Though it was a top-rated sitcom in its day, Gilligan’s Island was cancelled after three seasons on CBS. A fourth season had been promised by the network but they changed their minds at the last minute and renewed Gunsmoke instead. Had he known that season three was going to be the series’ last, creator Sherwood Schwartz says that he would have filmed an episode in which the castaways were finally rescued.
In subsequent years, Gilligan became even more popular in reruns, particularly with school children in the afternoons. Because of this, Lou Scheimer and Norm Prescott, the owners of the Filmation animation company, became interested in producing an animated version of the show for Saturday mornings. With its outlandish situations and slapstick comedy, Gilligan’s Island essentially felt like a live-action cartoon anyway. Filmation was also already working on an animated show featuring the kids from another Schwartz creation, The Brady Bunch.
It sounded like a logical concept but, as Schwartz explains in Inside Gilligan’s Island, he wasn’t interested. Schwartz feared that doing a cartoon series would hurt his chances of selling Gilligan films series to one of the three networks. He pitched the movie idea for several years but not even the show’s old network was interested. So, after refusing Filmation’s offer three times, Schwartz reluctantly gave them an okay — with the caveat that he would be heavily involved. His title became executive consultant on the series called The New Adventures of Gilligan.
Five of the original seven Gilligan’s Island actors agreed to reprise their roles for the new animated series; Jim Backus, Bob Denver, Alan Hale Jr., Russell Johnson, and Natalie Schafer. Dawn Wells and Tina Louise did not return.
Wells reportedly wasn’t available to reprise her part as Mary Ann because she was busy performing in regional theatre productions across the country. Louise hadn’t been happy doing the original sitcom and immediately distanced herself from the role of Ginger Grant when Gilligan was cancelled.
Veteran actress Jane Webb stepped in to perform the voices of Mary Ann and Ginger. Webb had a long history with Filmation and performed many of the female voices for the Archie cartoons — Betty, Veronica, Sabrina, and Miss Grundy, to name just a few.
When The New Adventures of Gilligan premiered on September 7, 1974 on ABC, young viewers were likely confused to find that Ginger no longer had red hair. The character became a platinum blonde to ensure that Louise couldn’t sue them for using her likeness.
A small monkey named Stubby was added to the cast as a friend for Gilligan and his grunts and squeeks were provided by Scheimer. And, as was typical in the 1970s, each episode taught some sort of kid-friendly lesson.
That’s how the series began but how did it end? Did they finally get off that darned island? Tune in tomorrow! Stay tuned!