Monday, June 2, 2014

Summer of MeTV Blogathon: The Love Boat

It's that time of the year again! This retrospective is part of the Summer of MeTV Classic TV Blogathon hosted by the Classic TV Blog Association. Click here to check out the blogathon's complete schedule! Guaranteed good times!

In Aaron Spelling’s wonderful autobiography A Prime-Time Life, the producer extraordinaire comments that he owes a lot to O. Henry, whose short stories were an inspiration for many of Spelling's projects. “We didn’t steal from O. Henry,” Spelling writes, “but we did use his form.” Shows like The Love Boat, Fantasy Island and Hotel (and earlier Dick Powell’s Zane Grey Theater) were “short O. Henry-style tales with a twist at the end.”

O. Henry must have been an inspiration for Douglas S. Cramer too, who worked behind the scenes at Love, American Style as Executive Vice President in Charge of Production. He loved the romance anthology format and it spurred Cramer to find another venue to use this type of short form relationship-driven storytelling. He had acquired the rights to Jeraldine Saunders tawdry and fun novel The Love Boats and created two pilots based on the book. The TVMs garnered OK ratings but were not picked up for a series. Cramer asked Spelling to help him get a third pilot off the ground and they fine-tuned the cast, which included bringing aboard the beloved Gavin McLeod who’d recently found himself out of work with the cancellation of The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Both Cramer and Spelling also agreed that they would produce the pilot film under a much tighter budget. The third time was a charm, and as romance on the high seas set sail, the rest as they say, is television history.

Behind the scenes on The Love Boat: Bernie Kopell prepares for his closeup.
Love Boat ran for ten glorious seasons, experienced their share of casting ups and downs and even a few real life calamities (Fred Grandy suffered burns to his hands and face after and odd balloon accident!), but as far as the viewers’ 60 minute dose on Saturday nights were concerned, all that could be seen was magic (well, minus the Love Boat Mermaids… sorry ladies).

Apparently, John Ritter had just seen Tootsie right before he boarded The Love Boat!
Despite the critical disdain, the nickname the “Sex Barge,” and the fact that it originally ran against the highly rated Carol Burnett Show, audiences turned up in droves, and surprisingly enough, the show was a family favorite. Although Love Boat was seen as a response to the sexual revolution, the series exuded an air of innocence, most likely because it concentrated on romance and the stories upheld a very traditional boy-meets-girl-boy-gets-girl way of storytelling. Fred Grandy once said that the show resonated with audiences because, “Love was more than a stateroom and a Do Not Disturb Sign.” Grandy was right, the Love Boat featured young and old, rich and poor, divorced, widowed and single on equal footing in the game of love.

A promo still for The Love Boat: Joanie Loves Chachi Loves Isaac and Gopher
And it was Spelling’s respect and admiration for old Hollywood that brought a lot of the classic stars to the small screen, making high seas amore all the more tender and tangible. In fact, it was Spelling’s desire to showcase actors who had, for lack of a better phrase, been thrown out to sea, that has made the series undeniably timeless, despite some other dated elements (although I do love a good bell bottomed pantsuit any day of the week). Commenting on ageism in Hollywood, Spelling wrote, “It’s criminal the way they’re treated. The moment a woman’s breasts droop one inch, they don’t work anymore, as opposed to countries like England, where the Margaret Rutherfords work forever and are revered. But in our crazy country, once you reach a certain age, you’re dead. It’s a very sad statement. So if we can use an established star who’s not working, it’s a privilege.”

Olivia de Havilland and Joseph Cotten find romance and yellow shirts on The Love Boat
Boy, did Love Boat fill the roster with great Hollywood stars! Everyone from Kaye Ballard, Ethel Merman, Vera Miles to Joan Fontaine signed up for comedy, hijinks and a little light petting on the way to exotic locales (piece o’ Love Boat trivia: Lana Turner was the show’s 1,000 guest). And there were many handsome older men to accompany these fine ladies, including Fernando Lamas, Harold Gould, Joseph Campanella and even Allan Ludden (!), among many others. The friendly faces of Norm Crosby and Milton Berle could be seen, along with oddball casting stunts that came in the form of celebrities like Andy Warhol, and even some animals got porthole billing, like Tiny the Kangaroo (playing himself in two episodes, no less!). But it was really the way The Love Boat featured cross-generational romance, where anyone could find their soul mate, despite their age, finances, past mistakes or bad marriages, and audiences tapped into this equal opportunity lovefest.

