15 December 2001 | TVholic
Quintessential escapist fluff
I admit it, I loved the '70s. It was such a fun decade. The Love Boat is a time capsule of the late '70s. Not just the guest stars and the fashions, but the basic mood of the era.
It's very easy and even very trendy to put down this lightweight show from ultraprolific producer Aaron Spelling, the same way people denigrate disco music. But once put into context, it really wasn't all that bad. The period, after all, was the late '70s -- only three years after The Brady Bunch had left the air. TV's fabled last gasp of innocence had yet to be breathed. TV shows could still be expected to be fun and frivolous, like the Me Decade this was a part of.
Spelling was at the peak of his TV power, having already scored hits with The Mod Squad, The Rookies, Starsky & Hutch and Charlie's Angels, among other shows. His shows alone were taking up more than a quarter of ABC's prime time hours by the turn of the decade and it was said that he had produced more hours of television than anyone else. For several years, Love Boat was teamed with Spelling stable mate Fantasy Island, forming a two-hour escapist block on Saturday nights when viewers could escape on a tropical cruise then to a lush tropical island.
With The Love Boat, viewers could experience some of the better aspects of a cruise, without the drawbacks. Every day was sun-drenched and every night clear and crisp, sunsets were always brilliant, it never rained and we could all be home within a single hour. And heck, it didn't cost a cent! The Aloha, Lido, Fiesta and Riviera decks (or at least their names) become ingrained in memory through sheer repetition. Not to mention the ship's lobby where all the guest stars made their grand entrances. (The lobby of the real Pacific Princess, by the way, looked nearly the same but was in the center of the ship and had no such entrance doors.) And, of course, the Crystal Pool, which made an appearance in every episode, except when the crew took to other ships for cruises in the Caribbean, Alaska and even Australia. And what a crew it was. From fatherly Gavin MacLeod to pert and perky Cindy "Lauren" Tewes and everyone in between, there was a nice family vibe to the original cast, even if some fans felt it was disrupted by the addition of Jill Whelan. Just don't mention the subsequent cast additions and changes, by which time the show had overstayed its welcome.
The stories were simple and, for the most part, uplifting. Still, they were repetitive. But how many different plot variations can one expect about love? And then there was the oh-so-'70s theme song. Charles Fox wrote the music, having already made his TV mark in several hit sitcoms including Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley and Love, American Style. Pity poor Paul Williams, who, despite other successes, once reportedly said even if he found the cure for cancer, he'd still be remembered only for penning the lyrics to this insidious ditty. As sung by Jack Jones, it was frothier than ocean whitecaps and a perfect match for the show. Both Williams and Jones, by the way, actually guest-starred on the show.
There's a story that Peter Graves was once asked about his appearance on The Love Boat. Graves jokingly demurred that everyone in Hollywood at the time guest-starred on the show. That's not far from the truth. The show featured a never ending parade of television stars, stars to be, stars that once were and would-be stars. Singers, dancers and once, the then-popular Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders. All mingled with some rather distinguished company -- movie stars and Oscar winners past and future like Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Ginger Rogers, Olivia de Havilland, Debbie Reynolds, Tom Hanks and Don Ameche, among others, made appearances.
The original Pacific Princess no longer plies her Pacific route on the Mexican Riviera, with ports of call at Mazatlan, Puerto Vallarta, Cabo San Lucas and Acapulco. She long since surrendered the area to her larger, newer, more luxurious sisters, one of which (the Sun Princess) couldn't carry the "Next Wave" revival in 1998. In the autumn of 2002, she was retired from the Princess fleet after 27 years of service, and the one, true Love Boat was no more. There's a new Pacific Princess now, but it just isn't the same. Thus I raise my glass in one final toast, "To absent friends and those at sea."