
knew anybody in the company that liked it."
Not even all the actors liked it. "I figured it would last a year," said
Tina Louise, who replaced the original Ginger after the pilot. Unfortunately
for Louise, it lasted three seasons, just long enough to dash any
aspirations she had of becoming a "serious" movie actress.
Louise and Bob Denver, who played Gilligan, refused to be interviewed by E!,
which makes do with canned interviews from other sources. Too bad for them.
"True Hollywood Story" tends to be nicer to the people who agree to talk to
them; or maybe itís just a coincidence that the juiciest backstage stories
are about no-shows Denver and Louise battling on the set.
Says creator Sherwood Schwartz of Louise. "She came storming into my office
very angry. She said, I thought this was a show about a major movie star
with six other people! And I said, Well, Tina, didn't it give you a hint
when you saw that the title of the show was 'Gilliganís Island'? It
wasn't ĎGingerís Island.í"
Their respective widows speak for the late Alan Hale Jr. (Skipper) and Jim
Backus (Thurston Howell III), and they speak warmly of the show and its
success. Hale, we're told, wore that skipperís cap "everywhere," Russell
Johnson speaks with Professor-like seriousness of the show bringing his
career as a movie villain to a dead stop, and Wells is Mary Ann-perky at all
times, even when relating Schwartzís admonition to her after the second
season to "take five pounds off!"
But the special is most fun when glimpsing castaways that might have been: a
photo of Raquel Welch at her Mary Ann audition (an interview with Welch
would have been better); a sound bite from Jerry Van Dyke second-guessing
his decision to pass up an offer to play Gilligan. He did "My Mother the
Dabney Colem isn't interviewed, but we're going to assume that he doesn't
regret failing to the role of the Professor.
Two hours is too long for this ticular trivial pursuit; itís pointed out
at least a dozen times by a dozen people that the critics hated it and
viewers loved it. The backstage footage is dark and fuzzy; Wells says she
and Johnson are working on their own backstage history on "Gilligan's
Island," and we suspect she saved the good out takes for herself.
All in all, itís a pretty straight forward piece of TV history, one that
certainly warrants the attention.