Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Logic problems on GILLIGAN'S ISLAND

I’ve often been accused of being a stickler when it comes to scripts. And I’ve gotten even worse since becoming a director. Actors are right to question why they’d order a burger when two weeks ago it was established they were vegan. The burger joke is really funny is not a suitable explanation.

I’ve always felt that the more grounded a show is, the better it is. When viewers throw their hands up and cry “that would never happen” you’ve lost them.

That said, you do need creative license. If things are too real you watch a character drive around the block for twenty minutes before finding a parking space. You watch lawyers waiting six months to go to trial. You watch a doctor on the phone to Medicare for an hour.

But it’s a delicate dance. Even if you take creative license, the stretch must at least be plausible. Someone could find a parking spot in front of the building. A trial date could be sped up. Where you stretch beyond all believability is when you say Medicare is efficient.

However, not all implausible dramatic efforts bomb. In fact, some become wildly successful. FAST AND FURIOUS 7 could not be more stupid and yet it’s made a gazillion dollars at the boxoffice. And I point to one of the most successful sitcoms in television history – GILLIGAN’S ISLAND.

My daughter, Annie, was saying in the INSTANT MOM writing room they got into a discussion about the tiny logic lapses of GILLIGAN’S ISLAND. Think about it:

If they were really going on just a three-hour tour why did they bring luggage?

If they only had fuel to last three hours, how far could they go?

And if they could build elaborate radios out of coconuts, how come they couldn’t fix a hole in the boat?

Now you had to figure, SOMEBODY on the writing staff or one member of the cast brought up these questions. Creator Sherwood Schwartz or someone high-up had to reply: “It doesn’t matter.” And amazingly, it didn’t.

These shows hinge on how willing the audience is to suspend disbelief. In the case of FURIOUS 7, fans just loved all the cool stunts. For GILLIAN it was because… uh, I have no idea. I thought it was idiotic from day one. But enough good will is generated that the public buys these shows despite the gaping holes in logic and laws of physics.

But beware. As a writer that’s a very risky way to go. My recommendation is to err on the side of caution. Oh wait. By that logic, you would bring a suitcase on a three-hour trip. I’m all confused.

64 comments:

VincentS said...

Best example of what you're talking about: James Bond.

Jeannie said...

Ginger brought gowns on a 3-hour tour. The Howells took a ride on a tiny boat when they probably owned a yacht. But movies do this all the time (nerd wins popular girl's heart, woman takes off glasses to reveal she's a stunning beauty). Guess that's why we love to escape via entertainment, right?

Nick said...

My wife and I just revisited Tootsie. Here's a movie which stretches all credibility, but it works, because it is extremely clear that the filmmakers simply didn't care about testing Dorsey's/Michaels' credibility. Instead, they were far more interested in exploring the dynamics between men and women.

When I saw Tootsie as a young 'un, a lot of that psychological stuff went over my head; I was interested in the farcical elements. Those parts were there, and they were... okay. But as a grown-up, revisiting that film and capturing the nuances between the sexes, it made for far rewarding viewing.

Jed said...

Because... Tina Louise!

Mike Barer said...

The girls alway had their hair and make up done, the men were clean shaven. Why did the men turn Ginger down?

McAlvie said...

Huh. Well, Gilligan wore the same outfit the whole time, as did, I think, the Skipper and the Professor. I think even Mary Ann, although I don't remember that for sure. So that left the Howells and the movie star, all characters who might plausibly drag around more luggage than they needed. As for the hole in the boat, as I recall they tried once with some kind of resin from a tree, but it disolved in sea water, so that wasn't very useful. The radio was already on the boat, although I concede that the professor (and we never did learn what he was a professor of) was implausibly handy for an academic.

Michael said...

Dick Cavett has said Johnny Carson, for whom he had written and who remained a friend, would have him on whenever he had another show canceled. At the end of each show, Carson would ask everybody on the couch to plug whatever s/he had going on. He got to Cavett and said something like, "Well, of course, you have nothing happening." Cavett said he doesn't know where this came from, but he replied, "I'm working on a pilot. It's a humorous version of Gilligan's Island." Carson was so paralyzed and hysterical he could barely finish the show.

