About Christmas TV History

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Gilligan's Island Christmas (1964)

The first season of this sitcom was shot in stunning black and white.

With the hundreds of hours of new holiday programming generated each November and December, it's so easy to forget about the classics.  Sometimes we can lose track of our Christmas spirit unless we actively incorporate the past into the present.  How long has it been since you've seen the Gilligan's Island holiday episode?  With the title "Birds Gotta Fly, Fish Gotta Talk," it's easy to lose track of this first season Christmas installment.  But this classic episode is still seen each holiday season as the 1960s TV comedy continues to entertain into the 21st century (the series is currently airing on Me-TV).

On the island, the castaways' tree isn't a fir tree but rather, a bamboo one.

In this episode, the castaways are celebrating Christmas on the island by decorating a tree and discussing their fantasy Christmas wish lists.  Their hearts warm when Gilligan expresses that his wish is for the group's rescue off the island.

The seven castaways head to the beach to await the rescue boats.  As they are waiting, they reminisce about their first days stranded on the island.

It is then that the castaways hear a news broadcast from the radio that explains that a rescue ship is headed for an uncharted island after survivors from the SS Minnow have been spotted by a Navy weather device.  Gilligan's Christmas wish is going to come true and the castaways begin to pack and prepare for their eventual rescue.  The bulk of the episode's story are flashback scenes to the castaways' first days on the deserted island.

On their first moments on the island, the survivors discover that the damage to the SS Minnow will not allow them to head back out to sea.

In an attempt to keep Gilligan out of trouble, the Skipper sends his Good Buddy away from the valuable radio and transmitter--to catch fish on the beach.

The flashback scenes contain a story within-a-story of Gilligan complicating matters after the castaways wash up on shore after the SS Minnow was caught in a storm.  (Consult the series' theme song lyrics for the complete story of how the castaways found themselves on the island).  The flashback footage shows Gilligan being Gilligan--he falls through the holes in the damaged boat which reveal how un-seaworthy their boat has become.  The Professor and the Skipper decide to work with the radio devices to see if they can contact a passing ship to organize rescue efforts.  To keep Gilligan from causing more trouble, they send him to the edge of the water to try to catch fish for dinner.  But Gilligan's fishing rod casting snags the radio and the transmitter--hauling both electronic devices into the ocean! 

Is that marching band music?

Eventually, Gilligan catches a great many fish and piles them on the beach.  He's caught off guard when he can hear the voice of an exercise class instructor coming from the pile of fish.  It turns out that one of the fish has swallowed the radio--and perhaps one of these other fish has swallowed the transmitter?  Each of the castways begins talking into the fish carcasses to see if they can locate the transmitter as well. 

Ginger speaks into a fish to see if the transmitter is inside.  I guess this is where the meaning of the episode's title comes in, "...Fish Gotta Talk."

As the gang reminisces about their first days on the uncharted desert isle, they hear the latest news update on the radio.  The castaways spotted earlier have indeed been rescued!  However, they are not survivors of the SS Minnow as anticipated but rather ANOTHER group of castaways who have been stranded for eleven years on another uncharted island!  Our gang is disappointed that they won't be home for Christmas this year.

Santa Claus shows up on the beach of their uncharted desert isle.

Does Santa look a little familiar?  Hey WAIT A MINUTE--where's the Skipper?

In the final moments of the episode, as the survivors are sitting around their campfire on Christmas Eve, the group is approached by Santa Claus!  Though the group is feeling down about not being rescued (yet again), Santa reminds them to feel grateful for what they do have.  He explains that they are lucky to not still be lost at sea, on an island with food and water supplies, and he reminds them about their friendships.  As the castaways' mood shifts, Santa disappears, and the Skipper enters the campsite carrying fire wood.  Now the survivors are left to wonder about the true identity of their midnight visitor.

What did I miss? says the Skipper. 

While flashback episodes are often seen by TV viewers as lesser storylines--created by recycling clips from previously seen episodes--these clip shows are often used as Christmas storylines.  I believe that if a series is going to create a clip show, why not make it a holiday episode?  Isn't this the one time of year that we all indulge ourselves in our memories of the past?  Certainly TV characters might engage in the same nostalgia.  Yet, some clip shows are better than others.  Remember the 1956 Christmas episode of I Love Lucy?  In that meaningful clip show, we are reminded of several of the series' past highlights including the episode in which Lucy tells Ricky that she's pregnant, the episode of Little Ricky’s birth, and a clip of Lucy singing off-key during a barbershop quartet performance.  However, an example of a Christmas episode that clearly suffers from the recycling of clips is 1978's "Retrospective," (often airing as Parts 1 and 2 in syndication) from the series Diff'rent Strokes.  The hour-long holiday clip show is only the eighth episode in the first season, thus the recap covers all seven of the previous episodes!?  It often seems like a viewer's waste of time to reminisce about such a short period of time.  How do you feel about clip shows?

Another cool detail:  castaway Thurston Howell III (center of photo) played by Jim Backus is also known as the voice of Magoo in the Christmas animated classic Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol.

It should be noted that the Gilligan's Island Christmas clip show is a little different.  The flashback scenes that construct this clip show are recycled from an unaired pilot (seen only by network execs) that was shot during the Fall of 1963 in Hawaii.  According to series creator Sherwood Schwartz in his book Inside Gilligan's Island, the execs wanted the first episode of the series to begin with the castaways looking for a way off the island.  (Since viewers know that the castaways are already stranded--courtesy of the opening theme tune lyrics--execs claimed an explanatory episode was not required).  Using the previously shot footage from the pilot in this Christmas episode, TV viewers finally get a look at what happened in the first moments when the the seven survivors first find themselves stranded on the island.  How cool is that?


  1. It all depends on how the clip show is done, really. This episode sounds like it used the clips well. It's nothing to do with Christmas, but the best clip show ever was on VOYAGERS, "The Trial of Phineas Bogg," which saved Universal a little money, but also had a gripping plot and introduced a Moriarty to the series.

  2. Thanks for your comment. I agree--it depends on how the clips are used. But even Desi Arnaz didn't value the clip show. That's why the 1956 Christmas episode of I Love Lucy was never put in with the syndication package--leaving it out of decades-worth of reruns. Oh well.