‘Gunsmoke’: How the Iconic Western Brought ‘Gilligan’s Island’ to an Early End

by Shelby Scott
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It doesn’t get more classic than the hit television shows “Gunsmoke” and “Gilligan’s Island.” But did you know the iconic Western series actually contributed to the cancelation of the 1960s sitcom?

As we know, “Gunsmoke” is one of the longest-running dramas of all time. However, James Arness revealed that the fan-favorite Western nearly met its end in the 1960s. Instead, “Gilligan’s Island,” with just three seasons to its name, wound up taking its place. In fact, “Gunsmoke” concluded a significant eight seasons later than originally intended since “Gilligan’s Island” bit the bullet.

As per Dawn Wells in an interview with Esquire, “Gunsmoke’s” endurance comes as a result of simple entertainment preference.

During a 2013 interview, “Gilligan’s Island” star Dawn Wells, one of the show stars, detailed the drama. She explained that the former CBS chief William Paley’s wife, Barbara “Babe” Cushing Mortimer, loved the long-running American Western series. Apparently, when “Gunsmoke” initially got the boot, Cushing Mortimer had been on vacation. When she returned, she became devastated after finding out her favorite series faced cancelation.

In speaking to “Gunsmoke’s” revival, the “Gilligan’s Island” star explained, “What happened was Gunsmoke was canceled, and we were moved into their timeslot.”

Wells continued, “Mrs. Paley—the wife of the board chairman—had been on vacation when Gunsmoke was canceled, and when she got home, she said, ‘You can’t cancel Gunsmoke. It’s my favorite show.’ So they called us.”

‘Gilligan’s Island’ Creator Forced to Deliver ‘Unpleasant’ News

Ahead of reviving “Gunsmoke,” the outlet reports the Western had been struggling with its Saturday night audience. As such, it moved to the “Gilligan’s Island” timeslot on Monday. In addition to kicking the hit sitcom from the air, it also knocked another half-hour comedy.

Following the news that “Gunsmoke” had officially replaced “Gilligan’s Island” on Monday nights, the creator of the latter classic TV show, Sherwood Schwartz, had one unpleasant call to make.

While speaking with the Archive of American Television, Schwartz said he had already told his cast they would return for a fourth season. However, following Mrs. Paley’s return, he had to contact the cast members with the disheartening news. After sharing the excitement of “Gilligan’s Island’s” initial approval, he had to let them know their series would not make a return to TV after all.

Nevertheless, despite its short lifespan and the doubt that originally plagued the show’s success, Wells said, “Everybody bet [‘Gilligan’s Island] wouldn’t last three weeks. Everybody thought it was the stupidest show ever written.”

She continued, “It can’t be stupid and survived like it has. We’ve never been off the air.”

And indeed, it’s true. Additionally, those interested in catching the hit show can find “Gilligan’s Island” streaming on Prime Video, VUDU, and Apple TV.

Outsider.com