‘Gilligan’s Island’ Actor Jim Backus Also Starred in a Competing Show That Aired in the Same Time Slot

by Anna Dunn

Gilligan’s Island actor Jim Backus also starred in a competing TV show that aired at the same time. Backus, who played Thurston Howell III, also played Mr. Magoo on NBC’s new Cartoon, The Famous Adventures of Mr. Magoo. NBC initially aired the series at a different time but moved it midseason to directly compete with Gilligan’s Island.

Backus became famous for both of those roles, and while it may seem like a conflict of interest, it seemed to work out just fine for the actor. On Gilligan’s Island, his hilarious role as a stranded millionaire contrasted a lot with his role of Mr. Magoo, whose name is now iconic.

Gilligan’s Island and The Famous Adventures of Mr. Magoo both premiered at 8.30 PM on Saturdays. And despite the best efforts of Competing Network NBC to best out Gilligans Island with The Famous Adventures of Mr. Magoo, it was the comedy about castaways that dominated the timeslot.

According to Nielsen, is the 18th most-watched show in broadcast television history. This puts it above other classic shows like The Addams Family, Gunsmoke, and Perry Mason. The Famous Adventures of Mr. Magoo came after the success of similar cartoons like The Jetsons and The Flinstones, but even with the public’s love of cartoons, Gilligan’s Island held strong.

NBC would go on to cancel The Famous Adventures of Mr. Magoo after only one season on air. It likely suffered in that timeslot due to the competition with Gilligan’s Island. Meaning, ironically, one of Jim Backus’s shows was the cause of the failure of the other.

‘Gilligan’s Island’ Producer Wanted Jim Backus to Play Howell Despite the Cost

Jim Backus asked for high rates, but that didn’t stop Gilligan’s Island creator and producer Sherwood Schwartz from wanting him on the show. In fact, he couldn’t think of anyone else to play Thurston Howell III.

“Jim [Backus] was a money problem,” Schwartz said in an interview in 2010. “But that was CBS’s problem, not mine. They asked me to test different people, and I did. I interviewed a lot of people, but I said, ‘It’s Jim Backus.’”

“They said, ‘He’s a star, he’s expensive.’ I said, ‘He’s worth it.’ Because they wouldn’t let me sign Jim, I wrote the script minimizing that part because I couldn’t find anybody else to play it,” Schwartz continued.

And it worked. Backus took the part, and while he didn’t always speak highly of his job working on sitcoms, fans definitely loved him in the role.

Backus passed away in 1989. On top of his Gilligan’s Island and The Famous Adventures of Mr. Magoo roles, he’s also known for his roles in Rebel Without a Cause, and I Married Joan.