J. Allison said...

Ken, I think you've mentioned that you watch "Louie." This season's finale had Louie pondering the nature of comedy: is it an art form that inspects culture and the human condition? Or is it a "bar trick," as the hack comedian described it? Of course it's both, which is why you can have funny, insightful shows like Parks & Rec or MASH as well as idiotic shows like Gilligan's Island.

I'm a bit young to have seen Gilligan when it was on in prime time, but we lapped up the reruns in the 70's. Even as 8 and 9 year olds we recognized the stupidity. But for some reason we watched anyway.

The Curmudgeon said...

No, Jed.

Because... Dawn Wells!

Oat Willie said...

At first I thought the Instant Mom writing room had to be a dry well, based on Gilligan's Island debates I remember from grade school. But I realized that Gilligan ran for four years. Today four years is a lot of money in sitcom land, and I'm sure agents are parlaying Instant Mom into a TBS syndication deal.

Ellen Davies said...

Don't forget the coconut cream pie mystery. It's Gilligan's favorite and Mary Ann makes it for him all the time. But there are no cows...

Anonymous said...

@Michael:
Good Carson anecdote. Funny line by Cavett, but think about it.
Cavett gives his typical Ivy League dismissal of a popular television show that was not so much funny as it was comfort fare.
Cavett, the intellectual, was of course above that type of mediocrity.
Except today, millions upon millions of people watch Gilligan and the crew. They ask "Ginger or Mary Ann?" (now that they are the two remaining survivors, it is an existential question, not a sexual one) and people too young to have been around know what it means.
Who knows from Dick Cavett today?
Last laugh goes to Sherwood Schwartz.

Daniel said...

Tomorrowland makes no sense at all, and yet its box office earnings prove that...Oh, wait.

Igor said...

@Anonymous -
"Except today, millions upon millions of people watch Gilligan and the crew. They ask 'Ginger or Mary Ann?' (now that they are the two remaining survivors, it is an existential question, not a sexual one)"

Wow. A laugh-worthy quip, and with pathos. Well done.

blinky said...

I never watched Gilligan's Island because Bob Denver will always be Maynard G. Krebs to me from the Life and Loves of Dobie Gillis.
"Like, hey Mr. G.!"
"WORK!"

Anonymous said...

I seem to recall Sherwood Schwartz once saying in some appearance that originally the tour was a three-day tour but the person who wrote the opening song wrote in three hour tour because of the meter he needed. It sounded good and they went with that.
-MW

Bugdun said...

Gilligan's Island was way too goofy for me. Even the smartest guy on the show got caught up in the stupid shit from time to time.

Two other shows I hated: Family Affair and Mayberry RFD. Horrible.

David P said...

Weird Al got it right in is song, "Isle Thing".

He'd always save their buts
He could make a nuclear reactor
From a couple of coconuts

She said that guy's a genius
I turned my head and laughed
I said if he's so fly then tell me why
He couldn't build a lousy raft

craig m said...

Ken, how do you feel when watching a logic-impaired show and a character says, "Oh, there's a perfectly logical explanation..." and then is interrupted before he can give it (or some noise makes his answer inaudible)? Cop out or brilliant save?

Danny said...

John Rich, who directed three episodes of GILLIGAN'S ISLAND during its first season, likened the show to a cartoon, and said that logic wasn't really a consideration. Just as you don't question where Bugs Bunny got that mallet he apparently pulled out of thin air and used to whack Yosemite Sam on the head, you don't question how the Professor can manage to build dental equipment to fill Gilligan's tooth, but is stymied by repairing a radio transmitter.

Originally, only the Howells were supposed to have an extensive wardrobe. The other characters would all wear the same outfits every week. Schwartz said, though, that reality intervened when it very quickly became obvious that both Tina Louise and Dawn Wells were not going to be happy wearing the same clothes week after week.

Dan in WNY said...

