Now sit right down and you'll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful trip . . . whose first incarnation has surprisingly never been seen on television. Until tonight, that is.
Even non-fans may recognize those opening lines from the theme to "Gilligan's Island." Yet among the trivial treasures of viewing the pilot for the series, to be unveiled at 8:05 tonight on cable's TBS network, is a ridiculous Calypso song that originally set up the castaway theme.
We also see another actor as the Professor, John Gabriel (not Russell Johnson). Further, Ginger is not a movie star, but a secretary played by Kit Smythe (not Tina Louise), and the character who would become Mary Ann is another secretary named Bunny, played by Nancy McCarthy (not Dawn Wells).
However, all the other elements of Sherwood Schwartz's silly creation are here: Alan Hale Jr. and Bob Denver as the Skipper and bumbling Gilligan, Natalie Schaefer and Jim Backus as wealthy Lovey and Thurston Howell 3rd, and an infantile brand of physical humor that would propel the series into perpetual rerun heaven.
Naturally, Gilligan stupidly bungles an effort at rescue, thus setting the plot for every one of the 98 episodes to follow. In this case, he surf casts the radio transmitter the Professor has finally restored into the ocean. Later, the entire cast speaks into the mouths of fishes in hopes of triggering the device, on the theory that a denizen of the deep may have swallowed it.
And no original episode of "Gilligan's" could fail to have the old falling coconuts gag.
The first episode of "Gilligan" ran on CBS Sept. 26, 1964, but did not include any scenes from the pilot being screened tonight. TBS says producers ultimately salvaged some footage and spliced it into subsequent shows -- for example, fans will recognize the scenes of Gilligan fishing on the beach.
Curiously, the Skipper and Gilligan have a little more history in the pilot. One scene has the pair recalling an incident in the Navy when Gilligan apparently saved the Skipper's life.
"Not exactly. You only prolonged it so you can give me more bad luck," growls the Skipper.
Nothing in the first version of "Gilligan," however, would argue against some of the critical reactions to the series when it did reach the air, as quoted by TBS in its publicity for tonight's premiere.
"It's impossible that a more inept, moronic or humorless show has ever appeared on the home tube," thundered the wire service United Press International. The Los Angeles Times wrote that the show "is a television series that never should have reached the air this season or any other season."
Ah, but the final line of the pilot's theme song really got it right: "Perhaps they will be here for evermore."
By way of emphasis, TBS follows tonight's half-hour pilot episode by screening "Rescue From Gilligan's Island." The 1978 film is one of three TV movies made since the series left the air in 1967.
Further, the show spawned a Saturday morning animated TV series and just last summer yielded up "Gilligan's Island: The Musical," a stage version launched in the tourist town of Flat Rock, N.C.