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The guiding force behind two of the most popular youth-oriented series of the 20th century, Sherwood Schwartz created, wrote and produced "Gilligan's Island" (CBS, 1964-67) and "The Brady Bunch" (ABC, 1969-1974). Though simplistic comedies - often to the point of absurdity - their gentle humor and likable characters found favor with young audiences, who helped put both shows into heavy rotation via syndication in the 1970s. Schwartz oversaw a dizzying array of spin-offs, tributes, feature film versions and even reality shows based on the two programs for the majority of his career, which lasted well into his ninth decade. His contributions to the television landscape, though by no means high art, were well loved, which was enough to ensure his immortality as a giant in the medium.Born Sherwood Charles Schwartz in Passaic, NJ on Nov. 14, 1916, he came to his chosen career entirely by accident. In need of money to support himself while pursuing a master's degree in science, he turned to his brother, Al, who worked as a writer for comedian Bob Hope's radio program. Schwartz pitched material to the entertainer, who soon brought him aboard as a member of his writing staff in 1939. During World War II, he...
The guiding force behind two of the most popular youth-oriented series of the 20th century, Sherwood Schwartz created, wrote and produced "Gilligan's Island" (CBS, 1964-67) and "The Brady Bunch" (ABC, 1969-1974). Though simplistic comedies - often to the point of absurdity - their gentle humor and likable characters found favor with young audiences, who helped put both shows into heavy rotation via syndication in the 1970s. Schwartz oversaw a dizzying array of spin-offs, tributes, feature film versions and even reality shows based on the two programs for the majority of his career, which lasted well into his ninth decade. His contributions to the television landscape, though by no means high art, were well loved, which was enough to ensure his immortality as a giant in the medium.
Born Sherwood Charles Schwartz in Passaic, NJ on Nov. 14, 1916, he came to his chosen career entirely by accident. In need of money to support himself while pursuing a master's degree in science, he turned to his brother, Al, who worked as a writer for comedian Bob Hope's radio program. Schwartz pitched material to the entertainer, who soon brought him aboard as a member of his writing staff in 1939. During World War II, he continued to write for radio as a member of the Armed Forces Radio Service, penning scripts for "Mail Call," "Jubilee," and other related military shows. After his discharge, he worked on "The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet" before segueing to the then-new medium of television.
Schwartz's television career began with "I Married Joan" (NBC, 1952-55), a lightweight comedy with Jim Backus as a domestic court judge who resolved cases by relating them to his experiences with his wife (Joan Davis). He then moved on to a lengthy collaboration with veteran comic Red Skelton, with whom he had a contentious relationship; after becoming the head writer for "The Red Skelton Hour" (NBC/CBS, 1951-1971), he made a provision in his contract that he would not have to meet face-to-face with Skelton. After winning an Emmy for his work in 1961, Schwartz left Skelton in 1962 to work as a script supervisor for the 1963-64 season of "My Favorite Martian" (CBS, 1963-66).
In 1964, Schwartz sold the pilot for "Gilligan's Island" to CBS. A lightweight but amusing story of seven disparate personalities - a bumbling sailor (Bob Denver), his captain (Alan Hale, Jr.), an unctuous millionaire ("I Married Joan" star Jim Backus) and his wife (Natalie Schafer), a movie star (Tina Louise), a professor (Russell Johnson) and a farm girl (Dawn Wells) - who must learn to live together after being shipwrecked on a South Seas island. Dismissed as a flop in the making by critics and even members of its own cast, "Gilligan" turned out to be a solid ratings success for three years, during which its storylines grew more absurd with each passing episode; despite its remote location, the island was visited by a rock group, cosmonauts, surfers, movie producers and even a monster spider. Children were the show's most devoted audience, and its scripts, penned largely by Schwartz, his brother Al and son Elroy, played to them. Sherwood's other son, Lloyd, then a UCLA student, worked on the show as a dialogue coach. The show's jaunty, memorable theme song was a collaboration between Schwartz and George Wyle - making the classic program a true family production.