From Newton Minnow's Wikipedia page:

While some applauded his "vast wasteland" assault on commercial television as a welcome criticism of excessive violence and frivolity, others criticized it as an elitist, snobbish attack on programming that many viewers enjoyed and as government interference with private enterprise.[8] The S. S. Minnow of the 1964–1967 television show Gilligan's Island was sarcastically named after him to express displeasure with his assessment of the quality of television.[9]

Lee said...

CBS fired John Rich off GILLIGAN'S ISLAND after Rich clashed with them over a production disagreement. As the show was gearing up to go into production, Rich and Sherwood Schwartz were in a meeting with a CBS executive, who handed them a particular script and said that the network wanted that episode filmed first, so they could get it on the air as quickly as possible. Rich disagreed, arguing that the script in question was technically complex, with a lot of special effects and trick stuff. He selected a different script and said that one would be a better choice because it wasn't difficult from a technical point of view and offered a great deal of cast interaction. He argued that the cast was new and would benefit much more from working on an episode that gave them all the opportunity to interact, get to know each other and get more comfortable with each other. He got his way, but CBS had him removed from the show shortly thereafter, citing him for being difficult and uncooperative.

Talysman said...

Crazy people who watched and remember all the Gilligan's Island episodes know that the answer to most of the logic problems is "Gilligan". So the real logic problem is: Why didn't they strangle Gilligan?

But really, Gilligan's Island seems more like a spin-off of The Twilight Zone, or maybe a prequel to Lost. They try to get off the island, but some malign supernatural presence conspires to keep them there, and a whole conspiracy of people visit the island and leave, leaving them trapped. There's even the time they *did* get off the island, and all they could think about was going back, just like that one season of Lost.

Bill O said...

Gilligan was the only show where I saw a CBS exec say he was ashamed of it. Mike Dann, the network's programmer, said they didn't get the show's appeal, changed the time slot, and the audience still followed. Took Gunsmoke's threatened cancellation to make Gilligan the sacrificial lamb.

-bee said...

When I watched this as child, I too was greatly perturbed by the fact that people on a "three hour tour" had all this stuff. I found it actually kind of insulting that the grown-ups who made the show thought we kids (I naturally presumed the show was targeted at us) were so dumb we wouldn't notice.

At some point though - I've come to think of Gilligan's Island as beautifully absurdist. Whether the creators of the show were familiar with the 'artsy' genres of 'dadaism' or the theater of the absurd, I don't know but I rather doubt it. Even so, maybe it was just something that was in the air in the early/mid 60's (come to think of it, Rocky & Bullwinkle was a little bit similar).

I do really like the show now, for pulling off something few have actually accomplished, a gleeful ridiculousness that I now regard as being the absolutely best thing about the show.

Jeff Maxwell said...

Gilligan's Island was ridiculous, but as a teenager and aspiring funny guy, trolling for comic moves and inspiration from anywhere was a necessity. Bob Denver's over-the-top, slapstick antics provided a place to mine for faces, timing, etc. The Island was a cartoon but, hey, there was good stuff to mine from Bugs Bunny, the Road Runner and Porky Pig, too.

Looking for reality and/or humor on television? They're both really hard to find in Grace and Frankie, the new show starring Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin. Brimming with talent, but it needs a makeover from two guys like Ken Levine and David Isaacs. Just sayin'.

chuckcd said...

Because...Dawn Wells!

The Howells are filthy rich and they take luggage everywhere.
They had enough to lend some to the other castaways.
They were caught in a storm and it carried them far out into uncharted territory.
The sun was in their eyes and they had a rock in their shoe...

Terrence Moss said...

I know from Dick Cavett. And I'm 36.

Canda said...

The real lesson is that you should never take a TV show job if you're not willing to accept that it might have a long run.

Some actors hate the pilot script they're doing, and think they will get a quick paycheck, and it will be canceled.
Tina Louise may have fallen into that category, and apparently hated being being part of Gilligan's Island.

