“Gilligan’s Island” was an iconic television show that gained a loyal following in syndication after its three-season run on network TV. Fifty years after the first episode debuted on Sept. 26, 1964, you would think the cast of “Gilligan’s,” who helped make millions of Americans laugh, would be laughing with them -- to the bank. But it turns out the castaways didn’t receive a dime in royalties.
"Our producer [Sherwood Schwartz] made $90 million on the re-runs of 'Gilligan's Island' alone, but we didn't get any of it,” Dawn Wells, who played Mary Ann Summers, told a New York morning show in 2012, according to the Huffington Post. She said syndication royalties “didn’t exist” when the show’s deal was signed.
“Gilligan’s Island” won high ratings, but it was eventually canceled because of scheduling conflicts with the western “Gunsmoke” -- a favorite of CBS chief executive William S. Paley, according to the Washington Post. It has been in syndication ever since. Cast members included Alan Hale Jr. as Jonas Grumby, skipper of the stranded S.S. Minnow charter boat; Jim Backus and Natalie Schafer as the millionaires Thurston Howell III and Lovey Howell; Tina Louise as starlet Ginger Grant; Russell Johnson as the Professor; and Bob Denver as Gilligan. Wells and Louise are the only two original cast members who are still living.
While the cast of “Gilligan’s Island” can’t buy their own private islands with syndication money, stars of more modern shows are having better success. Since it entered syndication in 2002 after a nine-year run on NBC, “Seinfeld” has made $3.1 billion, including $400 million apiece for Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David, the series’ co-creators, according to the Independent.
The “Gilligan’s Island” cast also missed the boat when it came to salaries during its network run. While actors on popular shows like “The Big Bang Theory” and “Friends" have made $1 million per episode, the “Gilligan’s Island” crew made virtually “nothing,” or the equivalent of $5,000 a week in today’s dollars, Wells told the Vancouver Sun in January.
“I think we got paid … maybe we made $50,000 [per season], I don’t know,” she said.