‘Gilligan’s Island’ Star Explained Why Cast Thought Show Would Be ‘Dead in 13 Weeks’

by Joe Rutland
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As a classic TV fan, it’s hard to believe “Gilligan’s Island” cast members didn’t give it a chance. One star explained that reasoning.

Russell Johnson, who played the “Professor” on the CBS sitcom, just kind of thought the idea of working on the show would be a one-off deal. That means he sort of looked at the job as just that, a short job for him and the other cast members.

“Oh I thought, ‘It’s a nice job. We’ll be, CBS, we’ll be dead in 13 weeks,'” Johnson said in an interview with the Archive of American Television. “You know, that was the run of a show in those days. Everything was 13 weeks. 13, 13, 13.

‘Gilligan’s Island’ Actor Uses Radio Analogy When Talking About Filming Shows

“The old radio formula was two or three sets of 13 weeks and that would lead to a summer replacement of 13 weeks,” Johnson said. “That’s how (Johnny) Carson got started, doing summer replacement shows for Jack Benny. You know, those kind of things. That was the old radio thing and then it moved into television.

“You know, you got a 13-week option,” he said. “We figured, ‘Well, what the heck, we’ll work together for 13 weeks, guys.’ That was it.”

Or so Johnson thought. He and his “Gilligan’s Island” costars did not expect the show to score high in the Nielsen ratings at all.

Johnson Admits Initial Ratings For Show Took Him, Cast By Surprise

“Well, the first ratings came out and, like, my God, we were No. 3,” Johnson said. “That surprised everybody. So, they said, ‘Well now you’re going to do a year now.’

“And that was 39 shows,” he said. “39 and 13 make 52 weeks. So we did. We made 39 shows in the first year and then they picked it up for a second and, eventually, a third.”

Johnson played his role for all three seasons “Gilligan’s Island” was on CBS between 1964-66. Bob Denver, of course, played “Gilligan” on the show.

Other cast members included Alan Hale Jr., Jim Backus, Tina Louise, Natalie Schafer, and Dawn Wells. Johnson died on Jan. 16, 2014, at 89 years old. The lone “Gilligan’s Island” original cast member still alive is Louise.

Besides the TV work, Russell Johnson had quite a resume’ in the film industry. Among those he appeared in are “Seminole,” “Three Days of the Condor,” and “Off the Wall.”

Outsider.com