‘Gilligan’s Island’: Why a Network Executive Thought Castaways Should Escape the Island After First Episode

by Taylor Cunningham

If a CBS network executive had his way, the castaways on the minnow would have never been trapped on Gilligan’s Island.

Sixty years after the series began, fans know that the seven classic TV characters who washed up on the shore of the tropical island spent three years trying to escape. And, spoiler alert, they never did—at least, not during the original run. In 1978, a made-for-TV movie called Rescue From Gilligan’s Island finally brought the team home. But the quirky storyline that showed various new characters land on the shore and find their way off and kept the regulars stuck turned into one of the most iconic in history.

When creator Sherwood Schwartz pitched the concept to CBS, it knew that the series would be a hit, too. And it immediately inked a contract to prove it. However, one lone exec wanted Schwartz to rethink his series.

According to an article in a 1965 TV Guide, the network president at the time, Jim Aubrey, thought the plot was great—for one episode. If he had it his way, the characters would have been marooned during the plot and then found their way off by the end. Then, they would have darted around the ocean finding new misadventures for the remainder of the series. So, Gilligan’s Island never would have been about Gilligan’s Island.

Schwartz didn’t think that Aubrey had a terrible idea. But Aubrey couldn’t persuade him to change his mind.

“That’s an idea for a show,” he recalled saying. “But it’s not my show.”

The Island Became the True Star of ‘Gilligan’s Island’

At the time of the interview, Schwartz and the network had seen that keeping his series in its original form turned out well. And the reason it did was because of the island that held everyone captive.

“Today, the network, the sponsors, and the advertising agency think the star of Gilligan’s Island is – the island,” Schwartz said.

In the end, the series spawned two spin-off series and five reunion films. Today, the story is still just as popular in syndication.

However, Jim Aubrey still believed that his series idea was a better pitch. So, he took it and ran with it. The same year that Gilligan’s Island debuted, he brought The Baileys of Balboa to the screen. The story followed a family who gave tours on a charter boat. And just as Aubrey wished for the Minnow, it found new troubles each week.

The Baileys of Balboa didn’t pan out to be quite as successful, though. The series only ran for one season or 26 episodes. So Sherwood Schwartz proved that Gilligan’s Island was the better story after all.