It’s a major archaeological discovery: the never-before-shown half-hour pilot of Gilligan’s Island. The 1963 Ur-Gilligan will make its debut on TBS (introduced by Gilligan himself, Bob Denver, and followed by the 1978 TV movie Rescue From Gilligan’s Island). ”One of our executives learned that (the pilot) existed from a book about the show,” says TBS’ vice president of programming and development Kate McSweeny. ”So we called up our storehouse in Los Angeles, and there it was. We had it on our shelves all this time and never knew it.” (TBS acquired all 99 Gilligan episodes in 1986.)
The pilot, intended only for network executives’ viewing, reveals how the Minnow ran aground (clips aired in a 1964 flashback to the ”fateful trip”). It stars four familiar cast members — Denver, Alan Hale Jr., Jim Backus, and Natalie Schafer — but John Gabriel played the Professor (Russell Johnson came later), Kit Smythe was Ginger (not Tina Louise), and Nancy McCarthy played a secretary named Bunny (replaced by Dawn Wells’ Mary Ann). The actresses’ acting careers stalled, but Gabriel later appeared in films (Howard Hawks’ El Dorado) and soaps (Ryan’s Hope). ”When my agent told me they were replacing me (in Gilligan), I just sat there and wept,” he recalls. ”But it was the best thing that could have happened. The people who ended up starring in Gilligan’s Island never played any other (major) roles again.”
Another big difference between the pilot and the series: The original theme song was a calypso tune with such lyrics as ”The captain is brave, he’s a fearless maaan, and Gilligan helps him all that he caaan.” As Gilligan creator Sherwood Schwartz remembers, ”I wrote it in four hours the night before I pitched the show to CBS. It wasn’t my best work.” His final version (”Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale…”) wasn’t exactly Cole Porter, either, but bet you can’t get it out of your head.