The current rule about Hollywood is, if it was popular, it will get remade. Even if it took time to be popular, it will get remade. With syndication, TV series can pick up an audience far larger than the during the original run; Star Trek gained its following that way. Some series will have influence beyond even the syndicated audiences. Gilligan’s Island is such a series. A mention of a, “three hour tour,” conjures the image of a long detour. Indeed, Star Trek: The Next Generation paid homage with the phrase in “Night Terrors”, with the dedication plaque of the USS Brattain, a ship lost in a rift with all hands reading, “… a three hour tour, a three hour tour.”
Gilligan’s Island ran from 1964 until 1967 on CBS and followed the antics of seven Castaways, with Bob Denver as Gilligan, Alan Hale Jr as the Skipper, Jim Backus as millionaire Thurston Howell III, Natalie Schafer as Lovey Howell, Tina Louise as actress Ginger Grant, Russell Johnson as the Professor, and Dawn Wells as farm girl Mary-Ann. The opening theme, “The Ballad of Gilligan’s Island“, explained the situation, five tourists go out on the S.S. Minnow, but they miss the storm warning, leading to the ship being tossed off course and on to a deserted island.
Cut off from civilization, the Castaways have to make do with what they have, which includes leaves, bamboo, and coconuts. They build huts, work out ways to be creative with what food there is, and survive. One thing that does come up, and to quote “Weird Al” Yankovic’s lyric in “Isle Thing” about the Professor, “If he’s so fly then tell me why he couldn’t build a lousy raft.” One of the first season black & white episodes had the Professor come up with a super glue to repair the Minnow. Gilligan causes delays through being Gilligan, preventing the launching of the Minnow long enough that the glue starts failing. Given that the Castaways are stranded in the Pacific Ocean, a raft wouldn’t be as safe as the Minnow.and wouldn’t have the instruments the boat would have.
Ratings were still in their infancy during the run of Gillgan’s Island. The show had a following, but the network wasn’t pasrt of it. The series ended after three seasons with Castaways still on the uncharted desert isle. Gilligan’s Island entered second run syndication, being used to fill time in the afternoons between when school let out and the six o’clock news. WIth the increased audience, some of who couldn’t tell that the series was scripted, the US Coast Guard received many requests to rescue the Castaways.
The increased audience thanks to syndicate led to three sequels. The first, Rescue from Gilligan’s Island, airing in 1978, saw the Castaways rescued. However, they have problems reintegrating in with society because of how much things have changed since they were first lost. The TV movie ends with the the Castaways taking a cruise and winding up back on the same deserted island. The second sequel, 1979’s The Castaways on Gilligan’s Island, saw the Castaways rescued again. This time, Mr. Howell turns the island into a resort with the other Castaways as silent partners. The third, 1981’s The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan’s Island, took advantage of the popularity of the basketball team to bring them to the resort while a nefarious plot occurred.
Oddly, there hasn’t been a reboot of the series. As pointed out here at Lost in Translation, it takes about a generation, twenty to thirty years, for a remake or reboot to come about. Gilligan’s Island went off the air in 1967, and the last TV movie aired in 1981. Sherwood Schwartz had an idea for a reboot in 2008 starring Michael Cena as Gilligan and Beyoncé as Ginger, which would fit into that generation gap. However, nothing really came about from that speculation.
Netflix, though, was considering in February 2022 a remake. The new series is planned to be computer animated, with a group of castaways ending up on a deserted island on what should have been a three hour tour. If set in the same era as the original series, there shouldn’t be much trouble translating the concept over to an animated media. After all, there were animated Gilligan series from Filmation in the Seventies with most of the original cast.
But, if the series is brought to today, then there are some problems. There has been a huge change since 1967, the proliferation of personal electronics such as smartphones. If people were wondering why the Professor couldn’t build a raft in the original series, the new series will need to address why he can’t rig a radio to tag a satellite with the Castaways’ location. The electronics the original Minnow may have had – a radio, possibly radar – pales compared to what is commercially available today. Weather forecasting has improved, though accuracy is still good to three days out.
The twenty-four hour news cycle is another factor to keep in mind. A chartered cruise with a renowned CEO and his wife and a promising young actress going missing is going to get the paparazzi out and getting in the way of rescuers. Mind, that could make for a plot for an episode, where a paparazzo discovers the Castaways, takes their photos, then releases the photos without telling anyone to protect his cash source. Time will pass while the Castaways are lost.
One thing to avoid is turning Gilligan into the load. In the original, yes, he screwed up a few possible rescues. However, he also saved the Castaways a number of times. The audience should like Gilligan, not want to toss him into the lagoon tied to the Minnow‘s anchor. It’ll take a deft hand to make sure that Gilligan isn’t just a dead weight. The island is named after him; he should be front and centre.
Storytelling has changed since the series first aired. The Castaways were painted in broad strokes, with the opening theme more or less identifying their roles – boat skipper, first mate, millionaire, actress, teacher, and farm girl. Any backstory revealed came up because of the plot of an episode. Today, audiences are more sophisticated; a backstory for each character will be needed. The original starts the action after the storm. A new series may need to start as the Castaways first board the Minnow.
The new series should also have an ending in mind. The Castaways can’t be stranded yet again. It took eleven years for a made for TV movie got them home, albeit briefly. The original was cancelled quietly by the network, before a fourth season could be announced. Today, and given that Netflix is streaming the series instead of dealing with the whims of ratings, the series should have a proper ending for its final season.
Finally, the remake needs to avoid being a grittier version. If people want a gritty series about castaways, there’s Lost. Gilligan’s Island was escapism comedy, with everyday and weird science devices made from bamboo and coconuts. Ignoring this may turn the audience off, and the series has gained a large number of viewers thanks to syndication and streaming. Ignoring the audience’s expectations can break an adaptation.
As mentioned last week, Lost in Translation is moving soon. Details will appear on the Facebook page as they become known.