Yesterday at 9 PM two giants of TV from the 70’s & 80’s went up head to head. Michael J. Fox went up against Robin Williams head to head as their two new series premiered on opposite ends of the Television dial.
The victory went to Robin Williams as The Crazy Ones 4.0 rating was almost double of The Michael J. Fox’s respectable but comparatively unimpressive 2.1.
Ironically the tactic that was used to bring Robin Williams a victory was employed 35 years prior using his old show to prevent another classic series from establishing itself as a rival. Gilligan’s Island.
While the classic 60’s sitcom running on MeTV Monday-Thursday from 8-9 PM EST remains popular people who have not read Sherwood Schwartz’s book Inside Gilligan’s Island might not be aware that Gillian’s Island nearly returned as a TV series in 1979.
After three successful years where it won three different time slots in three years Gillian’s Island was unexpectedly cancelled in order to give the spot to the ailing series Gunsmoke in the hopes of reviving it (it worked) leaving its popular audience base wondering if they missed an episode when they were rescued. Schwartz after shopping the idea of the TV movie Rescue from Gilligan’s Island for years and being rejected high, low and in-between finally convinced NBC to give it a shot. The TV movie socked everyone pulling a 52 share and dominating the ratings as the castaways were rescued and thanks to Gilligan’s ineptitude re-shipwrecked again on the very same Island.
After the phenomenal success of Rescue From Gilligan’s Island the companies that balked at backing it were falling over themselves with offers to Schwartz for a revival series.
Despite the offers. Schwartz was hesitant to agree citing the physical demands of a series on the 15 year older cast, and how such a series might affect the highly profitable and popular syndication of the old series and finally if the joke might get old after all those years. He proposed a compromise that he had intended with the base series in case the ratings started to drop.
The plan was for the castaways to be rescued again and the Howells build a resort on the Island for people who want to get away from technology & the world with the rest of the (former) castaways as partners. This way guest stars could carry part of the load while keeping the story fresh.
There was resistance to the idea and a compromise was made. Another movie The Castaways on Gilligan’s Island was made based on Schwartz’s idea. The cast and publicity was all set the movie filmed and publicity set to promote it and the series that would follow when NBC unexpectedly moved broadcast 11 days AHEAD of the schedule despite all the publicity for the old date, even TV Guide couldn’t be changed in time.
Seemingly the move was made to counter the CBS movie Ike a highly promoted film about the ex president at a time when there was a lot of living memory & interest in him. With an 8:30 start time, it’s likely the idea was to have people already watching Gilligan a half hour before Ike could get off the ground and they would stick with Gilligan right through the end.
Unfortunately for the network & Gilligan was prepared. The normal Thursday night lineup for ABC was Robin Williams Mork & Mindy one of the most popular series on Television followed by Benson. Rather than risk losing part of the Mork audience to Gilligan ABC scheduled back to back episodes of Mork & Mindy. Not only did that solid lead in protect Ike but despite the best efforts of the Gilligan & Co which managed to more than double the ratings of their 8 PM lead, their 26 share while respectable was no 52.
Suddenly the money that people were rushing to throw at Schwartz dried up and Gilligan was reduced to one final TV movie special The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan’s Island two years later and a short-lived cartoon series Gilligan’s Planet.
Apparently CBS knows it’s TV history because rather than risk the lead from their new series the Millers, they put that off a week and started The Big Bang Theory’s 7th season with their first two episodes back to back.
In addition to absolutely crushing ABC’s Agent’s of S.H.I.E.L.D (which they might have hoped would take some of the comic book geek audience away from Sheldon & Company Big Bang gave 5.8 lead-in spotting Robin Williams 19+ million viewers already tuned in.
The Crazy ones only kept 15 1/2 of that 19+ Million but that was still more than double of any other network show that night except for Big Bang.
It was a VERY funny show and Robin Williams still has it all except for money after two divorces which is why he did the series. His sad loss will have the side effect of a lot of laughs for a lot of people (Kelly Clarkson cracking up at the end credits was worth it alone). But he didn’t get those rating alone.
But while I’m sure Williams & Geller will earn plenty of ratings on their own they should tip his hat to CBS execs who were smart enough to help make sure plenty of new eyes see the old dog’s new trick.
I’ve been much luckier than Robin Williams in marriage but i’m still $56 shy of this week’s paycheck with no daily series in site.
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