One day in 1964, TV producer Sherwood Schwartz received a strange message – from the U.S. Coast Guard. And that wasn’t the only message. Schwartz received a series of telegram forwards from the Coast Guard. He had just launched a new show on CBS about seven castaways stranded on a desert island…and Americans were demanding that the Coast Guard mount a rescue.
In a paper for the Center for Media Literacy, William F. Fore wrote that Schwartz was “mystified” by the telegrams. Concerned and delusional viewers were angry that the Coast Guard couldn’t spare one ship to send for those people.
“For several weeks, now, we have seen American citizens stranded on some Pacific island,” one viewer wrote to the Coast Guard. “We spend millions in foreign aid. Why not send one U.S. destroyer to rescue those poor people before they starve to death?”
Part of what was mystifying to the producer was the existence of a laugh track on the show.
“Who did they think was laughing at the survivors of the wreck of the U.S.S. Minnow?” Schwartz told Entertainment Weekly. “It boggled my mind. Where did they think the music came from, and the commercials?”
In his book “Inside Gilligan’s Island,” Schwartz recalled discovering the telegrams for the first time. When the show was only ten weeks old, Schwartz received a call from a Commander Doyle of the U.S. Coast Guard. Having spent time in the Army as a Corporal, Schwartz was still impressed by rank, and took the call.
Doyle told Schwartz he would tell him the important message over the phone, but he wasn’t sure the Hollywood producer would believe him. So a few days later, Doyle was in Schwartz’ office, presenting the producer with a number of envelopes containing messages, like the one above, demanding to rescue the Minnow.
The telegrams he received from Doyle stayed with Schwartz his whole life. He noted that there is a subset of people watching who believe everything they see.
“It seems to me a great opportunity for producers to accentuate the positive in those viewers,” Schwartz wrote, “Instead of inspiring the negative.”