‘Gilligan’s Island’ Mastermind Sherwood Schwartz Created a Western Knock-Off of Classic Show

by Josh Lanier

Gilligan’s Island is one of the most beloved sitcoms of the 1960s. Despite that, CBS abruptly pulled the plug on the series in 1967 after three seasons. The show would go on to be even bigger in syndication years later. Creator Sherwood Schwartz understood why the show worked and spent years trying to resurrect it. While Gilligan’s Island never returned to television as a sitcom, Schwartz actually did recreate the show, just under a different name.

Dusty’s Trail was Gilligan’s Island in the Wild West. The premise and characters are virtually the same. In fact, you could almost take a Gilligan script and turn it into an episode of its successor by just changing the names of the characters.

Instead of a three-hour luxury cruise, it’s a wagon in the 1880s that’s gotten separated from the train and is lost. Bob Denver, who played Gilligan, again plays the titular role of Dusty, a hapless buffoon that’s ultimately the heart of the series. The Skipper is replaced with the wagon train master (Forrest Tucker) who suffers the worst of Dusty’s shenanigans. There’s a rich couple, a gorgeous dancer, the girl next door, and an inventive and intelligent young man. Sound familiar?

Dusty’s Trail repeats some of the same jokes and set-ups of its precursor series, fans have pointed out.

Sherwood Schwartz even repeated the opening. The shows start with theme songs that summarize the premise and explain the characters’ predicament.

CBS ordered 30 episodes of Dusty’s Trail for its first season. But they only produced 26 of them before the network canceled the show. The network turned the final four into a two-hour television movie.

The network eventually released a DVD of the show. Though, Most of the episodes are now on YouTube as CBS didn’t copyright the show.

Dusty’s Trail: Wrong Place, Wrong Time

In hindsight, creating a show set in the Wild West in 1973 was a bad idea. Networks were in the middle of the “rural purge,” as they canceled shows such as Green Acres and The Beverly Hillbillies in the early 1970s, MeTV pointed out. TV was entering a more realistic and gritty era. Shows such as All in the Family, Mary Tyler Moore, and Maude were pushing the medium in bold new directions.

Dusty’s Trail, for all its faults, stood out as a relic of a bygone era. And it felt out of place.

It had its charms, though. And Bob Denver said it was one of his most favorite roles to play.

“At that time I still had some animus at how CBS threw us in the dumper. ... Gilligan repeats were on the tube more than Cronkite, and its royalties about kaput,” he told KDKA radio in 1989. “I told myself to just enjoy the ride, and if it (Dusty’s Trail) hit paydirt, super, if not, then it wasn’t in the cards. It was my best year in front of a camera.”

Sherwood Schwartz eventually got his Gilligan’s Island revival but not in the way he wanted. ABC greenlit an animated series called The New Adventures of Gilligan in 1974. It lasted two seasons.