Welcome to the first installment of Stay Tuned: Musical Television Episodes from Gilligan’s Island to Grey’s Anatomy. This series will explore the intersections of musical theatre and popular television shows throughout history.
“The Producer,” is one of the earliest musical television episodes. The episode originally aired October 3, 1966 on CBS and is the 4th episode of the 3rd season of Gillian’s Island. To view the full episode, please click on one of the links at the end of the article.
This musical episode guest stars Broadway veteran Phil Silvers (High Button Shoes, Top Banana, Do Re Mi, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum) as Harold Hecuba, an egotistical and tyrannical film producer who is stranded on the island after his plane crashes. In an effort to impress Hecuba, the castaways decide to put on a musical. Gilligan, The Professor, and The Skipper decide to musicalize one of the books they have lying around which include The Carpenter’s Handbook and Integrated Calculus, the trio finally decides on Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
The writers of the episode, Gerald Gardner and Dee Caruso use the classic play-within-a-play formula to justify the use of song in the episode. In fact, the music doesn’t begin until over halfway through the show. “The Producer” lacks the clear-cut subplots and sophisticated integration of comedy, farce, satire, ballad-play, and burlesque representative of John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera (1728); however, it does utilize pre-existing music from the classical repertoire paired with different lyrics. In this light, “The Producer” bears some resemblance to the 18th century ballad opera genre, a precursor to the American musical. For example, the opening song to Hamlet: The Musical entitled “To Be or Not to Be” is set to Georges Bizet’s “Habanera” aria from Carmen (1875) and features some of Shakespeare’s original text. Subsequently, Polonius (The Skipper) sings an ode to fiscal conservatism entitled, “To Thine Own Self Be True,” set to the “March of the Toreadors,” also from Carmen.
Unfortunately, the castaway’s plan of winning Hecuba over by musicalizing Shakespeare doesn’t quite pan out. Unhappy with the castaway’s production and Shakespeare’s writing, Hecuba resolves to direct and star in Hamlet: The Musical as a one-man show, arguing “if [Shakespeare] was alive today, I’d have him working on a full rewrite.”
“The Producer” is one of the earliest non-musical television shows to feature a musical episode and has become a fan favorite.