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 . 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 .
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” . 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.