Eleanor Parker = Perfection
The two-part episode Alaska Wedding (aka Buddy and Portia's Story/Julie's Story/Carol and Doug's Story/Peter and Alicia's Story - got that?) is one of my favorite examples of featuring actors of different ages and experience sharing the small screen. Alaska Wedding originally aired on September 15th, 1979, during season three, as two hour special. It features two well off families renting out the ship for the extravagant wedding of Doug Bradbury (a blonde Mark Harmon) and Carol Bowers (Lisa Hartman). The families are a variety of old and new money, with Carol’s grandfather Buddy (Lorne Greene) having acquired his wealth during his own lifetime while Doug comes from old money, where these types of luxurious vacations are more the norm. Unfortunately, Doug’s mother Alicia (the ridiculously glamorous Eleanor Parker) has squandered most of the fortune and hopes to keep that a secret until after the wedding, to save her son the embarrassment. Her ex-husband Peter (Ray Millland), and her sister Portia (Audra Lindley looking at home in her oh-so-gorgeous frocks) are also on board and know bits and pieces of the secret.

Boy, did she get the wrong number!
And that’s just the beginning! Natalie (Caren Kaye) is ga-ga for Doug’s money and hopes to thwart the upcoming nuptials. But romance is blossoming elsewhere, mostly for Portia and Buddy who both had personal promises to never make a later-life trip down the aisle for various reasons. Also, Alicia doesn’t know that her black sheep ex-husband wants to reconcile with Doug because he’s dying. And while Peter might not have set out to reconnect with Alicia, the couple start to remember what it was like to be happy together.

Julie wonders why her love life is so doomed
But wait, I’m not done yet! Doug’s best man, Marv (Donny Most) has set his sights on Julie but she’s hoping to reunite with Jack (Tony Roberts) who’d proposed to her in the previous season’s Julie Falls Hard (OAD 12/16/1978). However, as many of us know, Julie’s doomed love life sees no bright lights at the end of this Alaskan voyage, and unfortunately, romance is not in the cards for either her or Marv on this trip. But a thoughtful friendship blooms in its place. Awwww...

Buddy and Portia share a laugh
Alaska Wedding is an episode I tend to revisit for a few reasons. For one, it’s opulent in that way that only Aaron Spelling could deliver. We’re talking fur coats (although I do prefer my pelts to be of the faux variety), sequined dresses, up-dos galore and enough costume jewelry to fill a small U-Haul. The scenery is spectacular, and is every bit as lush as the cast. And honestly, I’m a little obsessed with Julie’s constant misfire at love. Of the regular cast, she definitely had the most tragic love life and I’m sure in my more formative years, I related with the melodrama that always followed her around. Also, where else can you see Donny Most as a potential romantic love interest? And you know what? He’s great. Julie, ahem, missed the boat on that one!

You guessed it, Julie is still wondering about her tragic love life!
However, I think the most important element that keeps drawing me back to this episode is the way it depicts these older actors with such dignity. Yeah, Alicia made some horrible mistakes, and basically drives her family fortune into the ground, but her desire to keep the secret comes from protecting her son, not from any personal humiliation. Likewise, Peter hides his illness because he doesn’t want to upset anyone.

Looking good Lorne!
Nevertheless, Alaska Wedding is really about Portia and Buddy’s love affair. The best moments in this two-hour special come from their sweet flirtations, and the fact that they make each other laugh... a lot. I adore Love Boat because it says we can be vital, important, and desirable at any age, and despite all the critical flack the show has endured, this message has never wavered. I thought the line was silly at the time, but when Jack Jones croons, “Love won’t hurt anymore,” I believe him.

