Friday, December 07, 2007

56.Gilligan's Island / Brady Bunch

This entry isn't just about the two shows, but also about their creator: Sherwood Schwartz.

While reading a bit about him on his Wikipedia page, I found that it was interesting that Schwartz and Red Skelton hated each other. So much so that while Schwartz was a writer on Skelton's show (which did very well in the ratings), Schwartz had it written in his contract that he never had to see the star of the show face-to-face.

That's a pretty ballsy move.

It's also pretty ballsy to walk into a head of a network and claim that the idea for your new show was an allegory as to show how seven people (the seven continents) can live and work together on one island (the Earth) in peace. After the head buys the idea, Schwartz gave them “Gilligan's Island”.

Here's the thing about these two shows that will always be linked because of a lot of different reasons, but the main reason is that Schwartz created them both. And he did it in a way that was appealing to adults, but also to kids. What GI or BB, each episode was essentially the same: during the first five minutes a trivial problem (though monumental in the eyes of the protagonist) is discovered. During the next ten minutes, the main character either mopes about said problem or attempts to fix it, which results in the problem becoming even larger. During the last 15 minutes, the rest of the cast is brought in on the problem, solves it and they all live happily ever after.

The one monkey wrench in this comparison between the two shows is that “The Brady Bunch” didn't have the deus ex machina that is Gilligan. In order for the castaways to continue their show, Gilligan had to screw up every episode so that they're still stuck on the island.

This repetition of theme and plot made the shows lovable to children and teens alike. It has been proven that babies enjoy and need repetition: from white noise sounds soothing them to sleep to endlessly enjoying the same shows hour after hour. As one grows up, the familiar becomes boring, yet there is still a desire for the familiar—even if the show is “new”. I believe that Schwartz was aware of this and became the backbone of both shows.

And while he never had any more hit shows (“It's About Time” sounded terrible), that's ok because he gave the world two generational touchstones and two theme songs that most people under 60 know better than the national anthem.

Everyone knows that Gilligan is going to blow it in the end or that Mike and Carol Brady are somehow going to save the day; this is precisely why we watch. Even for thirty minutes, all is right in the world.

A few nights ago, I was watching an episode of “The Monkees” (more on them in a subsequent entry) and it occurred to me that there were a few jokes that went over my head when I was a kid—in this particular episode, Mickey was looking for a Marshal Dillon and tried to make a phone call for him. The person on the other line only had a Bob Dylan who couldn't help you, but would write a song about your troubles. That was funny to me now, but I know that I had no idea what a Marshal Dillon was or a Bob Dylan and why anyone would get them confused.

The BB and GI do not have a higher level of comedy (and that's comparing them to “the Monkees”), what you see was what you got. Bobby wasn't an archtype for Che Guerva and Mrs. Howell wasn't the personification of greed and stupidity. There is something refreshing about this one dimensionality and if I catch these shows on television today it takes me to when I was a kid. Back then I enjoyed watching a show because it was my favorite show, not because it made a social statement. And make no mistake, the kids who grew up on this stuff; whether they're black, white, yellow, or green didn't care either, they were able to identify with the characters because their struggles are universal.

Who hasn't been picked on, whacked on the head with a sailor cap, formed a song and dance troupe to compete on television for their parents' anniversary present, stole a rival school's mascot, met your favorite band and got them to perform a private concert just for you (a plot that happened on both shows-Davy Jones on BB and the Beatlesque Mosquitoes on GI). This is the reason why my grandchildren will probably be watching these shows, long after every cast member is long dead.

On a personal note, both programs bring back a ton of memories for me: watching “Gilligan's Island” on Sundays at 11:30 am at my aunt's house after we went to church and had a big breakfast meant that I was about to be shipped outside because football or baseball was about to be put on (I was too young to understand either game). And when 5:00 rolled around, I know that I could watch the Bradys and then eat dinner before it was time to do homework or go to bed. BTW, both shows were on Channel 56 in Boston.

Like I said earlier, every one wants to go back to a simpler time. It's hard-wired in our brains—just like these shows.

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