Sherwood Schwartz, creator of The Brady Bunch and Gilligan's Island, died early this morning, his great niece tells the Associated Press. USA Today says the veteran producer "died of natural causes in his sleep surrounded by his family." He was 94.
As The Washington Post points out, Gilligan's Island has achieved "a sort of immortality" in syndication despite only running on CBS for three seasons for 1964 to 1967. The Brady Bunch ran five seasons on ABC from 1969 to 1974, but found new life in reruns and spawned numerous reunion films.
Schwartz began his career writing jokes for Bob Hope and Ozzie Nelson on the radio. Screenwriter Ben Schwartz recalled Schwartz telling him during an interview that when his jokes weren't up to snuff on The Bob Hope Show a fellow writer "folded them into a paper airplane and sent them out the window." In addition to creating Gilligan's Island and The Brady Bunch, Schwartz also composed their theme songs. NPR is characterizing them "undeniably hummable" this afternoon which is true, but they were also the background noise to countless American childhoods, including our own.
On Twitter, Vulture blogger Joe Adalian brought our attention to Schwartz's fabulous six hour interview with the Archive of American Television, conducted in 1997. We're going to watch the entire interview later, but here are the segments that jumped out at us immediately.
Pitching Gilligan's Island to CBS.
Casting The Brady Bunch, with special emphasis on his frosty relationship with leading man Robert Reed.
How to explain the lasting appeal of Schwartz's two major shows? Time's James Poniewozik argues it comes from Schwartz, and his fondness for "the kind of premise, simple but flexible, that would provide endless setups and hit a sweet spot of audience identification." He elaborates:
Gilligan, for instance, was not The Tempest, but it worked with a classic setup later emulated by Survivor and Lost and TV shows that did not take place on desert islands: take a group of very different people, from all classes of society, strand them together and see what happens. The Brady Bunch, likewise—a squeaky-clean story of a lovely lady and the widower she formed a blended family with—was not exactly groundbreaking social commentary. But amid the social and domestic disturbances of the late '60s and early '70s, people connected with two families moving on from losses in their past to learn lessons about not playing ball in the house.
If you don't believe that, you also probably don't think a coconut can be turned into a perfectly functional phone.
Update 1: The Hollywood Reporter has posted a letter given to them by Schwartz prior to his death, titled "A Conversation at the Gates." Below, a screenshot from the document, with Sherwood's loopy cursive font preserved.
Update 2: Dipping into the archives, the Los Angeles Times had a fascinating roundtable discussion with Schwartz, Carl Reiner (The Dick Van Dyke Show), Norman Lear (All In the Family), and Leonard Stern (Get Smart) about the "golden" age of television back in 2003. What changed? "You could win battles then," observed Schwartz. "You can't win battles now."