“Everybody agreed (Gilligan’s Island) was a terrible show and it’s still running every night everywhere.”
Creator, Gilligan’s Island
“I wanted to do a show about democracy, in its basic form. Seven people who have to learn to live together. I couldn’t do that with a job because you can get fired. Where could I put people where they could not get away from each other? That’s what started that show. The only place I could think of was an island, a deserted island, where a group of people were for some reason stranded there.”
Sherwood Schwartz is not as common a name as Gilligan, the Skipper, or Ginger, but he did create one of the most loved, ridiculed and longest running shows on television—Gilligan’s Island. He also created The Brady Bunch. I just came across an interview Schwartz did with L.Wayne Hicks at TV Party.com that provides some interesting insights into Schwartz’s career.
Schwartz graduated from NYU with the goal of going to med school. But in the 30s in New York being Jewish was a hindrance. He was advised to change his last name to Black and put down on his application that he was a Unitarian. That concept didn’t sit to well with Schwartz;
“I said, ‘Look, I’m Jewish. I’m not ashamed of that. My name is Schwartz and I’m not ashamed of that. I’m not going to be changing anything to get into medical school.’ So as a result I didn’t get into medical school.”
Instead Schwartz moved to California to earn a master’s degree in biological sciences. So how did he go from that to Gilligan’s Island? After he got his master’s he still couldn’t get into med school. He had a brother who was a head writer for Bob Hope’s radio show and wrote some sample jokes and ended up getting hired for a five year period until he was drafted.
His time in the military would be a fruitful time creatively as he got to work on the Armed Forces Radio Service shows with, “about everybody you ever heard of, and probably some people you never heard of but who were famous stars at that time. Because the Army had access to all stars and they all did it for nothing, so you’d do shows with anybody and everybody.”
When he got out of the service he wanted to get away from variety shows and move toward situational comedy and wrote for the radio programs Ozzie and Harriet and I Married Joan. But then he wanted his own show and created Gilligan’s Island which was rejected time after time. He said his book, Inside Gilligans’s Island, is about the struggle to get Gilligan’s Island on the air. But remember, like any good protagonist, Sherwood was used to dealing with adversity.
In the TV Party interview Schwartz was asked; What kept you going? Why didn’t you just give up?
“I thought I had a great idea. And it’s still a great idea. It’s people. Here’s a serious show. It’s serious in that Arabs and Jews have to learn to live together for they’re stuck together. North Koreans and South Koreans, they have to learn. If you don’t learn, you’ll all die. So there’s this philosophic basis — this is not an afterthought, this is in the show. When the show first came on the air I got with regularity bachelor’s degree, master’s degree thesis from people in the theatrical area explaining what’s the basis for Gilligan’s Island. Like I didn’t know. It was carefully thought out, these seven people. That took me like a year to figure out who should be on the island. And it was all with a view towards the respect that people have to learn for each other because nobody is the same as anybody else. When would a billionaire sit down and have lunch with Gilligan, except if he had to? The same is true of a movie star and a professor. There’s miles between them, but when they’re stuck in the same place they have to learn to live together. That’s what the show is about, people learning to live together.”
So in the case of Gilligan’s Island, I’m going to put Schwartz down for writing from theme. (As opposed to starting with an interesting cast of characters or a shipwreck. His beginning place was a show about democracy, and how seven people “learn to live together.”)
Schwartz won an Emmy for Outstanding Writing Achievement in Comedy as one of the writers on The Red Skelton Hour. Born in 1916, he’s still alive and getting fan mail. The Archive of American Television has a video interview they did with Schwartz in 1997. Schwartz has said that if he was making Gilligan’s Island today he would have a multi-ethnic cast.
P.S. And in case you haven’t heard, there is a Gilligan’s Island script in the works being written by Brad Copeland (Arrested Development, Wild Hogs). You can find many humorous casting suggestions at various websites. One report had Schwartz pulling for Michael Cera (Juno) as Gilligan and Beyonce as Ginger.
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