Despite remaining in the Top 25 programs during its entire network run, CBS pulled the plug on "Gilligan" at the end of its third season to make room for the venerable "Gunsmoke" (CBS, 1955-1975). The cancellation was a surprise for all involved, especially Schwartz, who had assured his cast that a fourth season was in the cards. However, the show was a goldmine in syndication for its creator, who shrewdly played to each new generation of devoted viewers by yielding various reunion TV movies, animated spin-offs, tribute episodes on other series, and even a musical, penned by Lloyd Schwartz and his sister, Hope Juber, in 1992. There was even a reality series, "The Real Gilligan's Island" (TBS, 2004-05), with teams of contestants assuming the identities of the castaways while competing for prizes. Schwartz and his son also began work on a feature film adaptation in 2008, but eventually sold the rights to Warner Bros. for a possible film release in 2011.
Schwartz's next effort for CBS was "It's About Time" (1966-67), another fish-out-of-water story; this time about two astronauts accidentally thrown back into prehistoric times, which they attempt to survive while living with a family of cavemen led by established comics Joe E. Ross and Imogene Coca. The series utilized numerous sets, props and incidental music from "Gilligan," but failed to reproduce its popularity. A second season re-tooling, which sent the astronauts and their cavemen to the 20th century, did not boost its ratings, and the show was cancelled after one season.
An article in The Los Angeles Times gave Schwartz the inspiration for his next series. After reading that over 40 percent of U.S. families had a child or children from a previous marriage, Schwartz conceived of a series about two widowers (Robert Reed and Florence Henderson) - both parents of three children - who marry and create their own large, integrated family. All three networks wanted the series, but also requested their own input. However, the success of the 1968 film "Yours, Mine and Ours" convinced ABC to launch "The Brady Bunch," Schwartz's second iconic program. The series was once again a family affair for the Schwartzes, with Elroy Schwartz contributing numerous scripts and Lloyd Schwartz serving as producer.
Designed as a classic family series that focused on basic issues and problems that could be easily solved through cooperation and love, "The Brady Bunch" was a modest hit with younger viewers, many of whom viewed the good-natured Bradys with a mixture of envy and adoration. Behind the scenes, however, the show was plagued by a variety of conflicts, most notably between Schwartz and Reed, who viewed the storylines as juvenile. In 1971, the show attempted to combat the rising popularity of "The Partridge Family" (ABC, 1970-74) by making the Brady kids into a pop group, which further steeped the show on shaky ground. However, audiences responded to this new direction, and the young actors found themselves as unlikely pop stars.
"Brady Bunch" came to an end in 1974, but like "Gilligan," became a massive hit via syndication during time blocks that ran after most school days ended. Again, Schwartz wisely launched a series of follow-ups and spin-offs, including an animated series called "The Brady Kids" (ABC, 1972-74), several TV movie reunions and reunion specials, and even a bizarre variety series, "The Brady Bunch Variety Hour" (ABC, 1976-77) which featured most of the original cast in garish song-and-dance numbers. In 1995, Schwartz served as executive producer on "The Brady Bunch Movie," a broad parody of the original show's hopelessly square vibe. A stage play, "The Real Live Brady Bunch," offered straight-faced re-enactments of episodes in the early 1990s, with future stars Andy Richter and Jane Lynch among its cast.
Schwartz's subsequent efforts at series did not enjoy the same success as their predecessors. "Dusty's Trail" (syndicated, 1973-74) was a Western comedy with Bob Denver as an assistant wagon train leader that borrowed much of its humor and premise from "Gilligan," while "Big John, Little John" (NBC, 1976) was a live-action series for Saturday morning audiences with Herb Edelman as a middle-aged teacher who sporadically turns into a boy (Robbie Rist from "The Brady Bunch) after drinking from the Fountain of Youth. "Harper Valley PTA" (NBC, 1981-82) was a sitcom spin-off of the 1978 comedy feature about a single mom (Barbara Eden) battling small town hypocrites. His final attempt to launch a new series was "The Invisible Woman" (NBC, 1983), a comedy take on the well-worn science fiction premise with (again) Bob Denver as a scientist whose invisibility formula is consumed by a young assistant.
Schwartz's success stories - the Bradys and the castaways - kept him remarkably busy in the ensuing two decades. He served as executive producer on all of the spin-offs and film adaptations of the two series, and penned his take on his "Gilligan" years in 1988's Inside Gilligan's Island. In 2006, he wrote the play, "Rockers," about the lives of three woman in a retirement home, which saw sporadic productions over the next two years. He received his long-overdue star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2008. The long-revered producer eventually passed away at age 94 on July 11, 2011, surrounded by his family.
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