Sherwood Schwartz, the man behind the iconic television shows Gilligan’s Island and The Brady Bunch, has died, TMZ is reporting. Schwartz was 94.
Beginning his entertainment career as a gag writer for Bob Hope, Schwartz abandoned his pursuit of becoming a doctor to work on several early radio and television shows, including The Adventures Of Ozzie And Harriet and The Alan Young Show. He worked for six years as the head writer on The Red Skelton Show, a job he accepted only with the condition that he would never have to meet with Skelton face to face: As he related in this interview, he’d heard horror stories about Skelton motivating his predecessor to “write funnier” by firing guns at his feet, and Schwartz, understandably, wanted none of that.
In 1964, Schwartz finally got the autonomy and freedom from the threat of gun violence he craved by creating Gilligan’s Island, a sitcom that had few supporters among network executives (or even his own representatives). As chronicled in his 1988 book Inside Gilligan’s Island, Schwartz had to resist network suggestion that the show become Gilligan’s Travels—the story of a skipper and his bumbling first mate taking different groups of people on various charter vacations—and insist that it remain the tale of seven strangers stranded on an island, an idea that no one seemed to understand or think audiences would appreciate. Chief among their complaints was that every episode would require tons of exposition to clue in new viewers as to who these wildly varied people were and how they ended up there—a problem Schwartz solved in 60 seconds by co-writing one of the most memorable theme songs of all time.
Despite its inherent goofiness, Schwartz always said that he saw Gilligan’s Island, at its root, as a very serious exploration of how strangers learn to compromise and live together. He would embark on a similarly silly sociological statement with his other famous creation: The Brady Bunch was based on rising divorce rates and the mixed families it was producing—and like Gilligan’s Island, it also dealt with very different people learning to live in harmony. And once again, Schwartz found a way to distill the Bradys’ backstory into a catchy jingle that likely will outlive the show it hails from, and will no doubt be handed down through future generations like some ancient folk song whose origins have been obscured through the mists of time.
Schwartz spent much of his life working with Gilligan and The Bradys on various spin-offs, reunion movies, and the like, but he also has plenty of other credits to his name. Notably, he created the bizarre, short-lived sci-fi/fantasy series It’s About Time, in which two time-traveling astronauts have to adjust to living with a prehistoric cave family. Though it was very short-lived, it’s another show whose theme song (also co-written by Schwartz) has definitely become more popular than it ever was, giving it some semblance of immortality.
Schwartz also dabbled in setting sitcoms in the Wild West with Dusty’s Trail, and built Big John, Little John around the premise of a 40-year-old man whose encounter with the Fountain of Youth turns him into a 12-year-old boy. Those kinds of experiments with TV based in outlandish scenarios—a style that has gone in and out of vogue ever since Schwartz started—somewhat ended with his more straightforward Harper Valley PTA, while the rest of his film and television career was dominated by various Gilligan and Brady rehashes. Given those shows' overwhelming, unprecedented success in syndication and their immense pop cultural impact, however, you can hardly blame him. Schwartz also wrote for the stage, beginning with the still-running Gilligan’s Island: The Musical. His last production, Rockers, debuted in 2006.