The three-hour tour that never ends is moving into the sea of reality, the choppy waters where many series have recently capsized.

Gilligan’s Island, the CBS sitcom that spawned two animated series, four TV movies and a widely quoted theme song, undergoes an extreme and mysterious makeover in “The Real Gilligan’s Island.”

“Absurdist Survivor,” executive producer Mike Fleiss calls it. “They have shown up on the island to have a good time. We’re trying to make it real. What would it be like to be stranded? No cell phones, not a single luxury.”

The show brings together Fleiss, 40, the mastermind behind ABC’s “The Bachelor,” and Sherwood Schwartz, 88, the sitcom’s creator.

What this unusual partnership has yielded is unclear. TBS hasn’t shared the opener with TV critics, and the cable channel has carefully doled out details about the eight-hour series. The executive producers offer conflicting views of the show. “I don’t like it to be compared to “Survivor’,” Schwartz says. “The idea of “Survivor’ is to kill each other off to win the prize. There’s no killing in Gilligan’s Island.”

But there is “Survivor”-style competition. Two seven-member crews square off in challenges, and each team has its real-life equivalents to Gilligan, Skipper, Ginger, the Professor, Mary Ann and the millionaire spouses Thurston and Lovey Howell.

The players learned of the two-team setup when they arrived for the three-week shoot in the Yucatan Peninsula. Their reactions ranged from surprise to confusion, says Steven Koonin, executive vice president of TBS.

“That’s one of the big twists,” he says. “There are about six.”

Schwartz reveals another. “The winning tribe will stay and compete to see who wins the main prize,” he says. He describes that “as a quarter of a million plus a big car.”

Koonin adds that it’s a Ford and the prize isn’t divulged until episode five. TBS decided not to screen the show to heighten the mystery after an elaborate marketing campaign. Koonin describes his reaction to early episodes as “ecstatic” and notes that TBS already has ordered a second season.

The sitcom’s goofy tone has given way to something harsher in the reality show, participants suggest.

“Much to the dismay of the castaways, it was brutal out there,” Fleiss says. “There was all kinds of wildlife: tarantulas, snakes.”

Rachel Hunter, the model-actress who is one of the Gingers, hints there are snakes of the human variety.

“There was moaning and groaning from some idiots on the show: “We didn’t come here not to eat,”‘ says Hunter, 35. “You are pretty much fending for yourself. I have enough friends back in L.A. I don’t need 13 more. There are some I absolutely loved and adored. But there are fake ones that drove me around the bend.”

To approximate Tina Louise’s look as Ginger, Hunter had to wear a movie-star gown throughout the program.

“After the length of time we were down there, it reeked,” she says. “It can walk by itself. I did my best to wash it.”

The producers’ challenge in casting “The Real Gilligan’s Island” eased because of affection for the sitcom. Hundreds turned up at a chance to follow in Bob Denver’s klutzy footsteps as Gilligan.

“It’s alarming how many American men identify with that character,” Fleiss says.

Fleiss had trouble finding a real millionaire for “Who Wants to Marry a Multimillionaire?” – the notorious Fox special that gave Rick Rockwell national prominence four years ago. This time, millionaires lined up to fill in for the Howells.

“A strange thing happens,” Schwartz says. “The new people work their way to adapting themselves to the memory of the original castaways.”

Other times, the show moves into new territory. The producers selected Eric Anderson, who is 36 and openly gay, as one of the Professors. In the spring, he will start teaching sociology at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. Anderson credits his high lecture ratings on ratemyprofessor.com with helping him land the TV job.

“There’s social commentary with 14 people from diverse backgrounds,” Anderson says. “You have people who are openly gay and people who aren’t so cool with that. You set the stage for strife.”

Anderson says he’s happy that his sexuality is generating publicity for the show.

“We need more images of gay Americans,” he says. “We need images outside the already stereotyped images. Can you think of any other gay professors, gay intellects?”

Schwartz says “The Real Gilligan’s Island” will offer more variety in the casting if the show becomes a franchise. He envisions African-American Skippers and Gingers.

“It will accommodate itself to the society we live in,” Schwartz says. “We tried to do multi-ethnic casting the first one. It didn’t happen.”

The original sitcom ran only three seasons on CBS, but it has gained millions of fans through reruns. They should brace themselves for something far different from “The Real Gilligan’s Island.”

“It’s more taken from the reality genre than the original show,” Fleiss says. “It has comedic elements. But it has all of the intensity of the best reality shows.”

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That will mean a bit more sexiness, what you would expect from Bachelor boss Fleiss. He is also behind the WB series “Big Man on Campus,” which was shot at the University of Central Florida.

“I can’t really say what the risque parts are,” Hunter says. “I think my kids will be able to watch. It depends on the editing.” (She has two children, 10 and 12, with singer Rod Stewart.)

So why do a reality version of “Gilligan’s Island?”

“I loved the show growing up,” Fleiss says. “I thought the brand name meant something to viewers.”

Fleiss credits Schwartz with his lifelong love affair with television and recalls racing home to watch Schwartz’s other classic, “The Brady Bunch.”

Schwartz is no fan of reality television, but he marvels at what happened, from near tragedies to injuries, during “The Real Gilligan’s Island.”

“Very few shows keep recurring,” Gilligan’s creator says. “Whatever new inventions come around, “Gilligan’s Island’ will partake. You cannot kill it.”



Here’s the schedule for The Real Gilligan’s Island, an eight-hour series on TBS:

The first two hours air from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. EST Tuesday.

Hourlong episodes will play at 8 p.m. EST Wednesday, Dec. 7, 8 and 14.

The finale will be 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. EST Dec. 15.



(c) 2004, The Orlando Sentinel (Fla.).

Visit the Sentinel on the World Wide Web at http://www.orlandosentinel.com/. On America Online, use keyword: OSO.

Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

AP-NY-11-29-04 0623EST



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