Gilligan’s Island – Unaired Pilot Episode

A total of 98 episodes of this sitcom were broadcast by CBS over the course of three seasons between 1964 and 1967. More than a decade later, the first of three follow-up/reunion made-for-TV movies was shown (in October of 1978 on NBC; the others aired in 1979 and 1981). But another episode, the original pilot that Sherwood Schwartz used to sell the series to CBS, remained unseen and forgotten.

Significant differences exist between the original pilot and the Gilligan’s Island that premiered in September of 1964. Russell Johnson, Tina Louise and Mary Ann are nowhere to be seen. Instead, John Gabriel plays “The Professor” and a pair of bubbly secretaries named Ginger and Bunny are played by Kit Smythe and Nancy McCarthy, respectively. The famous theme song (“Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale…”) is also missing; a calypso theme is heard instead.

Footage from the original pilot was worked into the December 19th, 1964 episode of Gilligan’s Island in the form of flashbacks, but it was not until October of 1992 that viewers finally got the chance to see the pilot in its entirety. The pilot was unearthed by cable channel TBS after an employee learned of its existence in a Gilligan’s Island book [1]. TBS checked with parent company Turner Entertainment Company, which found the original negative in its archives. It was part of the MGM/UA film library that had been purchased by Ted Turner in the mid-1980s [2].

TBS sent a copy of the pilot to star Bob Denver (and perhaps other surviving members of the cast) who called it “kind of neat” [3]. It was shown for the first time on Friday, October 16th, 1992 from 8:05PM to 8:35PM (at the time, TBS started its programming five minutes past the hour). The unaired pilot is included in the DVD set for the complete first season.

Sources: 1 King, Susan. “‘Gilligan’s’ Pilot Cruise.” Los Angeles Times. 11 Oct. 1992: 73.
2 “Newsmakers.” Houston Chronicle. 17 Oct. 1992: 2.
3 Ibid.

5 Comments

  • Randy Riddle says:

    I hate to say it, but you’re wrong on this one – I saw the pilot on WBTV, Channel 3, in Charlotte, NC in the 1970s or early 80s on a local program called “Those Were the Days”.

    It aired Friday nights at 11:30 for 90-120 minutes and was hosted by local personality Mike McKay. The program was an outgrowth of WBTV’s anniversary, where they spent a week showing classic 50s tv shows that had appeared on the station years before. It was so popular, they started up the regular series.

    Usually, they would show programs like “Twilight Zone”, “The Millionaire”, Jack Benny, “Love That Bob”, “Route 66″. Sometimes, they would show something “special” like the “Gilligan’s Island” pilot.

    I distinctly remember it because WBTV was, at the time, showing “Gilligan’s Island” weekdays, both the b&w and color episodes, and that was the only episode they showed on “Those Were the Days”. Mike did an intro for the episode, explaining it was a pilot and some of the differences from the series and I recall the strange calypso theme music in particular.

    So I think it might have been included in at least some of the tv syndication packages that went out, but might not have been played much since it’s a rather jarring parallel universe.

    I missed “Those Were the Days” when it went off the air, but was pleasantly surprised to find TVLand doing much the same thing on cable a few years later.

  • RGJ says:

    Randy, that’s incredible. Everything I’ve read about the unaired Gilligan’s Island pilot states that it was basically forgotten for decades until TBS uncovered it. In this case, whoever was involved in getting the pilot aired on WBTV obviously knew it existed.

  • Nana says:

    That is odd, because when ‘Gilligan’ introduced the pilot in Oct 1992, he said no one had ever seen it before. Here’s the intro on Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GG9QXNN0qyI

  • Nana says:

    P.S. McKay’s show was “Those Were the Years” (not to be confused with the name of the ‘All in the Family’ pilot, and later theme song, “Those Where the Days”). Given the time frame this show ran, Randy Riddle might also be confusing ‘Two on a Raft’ with the pilot ‘Marooned’, as the former was the first episode aired to the public, and sometimes mistakenly called the ‘pilot’.

  • […] Geoff Dunn, who made the brilliant documentary Calypso Dreams a few years back (he’s reportedly “exploring” the possibility of a sequel–Yes, Please!), recently wrote a piece for the Trinidad Express which was picked up today by HuffPo and gadzuess.com.  The upshot: an intriguing footnote in television history and in the life of calypsonian Sir Lancelot (Lancelot Pinard), whose long career in radio, movies, and TV had plenty of odd twists already.  A score for the WWII anti-war cartoon “The Disillusioned Bluebird,” voice work as a bongo instructor on Father Knows Best…to these we can add “singer of the Gilligan’s Island theme song.”  Not the  bouncy ballad that most of my generation can belt out by heart (“Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale…”), but a calypso-esque version penned by Schwartz for the unaired pilot. […]

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