The canary-eatingest smile in TV today is being worn by Sherwood Schwartz, creator and producer of Gilligan’s Island.
Most of TV’s critics gave Sherwood’s brainchild the honor of being the worst series to smell up the medium since the birth of “The Beverly Hillbillies” three seasons ago.
James Cornell, program analyst for the N W Ayer ad agency, who does a pre-season handicap of TV’s rating race, tabbed Gilligan as one of the flops of the season’s new series, and placed it number 74 in the total list of 96 network shows.
Last month, Sherwood picked up Mr Nielsen’s latest rating book, and found Gilligan tied with Red Skelton for seventh place among TV’s Top 10 shows, and his smile grew even wider.
“I’ve never claimed Gilligan was the greatest thing since the wheel,” Sherwood comments, “but when someone asked me recently if I thought it was, I said to him, ‘Which wheel?'”
It’s easy to see that Sherwood is enjoying himself Immensely. As a writer of comedy for the past 25 years (he started with Bob Hope on the radio), Sherwood knows there aren’t too many laughs along the way for his breed. He’ll make the most of it while he can.
Some of the critics may be rocked a bit to learn that Sherwood believes he has fashioned a social satire in Gilligan.
“Granted, my characters are broad, but I have six types, whose patterns of social behavior make them react to type regardless of where they are,” explains Hollywood’s newest Jonathan Swift.
Gallery of slapstick types on Gilligan’s Island
“The Skipper is the physical brute,” Sherwood continues, “then there’s the rich man and his wife, the glamour girl, the intellectual, and the country girl. Gilligan, of course, is the innocent.”
Underneath a heavy layer of slapstick and some terribly obvious joke lines, Sherwood the satirist maintains there is an undercurrent of sharp and significant byplay.
Unfortunately, a large segment of the Gilligan audience must be missing this. Of the 2,500 letters which Sherwood reports the series receives, most are written by viewers between the ages of 10 and 16.
“They don’t have anything particular to say about the show, just that they love it,” says Sherwood. “Parents write, too, though. They are glad their kids like it, because they say there’s no sex or violence.”
Earlier this season, Sherwood received a visit from a Cmdr. Doyle of the US Coast Guard. He had in this portfolio a dozen or more telegrams from distraught Gilligan viewers who wanted to know why the Navy with all of its latest radar equipment couldn’t locate this island and save these poor souls. That’s a problem with satire not everyone gets it.
A perplexed father recently wrote Sherwood to report that his 9-year-old daughter had changed her name to “Gilligan’s Island,” and refused to answer to any other name.
Sherwood hasn’t said what answer. if any, he had for this father. The least he can do is send the girl a Gilligan T-shirt. Yes, merchandise (games, coloring books and clothing) for Gilligan is on the way, and will be in the stores by September.
It’s all part of Sherwood’s mad, mad, mad world of TV satire.