On the other hand, the actors who embrace a part, no matter how silly, like John Ritter in "Three's Company",
are fun to watch, and be around. They understand life is short, have fun, do something to the best of your ability,
and you will be rewarded, admired, and be a shining example of what work and show business are all about.

Bradley said...

Ken, what exactly is this about? http://playbill.com/news/article/marcia-marcia-marcia-cbs-is-developing-stage-shows-based-on-brady-bunch-and-other-sitcoms-350339

Terrence Moss said...

"Grace and Frankie" is great - though I was less than thrilled with the cliffhanger ending.

Cap'n Bob said...

Nitpick: You have to suspend disbelief, not belief.

Igor said...

@bee

Sherwood Schwartz was born in 1916, so presumably he grew up watching silent comedies, and then the Marx Brothers movies. He was in his 30s and 40s when Theater of the Absurd came into being. And he saw the absurdists of 1950s variety-show television on a TV in his very own living room.

I'm not saying Gilligan's Island is some paean to all that, but if one was a comedy writer and grew up in those times, I would think it would actually be tough to avoid writing something as absurdist as Gilligan's Island.

Breadbaker said...

In the end, Gilligan was very much a character based sitcom. And for the run of the show, the characters stayed very much within their initial parameters (Mary Ann was probably fleshed out the most because she didn't really have much of a character to start with). They didn't pair off the characters, they didn't introduce new characters, they didn't kill of characters.

Yes, it was a cartoon. I was young enough that to me Polonius in Hamlet was Alan Hale, Jr. singing from Carmen. Still is, for that matter.

Anonymous said...

If you want to read an absurdist classic based on Gilligan's Island, check out Gilligan's Wake by Tom Carson.
A masterpiece.

Anonymous said...

Made a lot of money from Gilligan's Island when it ran on KCOP-TV, and was the station's number one rated show. Never, ever, watched it tho.

Johnny Walker said...

I never saw Gilligan's Island, although there are so many references to it in U.S. pop culture, I wish I had. Was it the characters that made people overlook the logic? Or was it, as others have said, that it was essentially a live action cartoon.

I wonder if it's on Netflix?

Gary said...

You can nitpick the logic of any show. My favorite is when people complain that on Superman, nobody could see through his disguise as Clark Kent, just because he wore glasses. They're okay with him coming from another planet having super-strength, flying ability, x-ray vision, etc. But the glasses thing? Oh COME ON!!

Victor Velasco said...

Can't remember if I actually saw this in the pilot or I read it somewhere over the last 40, 50 years but...didn't the wardrobe wash up on the island? the Professor, maybe, had some exposition where he figured it came from lost-at-sea theatrical company?
Could be similar to another 'how could this happen' deal with the Beverly Hillbillies i.e. how, in L.A. did they come up with hog jowls, possum, eye of newt and all that mess: it was established early on that Pearl Bodine, for a monthly fee, shipped all that stuff to the Clampetts

Richard said...

I'm 35 and I'm well aware of him. And Gilligans Island. I like them both.

Buttermilk Sky said...

Next time you watch a Tarzan movie, ask yourself why he has long hair but his face and torso are clean shaven. A salon in the jungle?

"Julius Caesar" features modern books and chiming clocks. Every work of art or entertainment has something wrong with it. Let's relax.

Wayne said...

Ever notice the Tom Selleck's show Blue Bloods is Bonanza?

A strong dad who lays down the law and he's a widower with three kids who don't look anything like him.

Maybe that's explains what happened to Ma.
One day Pa noticed the kids don't look like him.
POW!

James Van Hise said...

A Led Zeppelin soundalike group named Little Roger & The Goosebumps redid the theme from Gilligan's Island to the tune of Stairway To Heaven, but using the TV show's original lyrics and it's hysterical. Dr. Demento played it now and then. It is on Youtube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F8oGz0mxwks -

Jacob said...

I guess there's still an audience for GILLIGAN'S ISLAND. I see the DVD sets at Target all the time. It doesn't seem to show up on TV much anymore. They sure ran the hell out of it when I was a kid back in the '70s, though. We had three local stations, one for each network, and no independents. Different shows floated through their afternoon schedules. That was "kid time." A wide variety of syndicated sitcoms and cartoons and antique stuff like THE LITTLE RASCALS. Shows all came and went, but GILLIGAN seemed firmly anchored to the schedule, year after year. GILLIGAN and I LOVE LUCY.

