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The Untold Truth Of The Love Boat

As a certain earworm of a theme song has told viewers over the years, love is exciting and new, and the development of it on The Love Boat promises something for everyone. 

From 1977 to 1987, millions of viewers climbed on board a mini-vacation each week with The Love Boat, a romantic comedy-drama set (and filmed) on a fabulous luxury cruise ship. Familiar-faced celebrity guest stars played vacationers, who invariably found new romances or saved their faltering marriages, free to pursue their hearts under the care of the ship's highly invested Love Boat crew. Among them, there was "Your Captain," the kindly Merrill Stubing, and "Your Ship's Doctor," the flirtatious Doc. Plus, there was "Your Yeoman Purser," the goofy Gopher, as well as "Your Bartender," the delightful Isaac, and "Your Cruise Director," the helpful Julie. 

But needless to say, with such a large crew, so many guests, and so many voyages, there's more to this show than meets the eye. It's time to leave port and cruise through a bunch of stories about the creation, making, and impact of The Love Boat. Come aboard, we're expecting you!

The Love Boat is based on a book, which was based on reality

Relatively few television series are based on books. The shows that have originated as novels — particularly in the 1970s — tend to take on the miniseries format rather than the loose adaptation necessary for a regularly airing, open-ended program. However, there's one big exception to the rule. Prolific 1970s TV producer Wilford Lloyd Baumes developed The Love Boat franchise from The Love Boats, a 1974 memoir by Jeraldine Saunders, who wrote of her years working as a cruise director on some very large ships. The show captured the spirit of Saunders' book, what with characters flitting in and out of the lives of cruise ship employees.

Saunders died at age 95 in 2019 after a long life of minor celebrity afforded her by her book and its successful TV version. She wrote a syndicated astrology column, taped a segment for TLC's Extreme Cougar Wives with her much younger boyfriend, and Princess Cruises named her "the patron saint of cruising."

The first iteration of The Love Boat had a much different cast

Strongly associated with campy, glitzy 1970s television, The Love Boat aired in various formats for a very long time and well past the disco era. The series produced more than 240 hour-long episodes between 1977 and 1986, then returned for a tenth mini-season consisting of four made-for-TV movies. And finally, there was a reunion film, The Love Boat: A Valentine Voyage, in 1990. And even before The Love Boat regularly set sail on ABC on Saturday nights, it existed as a series of two-hour films produced specifically for television. 

See, before producer Aaron Spelling came on board, producer Douglas S. Cramer made the first two films as pilots for a potential series, which ABC rejected but aired anyway. The casts for these Love Boat pilot movies are loaded with actors who weren't retained when the concept became a series. Australian actor Ted Hamilton played Captain Thomas Ford in the first film, replaced by Quinn Redeker as Captain Madison in the second, who was then replaced by Gavin MacLeod as Captain Merrill Stubing. The first ship's doctor wasn't Adam "Doc" Bricker as played by Bernie Kopell. Instead, Dick Van Patten of Eight is Enough played a medic named O'Neill. And Ted Lange didn't have the role of Isaac the bartender from the beginning — he inherited it from Theodore Wilson.

The ship where The Love Boat was filmed had a colorful post-cancelation life

The Love Boat deftly mixed fiction and reality. Captain Stubing and his crew were fictional characters portrayed by actors, and they interacted with celebrity guest stars, but the extras on the ship — all those hundreds of people having the time of their lives on the high seas — were real people enjoying a real cruise vacation. Episodes were produced occasionally on Princess Cruises' Island Princess, but for the most part, the Pacific Princess was the floating home of The Love Boat

In use by the cruise line since the early 1970s, the Pacific Princess was part of the company's fleet for decades after the cancellation of The Love Boat. In 2002, Princess Cruises sold the 20,000-ton ship to Spanish carrier Pullmantour Cruises, and it was supposed to be upgraded and improved in Italy in 2008, only for the project (and ship) to be abandoned. Finally, in 2013, the once mighty and glamorous "Love Boat" made its final trip, heading to Turkey to be broken down and its metal elements and most valuable parts sold for scrap. Turkish company Izmir Ship Recycling Company paid $3.3 million for the decommissioned cruise liner, and sadly, two of the firm's workers died during the breakdown process. While pumping water out of the engine room, they accidentally inhaled a fatal amount of toxic exhaust.

