Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Rant #545: Gilligan ... and Sherwood Too ...

One of pop culture's most creative geniuses passed away the other day.

Sherwood Schwartz, the creator of both "Gilligan's Island" and "The Brady Bunch," passed away at age 94.

He began his career as a writer for Bob Hope and Red Skelton in the 1940s, but he rose to fame in the 1960s with those two shows, which became cultural landmarks for the Baby Boom generation.

What is even more incredible is that he sold these shows to CBS and ABC, respectively, through the theme songs that were at the beginning of each show.

Schwartz often said that he told the story of the show within these themes. Listed as a co-writer on both, the songs are among the best known TV theme songs of all time, simple but getting the point across:

"Just sit right back and you'll hear a tail ... " and "Here's the story of a lovely lady...".

Each of these shows were lambasted by critics, each wasn't a ratings winner, but the public loved the utopian aspects of each show, whether it showed a shipwrecked utopia on "Gilligan" or a family utopia on "Brady."

Things like this couldn't actually happen in real life ... or could they?

Through countless reruns and spin-offs, both of these shows are probably among the most popular in TV history, because they evoke a time and a place that we can all relate to in some way.

In other words, with the permissiveness of today's TV, they couldn't exist, or at least they couldn't exist in the format that Schwartz had in mind when he launched both shows.

People forget his other major network show. It was on CBS on Sunday nights around the time that "Gilligan's Island" was cancelled, and it didn't last very long, ultimately being too clever for its own good.

"It's About Time" was about two astronauts who somehow break the time barrier and land in the caveman age, where they meet up with two cavemen--Imogene Coca and Joe E. Ross (!) who take them under their wing.

Again, the theme of the blended family took hold here.

During the first half of the show's only season, the astronauts tried in vain to get back to their own time, 1967 or so. During the second part of this season, they made it back, but Coca and Ross were stowaways, and the situation was reversed, with the astronauts trying to show the cavemen the modern way of life.

The song had a catchy theme song that once again described the show's theme ("It's about time, it's about space ... ") but it just didn't resonate with anyone, and after a year, it was off the air.

Few remember this show, as it hasn't been rerun in years, and it hasn't been on DVD, although you can get bootlegs for a hefty price.

But through it all, Schwartz persevered. He kept his "family" theme intact for his next blended family, and the "The Brady Bunch" was born.

Here's to Sherwood Schwartz, who truly enriched our lives with his clear vision of entertainment that people wanted, even if the critics didn't like it.

To Schwartz, it really didn't matter what the critics said. The viewing public had a louder voice, and he knew it better than anyone.

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