I haven't seen GILLIGAN in years, but I used to watch it back then. I was aware of the lapses in logic, but I don't recall that they ever bothered me. GILLIGAN'S ISLAND didn't seem like the kind of a show where questions of logic really mattered. All shows have those kind of things you just don't question. (For example, I live in New Orleans now, and we just accept that all those bizarre accents on CSI: NEW ORLEANS are supposed to represent the way we actually talk down here.) GILLIGAN always seemed to take place in a reality that was more akin to the world in which cartoons took place.

I've never understood people who can't just accept these things at face value and go with them. Like I said, all shows have lapses in logic and believability, and not all shows are supposed to be believable in the same way. You don't watch GILLIGAN'S ISLAND and expect believability in the same way that you expect in on CHEERS.

Igor said...

@Cap'n Bob "Nitpick: You have to suspend disbelief, not belief."

I agree. But it seems on this - you and I are the outliers.

Unknown said...

As I recall, there was a throwaway in one early show that the Howells never went anywhere without luggage. As for the whole in the boat, I'm pretty it's in the pilot (they were filming on an actual ocean beach) that Gilligan finds tree sap that he uses to make pancake syrup. The sap is awful syrup, but it hardens almost immediately into epoxy-like glue. So they patch the hole in the boat with it, and coat the rest of the hull as well. But 24 hours later, the pancakes become loose, and then all the boards fly off the boat until even the keel collapses. OK, that's all ridiculous, but it's why they never managed to repair the boat.

Hank Gillette said...

You don't watch GILLIGAN'S ISLAND and expect believability in the same way that you expect in on CHEERS.

A bar with only one or two waitresses? With only one shift? One that was never so busy that the bartenders and waitresses couldn’t stop working and have long conversations? Even when full, the bar was quiet enough for people to converse in a normal tone of voice? That was very believable.

Patrick said...

Hey here is a FRIDAY QUESTION:

Do you think that the Hollywood Foreign Press is all that different than FIFA?

Johnny Walker said...

I think the leaps in logic in GILLIGAN are slightly more absurd than those on CHEERS, myself, but that said, they don't sound any more utterly insane than the things they regularly do on 24 or CSI -- which people apparently take seriously. I wonder if we'll look back on those in the same way we do on other ridiculous shows?

Igor said...

@Patrick

As to a very small group of outsiders (i.e. non-players/non-coaches/non-owners) having a substantial amount of influence on an industry, I see your point as to FIFA and the HFPA in


But when it comes to scale (i.e. financials), FIFA is to HFPA as MLB is to SI (Springfield Isotopes).

Richard Y said...

There seemed to be major fascination with this series as it seems like other series, even from different networks, loved to parody it or do some kind of tie in. Such as Roseanne which featured Gilligan's Island prominently in one episode. In the episode ‘Sherwood Schwartz: A Loving Tribute’ (7.25) the cast of Rosanne assume the characters of Gilligan’s Island on a desert island. An episode of Get Smart titled ‘Schwartz’s Island’ (4.13) where Agent 86 (Maxwell Smart-Don Adams) and Agent 99 (Barbara Feldon), on their honeymoon, become marooned on a deserted island was filmed in the lagoon area used for Gilligan’s Island.
An episode of Alf ‘Somewhere Over the Rerun’ (2.02) included a dream sequence in which Alf imagined that he was on the castaways’ island. Bob Denver, Alan Hale Jr., Russell Johnson and Dawn Wells guest-starred, (filmed at Sony Studios, not at CBS). Baywatch episode ‘Now Sit Back and You'll Hear a Tale’ (2.16) (a takeoff on the theme song) features Bob Denver and Dawn Wells as Gilligan and Mary Ann as part of Eddie's (Billy Warlock) dream when he is knocked unconscious.

