"Lost" on "Gilligan's Island"
By Bert Ehrmann
2006-04-10 – I can’t imagine anything more horrible that being trapped alone on a deserted island. I’m not sure what would get me first, the loneliness or the absence of a working toilet. Time and time again, television producers use the stranded-on-an-island theme as the plot to their shows.
Two shows in particular have had massive success with this theme. Gilligan’s Island only ran for three seasons in the mid-to-late 1960s, but reruns have aired across the globe in a near 24/7 rotation ever since. And new episodes of Lost rank in the top five TV shows each week.
One might think from the successes of Gilligan’s and Lost that the concept of a microcosm of humanity trapped together is a sure fire hit, but not always. Over the years many producers have tried, and failed, to bring their own take on the “stranded” genre to television screens.
In Lee Goldberg’s book Unsold TV Pilots: The Greatest Shows You Never Saw, he identifies several failed attempts at producers trying to bring the “stranded” concept to the small screen. (Goldberg’s book is a treasure trove of information on unsold television pilots spanning the decades from the late 1950s to the 1990s.)
The fist desert island themed show that Goldberg writes about is Hurricane Island (1961). If it ever had made it into production, Island would have followed “a group of travelers shipwrecked on an island populated by dinosaurs and other prehistoric terrors.”
Stranded (1966) would have followed a group of plane crash survivors in the Andes, including a murderer, a cop, a big-game hunter, a famous singer… and a lawyer played by Leonard Nemoy (Star Trek). Six years later, there would be a real-life crash of an airliner in the Andes. It’s anyone’s guess as to whether the plot of Stranded would have focused on the cast members consuming one and other as in real events.
1970 would have seen Lost Flight losing control, with Lloyd Bridges (Airplane) as the captain who must lead a new society when the crewmembers and passengers are lost.
Six years later, another series called Stranded had a doomed airliner crashing on a desert island. Much like the first Stranded, this series would have focused on a range of survivors including a cop transporting a criminal, a street-wise stowaway, a teenage brother and sister, a woman on the way to get married and a construction worker. The survivors find a new life building an ad-hoc civilization on the island.
Crash Island (1981) is my personal favorite — heck, it features a professional basketball player! In Crash Island, a charter airline crashes on an uncharted island, and it’s up to none other than Meadowlark Lemon and the members of a YMCA coed swim team to form a new civilization. But they’re not alone. There’s also Pat Morita who would have played a Japanese soldier trapped there since the end of WWII. (Everything about this show screams CLASS!)
One of the many attempts at bringing Gilligan’s Island back was imaginatively called Gilligan’s Island II (1987). (Gilligan’s Island: The Next Generation?) Here, the children of the original castaways would have found themselves stranded on “an uncharted desert isle.”
As recently as 2003 when Lost was in development, there was a competing show in production entitled Eden, in which students on a summer study cruise would have been forced to build their own society after their ship runs aground in a storm. Much like Lost, the twist here would have revealed that one of the students isn’t who they appear to be.
Even Lost didn’t start out as the show we came to know. Originally, the series was pitched as a take on a previous pilot entitled Nowhere from television producer Aaron Spelling. Luckily for us, Spelling never became involved in Lost so we never had to sit through catfights, survivors obsessing over their wardrobe or love triangles.
And that is a good thing.