Tales of Recovery examines how specific television programs once thought missing or lost have been recovered. Often, these recoveries were not well-publicized or took place so long ago that they themselves have been forgotten.
Gilligan’s Island ran for three seasons and 98 episodes on CBS between 1964 and 1967. NBC broadcast the first of three reunion telefilms made-for-TV movies in October 1978. Two others aired in 1979 and 1981. But the original pilot episode that Sherwood Schwartz used to sell Gilligan’s Island to CBS remained unseen and forgotten until 1992.
Significant cast changes were made to the series after the pilot was picked up by the network. Actor John Gabriel played the “Professor” in the pilot; he was replaced by Russell Johnson for the series. Actresses Kit Smythe and Nancy McCarthy played secretaries Ginger and Bunny; they were replaced by Tina Louise as Ginger the movie star and Dawn Wells as farm girl Mary Ann. The famous “three-hour cruise” was actually a “six-hour ride” in the pilot. Also, the pilot featured a calypso theme song rather than “The Ballad of Gilligan’s Isle.”
Footage from the original pilot was worked into a December 1964 episode of Gilligan’s Island (“Birds Gotta Fly, Fish Gotta Talk”) in the form of flashbacks. It wasn’t until October 1992 that viewers finally got the chance to see the pilot in its entirety. It was unearthed by cable channel TBS after an employee learned of its existence from a Gilligan’s Island book .
TBS checked with Turner Entertainment, its parent company. Turner found the original negative in its archives, part of the MGM/United Artists film library that was purchased by Ted Turner in the mid-1980s . A copy of the pilot was sent to star Bob Denver, who called it “kind of neat” . Denver later recorded a brief introduction that was shown before the pilot episode aired for the first time on Friday, October 16th, 1992 from 8:05PM to 8:35PM (TBS started its programming five minutes past the hour).
The “lost pilot episode” was released on VHS by Columbia House in 1993. When the first season of Gilligan’s Island was released on DVD in February 2004, the unaired pilot was included along with an optional commentary track by creator Sherwood Schwartz.
2 “Newsmakers.” Houston Chronicle. 17 Oct. 1992: 2.
Last Revised February 19th, 2016