Anonymous said...

Hey Ken,

This reminds me of the CNN documentary they ran last summer called "The 60's". There were 9 parts I believe and they had an entire episode devoted to television. I wasn't around in the 60's but I'm convinced everyone was high. That's how this show was made and never really questioned. It's the only plausible explanation, --LL

John Hammes said...

Fun Fact: One can match practically anything Emily Dickinson wrote... to the "Gilligan's Island" theme.

Ballad Metre. No kidding.

:)

MikeN said...

They didn't try to go back to the island after they escaped. They merely ended up their after a crash.

DetroitGuy said...

There was another sequel TV movie after that one where they were rescued again but then went back and opened a resort hotel on the island.

Anonymous said...

Emily Dickinson's "Because I Could Not Stop for Death" also fits nicely with the tune to "Yellow Rose of Texas." And you can sing the Gilligan's Island theme lyrics to the tune of "Amazing Grace." This is fun! Julie

MikeN said...

Fast and Furious is about more than cool stunts. The overall plot and characters are good, and why it is doing well vs other attempts at the same.

Gregg said...

Roseanne which featured Gilligan's Island prominently in one episode. In the episode ‘Sherwood Schwartz: A Loving Tribute’ (7.25) the cast of Rosanne assume the characters of Gilligan’s Island on a desert island

Trivia: Roseanne was taped on the same soundstage where Gilligan's Island was filmed, which was also the soundstage where The Mary Tyler Moore Show was filmed.

I wonder if people who work in television ever wonder what other movies or TV shows have been filmed or taped there? What legendary stars might have been on that very same stage. Ken, have you ever wondered about things like that? I suppose you get very blasé about it and take it for granted.

Another one I know about: Cheers was filmed on the same soundstage where Lucille Ball filmed The Lucy Show and the first three seasons of Here's Lucy.

DrBOP said...

Not only was it always a cartoon, but with Mr. Magoo.....err, I mean Mr. Backus, you got two!

VP81955 said...

Gregg, many studios now have plaques on each soundstage showing what productions (or at least the more distinguished ones) were filmed or shot there. When I saw a filming of a "Mom" ep at Warners last November, I saw it was on the same stage as "Jezebel" (1938) -- which I had seen at LACMA earlier that week. (Although I note that Paramount, where Ken called home for many years, curiously lists almost no pre-1948 Paramount productions -- possibly because the rights to most of them now belong to Universal. Ironically, many RKO films from the '30s and '40s are mentioned on the plaques, since Paramount purchased the neighboring RKO lot from Desilu some years back.)

Also, back in 1999 I interviewed Laura Prepon for the local weekly paper I edited (she hailed from Watchung, N.J., one of the towns in our circulation area), and I asked her about the process of creating an episode of "That '70s Show." She noted it was on the same soundstage where "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and most "Seinfeld" eps had been filmed.

Prologic Corporation said...
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ProudTexasWoman said...

Live in Texas and those horrible, horrible pseudo-Louisiana accents are why I can't watch the show even though I'm thrilled for Louisiana to get some work, adore Scott Bakula, and worship CCH Pounder.

ebinrock said...

The one implausibility Gilligan's Island never answered was, with women as gorgeous as Ginger and Mary Ann were, why there wasn't some populatin' goin' on to increase the number from seven? C'mon, even Gilligan and the Professor wouldn't be able to resist the urge!

ebinrock said...

@ProudTexasWoman: I totally agree. Every time I see a movie or TV show where Louisianians (particularly native New Orleanians, of which I am one) speak in an overly-drawled accent, I just cringe. That's NOT the New Orleans accent (actually, there are a few). Kevin Costner in JFK comes to mind - horrible stereotyped accent. I would venture to say that any of the true New Orleans accents are hard for an actor to get right.

Incidentally, I don't have any N.O. accent, since my mother was from Wisconsin, so I guess picking up both my mother's and dad's accents together growing up either combined or canceled both accents out - although I have a bit of a midwestern tinge, but pretty subtle. Someone once thought I was from Iowa.