The original cast of The Love Boat was entirely different
Third time's a charm, they say. Unfortunately, in the world of television, you rarely get a second chance. Typically, the studio commissions a pilot episode, and it either turns into a series or it doesn't. Star Trek is the very rare show to get a do-over.
The executives at NBC were hardly Trekkies at first sight. They dubbed the original pilot, "The Cage," as "too cerebral," "too slow," and with "not enough action." Ouch. Fortunately, thanks to the passion of — checks notes — none other than Lucille Ball (!), Gene Roddenberry went back to the drawing board and cooked up "Where No Man Has Gone Before." Bingo. That got NBC to pick up the series.
But we digress. This is about The Love Boat, another show about a crew on a mission, albeit one with entirely different objectives. If The Love Boat can claim bragging rights over Star Trek about anything, aside from the sheer number of guest stars, its the number of pilot episodes.
The Love Boat had three pilot episodes. The first two flopped. Aaron Spelling blamed it on chemistry.
"ABC turned both down, because, I believe, the casting just wasn't right," the super-producer wrote in his memoir Aaron Spelling: A Prime-Time Life. The first failed pilot aired in September of 1976; the second attempt followed in January of 1977. The third and finally successful pilot, with the cast you know and love, arrived months later in May of '77, with a made-for-TV movie titled The New Love Boat, to underscore to viewers that, yes, this is a fresh crew.
The first two casts contained familiar faces. Dick Van Patten played "Your Doctor," O'Neill. Had he landed the role full-time, he might never have made Eight Is Enough. The same goes for the bartender, indeed named Isaac, as portrayed by Theodore Wilson. He was coming off a starring role in That's My Mama. After the maiden Love Boat pilot sank at sea, Wilson washed ashore with a lead role in Sanford Arms, a Sanford and Son spin-off.
Gopher was the only other crew member to carry his familiar name. Ted Hamilton, an Aussie actor who had starred in a cop show Down Under called Division 4, booked the captain's role, initially named Thomas Ford. That sounded far dryer and less exciting than "Merrill Stubing."
The second pilot movie shifted gears, casting Quinn Redeker, an actor perhaps known at the time for The Three Stooges Meet Hercules, as "Capt. Madison." He ended up working in soap operas.
Fred Grandy, Ted Lange and Bernie Kopell at last show up in their familiar roles as bartender, purser and doctor. However, Kopell was called Dr. O'Neill instead of Adam Bricker.
Newcomer Diane Stilwell was cast as the cruise director. Wesley Addy, who was twice a guest star on Perry Mason, was yet another doctor on board.
If the first two pilots got anything right, it was the menagerie of celebrities along for the ride as guest stars. Harvey Korman, Tom Bosley, Don Adams, Florence Henderson, Hal Linden, Cloris Leachman, Gabe Kaplan, Ken Berry, Robert Reed, Lyle Waggoner and many more cruised on the Pacific Princess in those original two trips. That's a ton of '70s sitcom comedy power.
All they needed was a captain to lead them. Lucky for Aaron Spelling, The Mary Tyler Moore show had just ended. Gavin McLeod was waiting for the call.
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