I’m ashamed to admit it, but I just love The Love Boat.
I don’t know what it is but I get so excited every time an old episode comes on TV. I really should break down and buy the DVD set but you know, catching an episode by surprise on broadcast TV really kind of makes it all the more sweeter. Like watching it for the very first time again. Silly but true, I feel so guilty…
The thing is, EVERYTHING always works out on The Love Boat, always. No matter what difficult or complicated situations arise, it’s always a happy ending. I love that. I like happy endings.
I’m a child of the Eighties and as far as I’m concerned, it was the golden age of the century. Maybe the Twenties might have compared (or the Sixties…) but I wasn’t alive then so for me, it was the Eighties case closed. I guess everybody feels that way about the decade of their youth but I think that we of the Eighties had it all, movies, music, television, fashion, the economy, everything was golden.
Watching those old episodes is like stepping into a time machine for me, I’m nine years old all over again. TV was big back then, there were only seven channels, if you were really lucky you had Home Box Office. That was it. So, when a new show came on everybody watched the first episode like it was an event or something. The Love Boat was no different. We only had a black and white TV so to watch it now in color on a big screen well, it really is a treat.
The Love Boat had all the contemporary stars too, all of them wanted to do the show. Some of them did the show so many times that they were almost written in as regular characters, like Marion Ross of Happy Days fame. She kept getting invited back so much that she eventually became Captain Stubing’s wife (Emily Haywood to Emily Stubing) and a permanent member of the crew! That was another thing about the show, you had four different stories in one hour, by four different writers that almost never cooperated. The continuity problems just added to the freshness and charm. Makes it hard to find an episode that you really liked though, four different titles for every episode. Not all of the “guest appearances” were contemporary stars, The Love Boat was so popular it was an excellent way to begin a comeback for luminaries of yesteryear. It was great because there was no other show where you might see someone from Vaudeville fame working with a new up and comer. It made for such great chemistry and kept the show fresh.
It wasn’t just slapstick or situation comedy, The Love Boat tackled everything from divorce to crime, alcoholism to broken families and of course love and romance (my favorite). The show was bold and surprisingly so for a context centered around a “pleasure cruise”, you just never knew what they were going to be doing next. I just got finished watching an episode where Loretta Swift of MASH fame was playing a Communist Cruise Director of all things, and it was good too! No matter how silly the premise, you always got sucked in because you so wanted to see the happy ending (although that particular episode ended in tears for her and the Doctor, she wouldn’t defect to stay with him).
The regular cast had a never ending arc as well. One of those arcs that was just a little to much for me though, was when Gopher (Fred Grandy) became all suave and sophisticated near the end. It just didn’t suit the character very well. Another character that I never really warmed up to but was nonetheless good for the show, was Captain Stubing’s (Gavin MacLeod) long lost daughter Vicki (Jill Whelan). I was totally in love with Cruise Director Julie (Lauren Tewes) and resented Vicki stealing her screen time. Jill Whelan’s character did however, expand the show’s dimensions by affording story lines that featured children and young adults but, since I was a kid myself, I couldn’t appreciate that at the time. I so wanted to be older so that one day I could go on The Love Boat too and experience all the adventure and romance myself. I wanted to do what adults liked to do.
Sad, but I recently found out that the Pacific Princess cruise ship used in the opening shot was recently sold for scrap in 2014 to a salvage company in Turkey. It would have been nice to have actually boarded it at least once before it was gone. Actually, the show itself was shot on many different ships as well as land based studio sets too so, I don’t feel too bad about losing the opportunity. In reality, since the time of the show’s run on TV I have actually been on four cruises and seen ships that make The Love Boat look like a relic, but I’m always glad every time I see it. She will always be “top of the line” to me.
One of the most beautiful shots of the show is when the characters are out on deck at night, wow, so pretty. I can’t think of any seascape more mystical and lovely than when on board a ship at night looking out over the water at an endless horizon, in full moonlight. Just to be able to do that with someone you care about is worth the price of a ticket alone. It really does look just like that but the actual experience cannot be compared. The gentle breeze as the ship makes way, a sky full of endless stars, the gentle shimmering of the water in the midst of soothing quiet and the gentle rocking back and forth. If you stand against the railing and look straight out at the horizon, the ship disappears from underneath you and you are magically standing in the middle of the ocean, flying even, ala Kate Winslet in Titanic.
- Gavin MacLeod as Captain Merrill Stubing
- Bernie Kopell as Dr. Adam “Doc” Bricker, ship’s doctor
- Fred Grandy as Burl “Gopher” Smith, Yeoman Purser (seasons 1–9)
- Ted Lange as Isaac Washington, bartender
- Lauren Tewes as Julie McCoy, Cruise Director (seasons 1–7, 9 (1 episode), 4 specials)
- Jill Whelan as Vicki Stubing, the captain’s daughter (seasons 3–9, 4 specials, made-for-TV movie, plus a guest star appearance in Season 2 episode 8)
- Ted McGinley as Ashley “Ace” Covington Evans, ship’s photographer (seasons 7–9), Yeoman Purser (4 specials)
- Pat Klous as Judy McCoy, Julie’s sister and successor as cruise director (seasons 8–9)
Gavin MacLeod, Bernie Kopell, and Ted Lange are the only cast members to appear in every episode of the series, including the last three made-for-TV movies. Fred Grandy was in every episode throughout the run of the series, but was not in the last of the TV movies. MacLeod was not the captain in the first two TV movies, however. However, when MacLeod’s character was introduced, there was mention of him being “the new captain.”
Among the series’ attractions was the casting of well-known actors in guest-starring roles, with many famous film stars of yesteryear making rare television appearances. It was not the first comedy series to use the guest-star cast anthology format—Love, American Style used the formula seven years earlier, but The Love Boat had such success with the formula that future shows in similar style (such as Supertrain and Masquerade) were inevitably compared to The Love Boat. The show was followed on Saturday nights on ABC by Fantasy Island, which was also produced by Aaron Spelling, and had a similar format.