Both were derided by critics as kitschy failures. But fans adored the corny jokes and groan-worthy gags, and the simple-minded shows endeared themselves to a nation beset by civil rights struggles and a war in Vietnam.
Decades after they ended, the series live on in reruns, spinoffs and parodies. Several generations of Americans can hum their plucky theme songs — both of which were co-written by Mr. Schwartz and have become fixtures in the cultural lexicon.
“Masterpiece cheese, I guess that’s what Sherwood Schwartz did better than anybody,” said Robert J. Thompson, a professor of popular culture and television at Syracuse University.
Mr. Schwartz was an Emmy Award-winning veteran writer of “The Red Skelton Show” when he dreamed up “Gilligan’s Island” in the early 1960s. He saw it as something more than comedy.
“I knew that by assembling seven different people and forcing them to live together, the show would have great philosophical implications,” he told Time magazine in 1995. “On a much larger scale this happens all the time. Eventually, the Israelis are going to have to learn to live with the Arabs. We have one world, and ‘Gilligan’s Island’ was my way of saying that.”
“A social microcosm,” he called it when he pitched the idea to CBS founder William Paley, who shuddered at the description, according to Mr. Schwartz’s 1994 memoir, “Inside Gilligan’s Island.”
“It’s a funny microcosm!” Mr. Schwartz reassured him.
The show was brutally panned upon its debut in the fall of 1964. “ ‘Gilligan’s Island’ is a television series that never should have reached the air this season, or any other season,” wrote Hal Humphrey of the Los Angeles Times.
“A more inept, moronic or humorless show has never appeared on the home tube,” wrote Rick DuBrow of United Press International.
Nevertheless, viewers flocked to watch the antics of the seven characters who found themselves stuck in one another’s company after setting sail for what they expected to be a “three-hour tour.”
Bob Denver played the bumbling title character, an assistant to the Skipper (Alan Hale Jr.). Ginger was the sexpot movie star played by Tina Louise, and her virginal counterpart was Mary Ann, played by Dawn Wells. The cast was rounded out by a pair of snobby millionaires (Jim Backus and Natalie Schafer) and the Professor (Russell Johnson), whose technical skills were never enough to save the marooned tourists from their fate.
Despite its impressive ratings, “Gilligan’s Island” had few fans among CBS executives and was canceled abruptly in 1967.