Old School Americana & Nostalgia


‘Gilligan’s Island’: Why the Pilot Episode Went Unaired for Nearly 30 Years

‘Gilligan’s Island’: Why the Pilot Episode Went Unaired for Nearly 30 Years

Here’s a little-known fact about Gilligan’s Island—the pilot episode aired nearly three decades after the series began. The reason? The executives simply forgot about it. 

Entertainment Weekly originally broke the story in 1992. TBS vice president of programming and development at the time, Kate McSweeny, announced that her network was set to play the half-hour installment. She explained that another exec read about the lost pilot in a book about the series, so they went hunting for it. 

“We called up our storehouse in Los Angeles, and there it was,” she told the publication. “We had it on our shelves all this time and never knew it.” 

Gilligan’s Island originally ran from 1963 to 1967. TBS purchased rights to the entire series in 1986

The ‘Gilligan’s Island’ Pilot Had Some Major Changes

EW wrote that The Gilligan’s Island pilot was never actually meant to air at first. Creator Sherwood Schwartz only filmed it for network executives. And when CBS ultimately picked up the series, Schwartz made a few changes to the story. So, the pilot no longer worked. 

In the lost episode, Bob Denver, Alan Hale Jr., and Natalie Schafer played Gilligan, The Skipper, and Mrs. Howell respectively. But Kit Smythe played Ginger, and John Gabriel stared as the professor. There was also a character named “Bunny” played by Nancy McCarthy. Dawn Wells took over that part as Mary Ann.

Television Obscurities also noted that the famed “three-hour cruise” was a “six-hour ride” in the pilot. The Ballad of Gilligan’s Isle, which has become one of the most recognizable theme songs ever, also didn’t exist. Instead, the story opened with a calypso-style song. The lyrics put more emphasis on the captain, as well, saying, ” The captain is brave, he’s a fearless maaan, and Gilligan helps him all that he caaan.” Schwartz once admitted that he wrote that theme the night before he pitched the show to CBS. He said it wasn’t his “best work.”

The pilot explained how the Minnow stranded the quirky castaways. And Schwartz used some of the footage in a 1964 flashback episode titled Fateful Trip.

The Gilligan’s Island pilot aired on Friday, October 16th, 1992. It then made it to VHS in 1993 via Columbia House. If you want to watch it today, you’ll have to get your hands on the 2004 DVD release. It includes The Lost Pilot with optional commentary recorded by Schwartz.