Young love is also welcome on this cruise
Love Boat is currently airing six days a week on MeTV. They have a fantastic summer schedule, so you should come aboard… we’re expecting you.

And check out my post on the Love Boat episode that pits Robert Mandan against Randolph Mantooth in the game of love. 

You can also Smash It with Deacon Dark here.


Rick29 said...

Amanda, I loved (appropriately enough!) your tribute to THE LOVE BOAT. As you noted, it was always an audience favorite despite critical disdain. Count me among its fans. I started watching about three years into its run (and caught up via ABC's later weekday airings). It's a classic format, dating back to the movie GRAND HOTEL (if not earlier). However, it takes an appealing cast to make it work (the guest stars were just gravy!). LOVE BOAT made me realize that Gavin McLeod and Bernie Kopell were fine actors. Their characters and performances here are so different from the ones they played on, respectively, THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW and GET SHOW. Thanks for mentioning Spelling's book, which sounds like a fun read. By the way, "Alaska Wedding" is one of my fave episodes, too.

Wings1295 said...

Great review! As a kid, I was a fan of the show. I am sure a lot went over my head, but I watched and enjoyed it all. I, too, loved seeing older actors still showing they had what it takes, if not more, than the younger set. Murder, She Wrote was good at that, as well. As for The Love Boat, I haven't had a chance to dive back into the show, but I think I may have to change that. Love to revisit the ship and her crew!

Tom said...

You took me back to a time when people were judged not by what they wore, but how they felt. The Love Boat could be replicated today because you have that pesky political correctness in the way. Stars like Joseph Cotton and friends wouldn't be seen. We forget The Love Boat was for the young at heart...not just the young. Thanks for the trip, and a really good review.

Citizen Screen said...

You've brought back sooo many memories, Amanda! I love THE LOVE BOAT but haven't seen it in years. Now I'm running home to set my DVR and tape them on MeTV. Really! I'd forgotten how many classic stars appeared on the show. I love all the images you use, the episode recaps and backstory. Great stuff. Thanks so much!


Hal said...

Just loved checking out the opening credits to see who the guest stars were on a particular week. If Charo was on board, it was a must see. :-) One opening credit that sticks in my mind is Vic Tayback being the last listed (alphabetical order of course) and giving "two thumbs up" with a big smile! Just cracked me up, as if Vic was saying, "yeah, buddy! Even I'm getting lucky this week!"
Great job.

Joanna said...

I seem to be on-board with the other commentators here. The major draw for me to this show (originally and now) is to see the Old Hollywood stars once again. Great review!

Amanda By Night said...

Hi everyone,

Thank you for taking the time out to comment. And I LOVE how lengthy many of these responses are. It shows that there is still much to say about love on the high seas! :) It's exciting and only a little not-new!

Daniel B? said...

Wonderful write-up! My wife loves this show. When we watch it together, it makes her very happy. I was never a fan as a kid. But, I'm appreciating it now. And I think the reason is that line in the song: "Love won't hurt anymore."

When I was younger, I thought that line was strange. It's such a fluffy, frothy show. There are moments of drama. But, it's TV drama. So you know that, in five minutes, everything will be fun and fine again.

Then, I got it. I understood the privilege of being allowed on board the Love Boat. Because Love hurts. It does, it did, it will. That's love. That's the irony. Something so wonderful can be so painful at times.

However, the Love Boat is the escape from that. If you get on board the Love Boat (and, being honest, I think you might have to look like a celebrity), it's like getting on a Stairway to Heaven. Love really doesn't hurt anymore, as long as you take the cruise. As long as you deal with the adventures that the cruise presents to you. And, as long as you don't mind disembodied laughter at your expense.

For me, then, the Love Boat becomes a mythological vehicle that makes love perfect. You just have to get on board.

The downside: If it is a mythological vehicle, then the crew are never going to find the happiness we want them too while they are the crew. And that's too bad. But, they can quit and try to get on as a passenger. That's what I'd do.

TWA said...

I would love to see the episode that Olivia de Havilland starred in, Season 4 Episode 23, but I cant find it anywhere :(