‘Gilligan’s Island’: Creator Sherwood Schwartz Picked the Show’s Name out of a Phone Book

Gilligan’s Island is a classic comedy by creator Sherwood Schwartz. The TV pioneer’s idea for a sitcom about a group of castaways on a deserted island seemed far-fetched. However, the show became an instant success and earned a spot in pop culture history.

'Gilligan's Island' creator found inspiration for the show's name from a phone book.
Gilligan’s Island creator Sherwood Schwartz stars Bob Denver, Dawn Wells, Tina Louise, and Russell Johnson I SGranitz/WireImage

‘Gilligan’s Island’ creator Sherwood Schwartz used a phone book to come up with the show’s name

After working as a writer for TV and radio for 25 years, Schwartz decided it was time to create his own series. In 1963, he began working on creating a show about a stranded group of castaways. However, like many writers, he had a tough time coming up with a name for the series.

He already knew he wanted island in the title along with the name of the first mate. Yet, choosing the right name was a hassle. In Schwartz’s memoir Inside Gilligan’s Island: A Three-Hour Tour Through The Making of A Television Classic, he recalled his conundrum. “There are many names that would make the series sound like a dramatic show. I also didn’t want a ridiculous name.”

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According to MeTV, Schwartz eventually found the right name thanks to a phone book. “I just kept looking through telephone book after telephone book until I hit the name ‘Gilligan.’ I felt ‘Gilligan’ was amusing enough to indicate a comedy series and acceptable enough to avoid burlesque.”

‘Gilligan’s Island’ was named after the show’s title character

The series featured an eclectic group of seven castaways, including movie star Ginger Grant (Tina Louise) and farm girl Mary Ann Summers (Dawn Wells). While the series could’ve been named after any castaway, first mate Gilligan (Bob Denver) had the honor.

Gilligan was a vital part of the show’s success. His kind yet childlike demeanor made him a favorite with fans. In about every episode, he’s doing something to screw up, earning him a hat smack from Skipper (Alan Hale Jr.)

During the show’s three-year run, The Professor (Russell Johnson) tried many times to get the castaways rescued. But Gilligan’s clumsiness always foiled their plans.

The show was canceled after three seasons

Gilligan’s Island premiered on the CBS network on September 26, 1964. The show became a favorite with audiences, who tuned in each week to see the hijinks of the castaways. However, after three seasons, the final episode aired on April 17, 1967.

CBS told Schwartz and the cast that the show would be renewed for a fourth season. Yet, the network’s President William S. Paley, canceled the sitcom and put Gunsmoke in its timeslot.

Schwartz would continue to have more TV success with the creation of another beloved classic, The Brady Bunch. However, he never forgot about the show that launched his career. Schwartz would reunite with the Gilligan’s Island cast for several events, including a reunion special on The Late Show in 1988.

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