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Tuned In: 'Gilligan' goes back to where it began

Saturday, October 13, 2001

By Rob Owen Post-Gazette TV Editor

What a weird experience it is to watch "Surviving Gilligan's Island: The Incredibly True Story of the Longest Three-Hour Tour in History" (9 p.m. tomorrow). Not only does it have the longest, most unwieldy title in recent memory, it's also incredibly bad TV; yet, at the same time, it's oddly endearing.

This bizarre hybrid of an "E! True Hollywood Story" (with sweetener) and a dramatic behind-the-scenes movie re-creation is executive produced by Dawn Wells (Mary Ann), who appears on camera along with Bob Denver (Gilligan) and Russell Johnson (The Professor).

Wells, Denver and Johnson speak directly to the camera on a tacky, "Gilligan's Island"-like studio set. Wells "bakes" coconut pies throughout the show as she, Denver and Johnson recount filming the series. The film cuts between these remembrances and scenes of actors playing Wells and the other "Gilligan's Island" cast members.

In one scene, the real Wells steps into a scene to fix the hair of Samantha Harris, the actress playing young Dawn Wells.

Some of the acting is atrocious, but "Surviving Gilligan's Island" gives viewers exactly what they want: It's a portrait of the cast as family, something people inherently long to believe is true of the people who star in their favorite programs.

The film explains how "Gilligan's Island" came to be, why the theme song changed between the first and second seasons, and how cast members were chosen and who else was considered for the roles.

It shows the actors filming the pilot (where they learn of the assassination of President Kennedy) and shows them getting together for meals after the series' cancellation. In the oddest moment that doesn't fit the tone of "Surviving Gilligan's Island," viewers see Natalie "Mrs. Howell" Schafer (E.J. Peaker) open her blouse to reveal mastectomy scars to a friend facing surgery for breast cancer. It's completely jarring.

Everyone comes off well with the exception of Tina Louise (Ginger), who isn't vilified, but certainly seems like a prima donna Actress with a capital A.

Watch for Rodger Bingham ("Survivor II: The Australian Outback") as a Navy commander who meets with series creator Sherwood Schwartz (Aaron Lustig) to tell him viewers are sending telegrams to the Navy begging them to rescue the castaways (some viewers actually believed Gilligan and the gang were stranded).

"Surviving Gilligan's Island" isn't good TV, but it is fascinating and sometimes unintentionally funny.

'Survivor: Africa'

In a teleconference with reporters last week, deceptive hype master Mark Burnett promised viewers that after the first three minutes of "Survivor: Africa" they'd be saying to themselves, "Oh yeah, they're back."

I still wasn't saying it after 30 minutes.

To be fair, "Survivor" always starts slowly because the show's best attribute -- the personalities and their squabbles -- don't emerge in full bloom until later episodes. But during the premiere of "Survivor III" I was bored by the now-familiar set up.

The African setting is beautiful and the music was especially well-suited to the images, but few of the characters stood out. As for drama, the bean bungle was as exciting as it got.

Buran tribe member Clarence opened a can of beans, supposedly for ailing teammate Diane, but he ate some himself. It's not quite a Watergate level scandal, but in the world of "Survivor," it was enough to anger other contestants, including Virginia goat herder Tommy.

Clarence got a few votes for dismissal, but it was still weak Diane who got canned, so to speak.

Ratings-wise, "Survivor III" wasn't the dud some predicted.

It didn't help that President Bush's first prime-time press conference pushed the show's start time to about 8:50 p.m. In early national overnight ratings, "Survivor" appeared to come in second opposite NBC's "Friends" and "Will & Grace."

In Pittsburgh, "Survivor" was No. 1 and Pittsburgh was the No. 2 market in the country for the show. The debut of "Survivor: Africa" garnered lower ratings than the first Thursday telecast of "Survivor: The Australian Outback," but this reality show remains a tough competitor. CBS will rebroadcast the "Africa" premiere Wednesday at 10 p.m. in place of the low-rated "Wolf Lake."

'Scrub' in

After watching all the pilots this fall, no show compelled me to beg viewers to tune in. But after seeing several episodes of "Scrubs" (9:30 p.m. Tuesday, NBC), I'm ready to beg, encourage and cajole viewers to watch.

The episode airing Tuesday is especially well done. I got a sneak peek and it shows what "Scrubs" does best, mixing goofy comedy with heartfelt sentiment as the medical interns face three particularly trying cases.

Kathryn Joosten (Mrs. Landingham on "The West Wing") guest stars as a patient under the care of J.D. (Zach Braff). She tries his patience and teaches him a lesson. It's a wonderful half-hour of television that's easy to recommend.

Interpreting 'ER'

Some viewers may have wondered what Dr. Romano (Paul McCrane) signed to the deaf son of Dr. Benton (Eriq La Salle) in Thursday's episode. Turns out it was uncharacteristically kind for the usually abrasive Romano.

According to a publicist for the show, Romano signed, "Take good care of your daddy."

No wonder

It seemed extremely odd this summer when former WPXI consumer reporter Mike "Bogey" Boguslawski contacted me to express an interest in working for KDKA-TV.

Maybe he saw the writing on the wall. This week he was let go by KCBS, the CBS-owned station in Los Angeles.

What they meant to say...

Acting like a playground bully picking on the little guy, KDKA-TV misled viewers Thursday night in a promotional spot touting its 10 p.m. news on sister station WNPA.

"Due to baseball, there will be no Fox 53 10 O'Clock News," the KDKA announcer said before directing viewers to its 10 p.m. news on Channel 19.

But that's not true. WPGH's 10 p.m. newscast is airing at 10 p.m. on sister station WCWB on nights that baseball pre-empts the news on Fox.

KDKA director of marketing Mike Gerst said his station didn't know about WPGH's plans.

"As of the time we put the spot together, we were unaware they were moving their newscast to The WB," Gerst said. "We have since modified it to say 'there will be no Fox 53 10 O'Clock news on Fox 53,' which is true."

Except that Channel 53 is airing its newscast a second time after the ball game on Fox. So maybe it should say, "there will be no Fox 53 10 O'Clock News on Fox 53 at 10."

Have you ever witnessed a business more goofy and immature than local television?

Not that WPGH is immune from ill-advised promos. A viewer called to complain about a Channel 53 tease Thursday night that ended with the question "Is it anthrax?" about a scare at the Federal Building Downtown.

The caller saw the promo at 7:30 p.m., hours before the newscast, and thought in the current climate it was especially tacky to ask a fear-inducing question without providing an answer. I'd argue spots that attempt to scare viewers into watching are always careless. WPGH did pull the promo, which did not air again after 8 p.m.


Soap fest canceled

Late this week NBC canceled its Soap FanFest due to "current world events." FanFest had been scheduled for the weekend of Nov. 3 at Universal Studios in Orlando.

Rob Owen can be reached at 412-263-2582 or rowen@post-gazette.com. Post questions or comments about TV to www.post-gazette.com/tv under PG Online Talk.

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