The very epitome of 70's cheese television Love Boat sailed strong for eight seasons on ABC, finally ending in 1986 after becoming a fixture of Saturday-night television, like Solid Gold or Hee Haw. Sure, it was goofy, and its plots were incredibly predictable and safe; and its humor wasn't really even very funny. But the American television viewing public has never demanded novelty, nor high quality - nor even entertainment, for that matter. So Love Boat, offering a safe, thought-free excursion of romance to far-off ports, was usually just what the public wanted.
The Love Boat centered around the adventures of the Pacific Princess, a cruise ship that traveled reguarly between Los Angeles and Puerto Vallarta in Mexico. The ship's crew provided the show's consistent cast, including bald captain Merrill Steubing (played by Gavin McCloud), social director Julie McCoy (Lauren Tewes), ship's doctor Adam Bricker (Bernie Kopell), assistant purser Burl 'Gopher' Smith (future Congressman Fred Grandy, fresh off of Monster Squad), and bartender Isaac Washington (Ted Lange), who every week greeted viewers with the two-fingers-pointed-at-you-like-pistols salute, along with a jivey, bouncy laugh, in the opening credits. Later they would be joined by annoying Vicki, the captain's preteen daughter (Jill Whelan), and singer-guitarist April Lopez (real-life guitarist Charo, who was on the show so often that they must have figured they'd be better off paying her a regular salary).
The novelty of the show every week was that, since each episode represented a different cruise, there would always be a different set of guests aboard ship - and, naturally, this would mean a different ensemble of actors to work out the romantic conflict. Usually the actors consisted of the B-team of 70's television, but this was to be expected. (Sonny Bono comes to mind.) In any case, the guests would bring on their own set of romantic troubles - a marriage falling apart, a young couple having second thoughts, etc. - and of course everything would be worked out before the final credits. Sometimes the ship's crew would become involved (however briefly) with a passenger, or would unexpectedly run into an old flame, allowing a bit of character development not usually provided even with the full hour of airtime. Like the time that the hot black chick rubbed baby oil into Captain Steubing's bald head - no, wait, that was an episode of Seinfeld. Never mind.
The show pretty much stuck to its formula throughout the entire run, until audiences finally got so sick of it that the network had to yank it all together. But for a couple of years there between the 70's and 80's, ABC ruled Saturday night with its double-punch of Love Boat and the similarly-plotted Fantasy Island.
Love Boat Trivia:
- The show originated as a two-hour TV movie, which was based upon the book The Love Boats by former cruise director Jeraldine Saunders.
- The character of Julie was later on replaced with Judy, her sister, reportedly after actress Lauren Tewes's drug use became a bit too heavy for the producers' comfort.
- Jack Jones sang the theme song up until the last season, when Dionne Warwick took over the warbling.
- Gavin MacLeod is remembered by Andy Griffith Show fans as the actor hired to play Andy in the proposed show-within-a-show Sheriff Without A Gun.
- Charo's real name is María del Rosario Pilar Martínez Molina Baeza de Rasten. Her guitar playing is excellent - she twice won the category of 'Best Flamenco Player' in Guitar Player magazine's readers poll. She was married to bandleader Xavier Cugat.