‘Gilligan’s Island’: The Story Behind the Lost Pilot Episode

by Matthew Wilson
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“Gilligan’s Island” remains a classic part of pop culture even today. But its unaired pilot episode featured several differences from what ended up on air.

Creator Sherwood Schwartz cobbled together the pilot episode as a proof of concept. He wanted CBS to pick up the series, which the network eventually did. But the episode didn’t end up making it on the air. In fact, the network actually lost the episode for a number of years.

The lost pilot episode featured several different cast members. For instance, John Gabriel played the Professor in the pilot episode. Russell Johnson later replaced him when the network picked up the series. Likewise, the show featured two secretaries Ginger and Bunny among the castaways. Mary Ann didn’t exist at this stage in the show.

Actors Kit Smythe and Nancy McCarthy played the two characters. When Schwartz cast Tina Louise as Ginger on “Gilligan’s Island,” he reimagined Ginger as a movie star. Likewise, he eventually created Mary Ann and cast Dawn Wells in the role.

For the lost pilot, the castaways went on a “six-hour ride” instead of a “three hour cruise.” The pilot also featured a calypso theme song, changing up the music.

‘Gilligan’s Island’ And Its Lost Pilot

“Gilligan’s Island” ended up repurposing select footage from the pilot into the series proper. In the December 1964 episode “Birds Gotta Fly, Fish Gotta Talk,” the show included footage from the pilot. These spliced scenes appeared as flashbacks on the show.

But fans of “Gilligan’s Island” had to wait until 1992 to see the lost pilot properly. For years, the pilot was lost. Or more appropriately, no one went looking for the footage. In the 1990s, TBS searched for the footage and found it at its parent company, Turner Entertainment. Turner Entertainment had purchased the pilot as part of an extensive library from MGM/United Artists in the 1980s.

Bob Denver, the star of “Gilligan’s Island,” finally got to see his early work. He recorded a brief introduction for the episode. And the channel aired it for broadcast for the first time since it was filmed. A year later, it ended up being released on VHS.

Later, the episode was included in the first season of “Gilligan’s Island” on DVD. It featured a commentary track by Schwartz who discussed the show’s early days. The show ended up running for 98 episodes past that pilot, lasting three seasons on the air before it was canceled.

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