Sherwood Schwartz Dies

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Sherwood Schwartz, who created "The Brady Bunch" and "Gilligan's Island," has died. For more, Michele Norris talks to Eric Deggans, TV and media critic for the St. Petersburg Times.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

The creator of two of the most cherished television sitcoms in the last 50 years died today, one was about a large, blended, suburban family...

(Soundbite of theme song, "The Brady Bunch")

THE BRADY KIDS: (Singing) Here's the story of a lovely lady who was bringing up three very lovely girls. All of them had...

NORRIS: ...and the other about a group of travelers marooned on a desert island.

(Soundbite of theme song, "Gilligan's Island")

THE WELLINGTONS (Singers): (Singing) Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful trip that started from this tropic port aboard this tiny ship...

NORRIS: "The Brady Bunch" and "Gilligan's Island" were the brainchild of television writer and producer Sherwood Schwartz. He died today in Los Angeles at age 94.

Joining me now is Eric Deggans, the TV and media critic for the St. Petersburg Times and a regular on this program, to talk about Schwartz and the cultural impact of those two shows.

Hey, Eric.

Mr. ERIC DEGGANS (TV and Media Critic, St. Petersburg Times): Hey. How are you doing?

NORRIS: Now, what do these sitcoms represent in the grand television landscape?

Mr. DEGGANS: They were sort of your classic '60s or '70s American sitcoms, and they became sort of cultural icons in really important ways.

"Gilligan's Island" was originally conceived - Sherwood was inspired by "Robinson Crusoe," and he wanted to also speak to the times. In the mid-'60s, there was a lot of social unrest going on in the country, and scripted TV shows were not allowed to address it head-on.

So he figured if he can get a bunch of different kind of characters together, isolated on a tropical island and make them work together to solve their problems, that that would be kind of a message that would resonate with what people were going through in real life at the time.

And now with "The Brady Bunch," he saw an item in the newspaper that indicated that close to one-third of all children in families were -came from a previous relationship. So one-third of new marriages were blended families, and he thought, you know, I've got to create a show that kind of speaks to that.

So in the '70s, he created - or '69, I guess, he created "The Brady Bunch," which had three children from one relationship and three children from another relationship coming together in a new marriage.

NORRIS: Was that one of the first times that a sitcom held a mirror up to society and began reflecting cultural trends?

Mr. DEGGANS: Well, I think what we found is through the '60s and the '70s that sitcoms got more and more direct about how they dealt with these subjects. So you would have "Gilligan's Island" very obliquely talking about things.

And if you remember "Star Trek" even, they would talk about social unrest, but it would be set in some faraway galaxy. By the time you get to "The Brady Bunch," they're a blended family, and they're sort of dealing with the realities of a blended family but in a very comedic way.

And then by the time you get to the mid-'70s and you get to sitcoms like "Good Times" that were actually set in impoverished areas, then you had characters that were very directly talking about social ills and social issues.

NORRIS: One last question before I let you go. These shows are iconic but so, too, are their theme songs, and Schwartz helped write those songs. Did he have the foresight to understand that a theme song would give a show almost a life of its own? When we were playing those songs in the opening sequence, I'm betting some of our listeners started to sing along.

Mr. DEGGANS: Exactly. Well, even more than that, I mean, he understood that a catchy theme song was important, but he also understood that a catchy theme song that told you the premise of the show was important.

NORRIS: You know, those songs are going through your head right now. I could ask you to sing the "Gilligan's Island" song...

Mr. DEGGANS: (Singing) Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale.

It's already - it's going on...

NORRIS: (Singing) A tale of a fateful trip...

Mr. DEGGANS: ...and it's your fault, Michele.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NORRIS: (Singing) ...that started from this tropic port, aboard this tiny ship.

Mr. DEGGANS: There you go, exactly. Exactly.

NORRIS: Eric Deggans, always good to talk to you. Thank you so much.

Mr. DEGGANS: Thank you.

NORRIS: Eric Deggans is the TV and media critic for the St. Petersburg Times. We were talking about the television writer and producer Sherwood Schwartz. He created "The Brady Bunch" and "Gilligan's Island." He died in Los Angeles at the age of 94.

(Soundbite of song, "The Brady Bunch" Theme Song)

Unidentified Group: (Singing) ...we became the Brady Bunch.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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