Lauren Tewes was fired from The Love Boat

After just a handful of roles on '70s TV shows like Police Story and Starsky and Hutch, Lauren Tewes landed her breakout gig and the one for which she remains best known — cruise director Julie McCoy on The Love Boat. According to Biography, Tewes won the part over 100 other actresses, and she won it at the last minute. Impressed with her work on that Starsky and Hutch episode, producer Aaron Spelling called her the night before the show was scheduled to start taping.

But in 1984, after seven seasons as a core member of the cast, Tewes was fired from The Love Boat, replaced by Patricia Klous as new cruise director (and Julie's sister) Judy McCoy. "Lauren really got stung by the dark side of Hollywood," Spelling said in A Prime-Time Life. "Her marriage fell apart, and she told TV Guide she had become addicted to cocaine." Tewes told OWN's Where Are They Now? that she was among the few celebrities of the time to publicly admit they had a drug problem, and she said her bosses chose to let her go from the show rather than give her some time off and help her seek treatment. (The media at the time reported that Tewes had asked for a massive pay raise.) By the time The Love Boat sailed off the air, Tewes says she was sober.

The Love Boat's trip to China was packed with problems

In June 1983, The Love Boat embarked on a 14-day voyage to China, Hong Kong, and Japan to film three special episodes. Taped aboard the Pearl of Scandinavia, according to People, the project cost a huge-for-the-time $12 million. It took months to plan, and producer Doug Cramer wondered if it would happen at all after the political tensions that developed after Chinese tennis player Hu Na defected to the U.S. in 1982. But the real issue, Cramer said, was with cast members, with a level of hostility on the ship he likened to "a miniature World War III." After guest star Susan Anton scored a large cabin on the exclusive "skydeck," cast member Gavin MacLeod got so angry that he made a cruise line official give him their own skydeck room. Guest star Erin Moran cried until she got a better room. 

And, as was usual operating procedure on The Love Boat, the ship was full of real people who paid big money to be on the boat as it made its way around East Asia. Some paid as much as $8,550 to blur reality with TV and be on this Love Boat cruise, which included activities dropped or rescheduled to accommodate shooting, and — during a stop in Tianjin, China — two nights stuck in a cheap motel because all the good hotel rooms got swiped by Love Boat cast and crew.

How The Love Boat became a celebration of old movie stars

The Love Boat employed a unique formatting device popular on 1970s television. Like fellow Aaron Spelling production Fantasy Island, The Love Boat had a small regular cast who helped serve the framing device of a cruise ship, populated with new characters each week. Those vacationers were often played by familiar, well-liked stars of yore from the small screen, such as Florence Henderson (The Brady Bunch) and Betty White (The Golden Girls), as well as semi-forgotten legends of Hollywood's Golden Age, Oscar winners like Olivia de Havilland, Luise Rainer, Shelley Winters, and Ginger Rogers.

Such casting decisions were at the explicit behest of Spelling. "I was able to fulfill my own dreams by hiring some of the great old Hollywood legends to guest star," Spelling said in his memoir, A Prime-Time Life. "The studios weren't banging their doors down with offers, but these actors and actresses still had lots of talent, and I was happy to provide an outlet." Legendary movie star Lana Turner had the honor of appearing as The Love Boat's thousandth guest star.

Andy Warhol was a huge fan of The Love Boat

Never mind all those luminaries of Hollywood gone by — the most headline-grabbing (and unlikely) Love Boat guest star of all time is Andy Warhol. He championed the pop art movement and was in many ways the first hipster, forming a collective of cool and beautiful New York creatives called "The Factory" and discovering the Velvet Underground. Warhol, who never committed himself to one medium, presented himself to the world as an art project, and he embraced what might otherwise be considered pop cultural junk or ephemera, such as a light, frothy, and purely entertaining TV show like The Love Boat. In fact, he loved it so much that he decided to embark on a Love Boat adventure. 

The early ninth season Love Boat episode "Hidden Treasure / Picture from the Past / Ace's Salary" aired in October 1985. Also the show's 200th episode, the star-studded affair included guest performers Andy Griffith, Milton Berle, and Marion Ross as Emily Stubing (wife of Captain Stubing). In the episode, Ross' character once starred in an edgy and experimental Warhol film as one of his so-called "Superstars," and she really doesn't want to bump into him on her cruise ... because he's there, too. Warhol shows up as himself, and he offers to paint a portrait for one lucky cruiser. Maybe he elevated The Love Boat to high art status because Warhol's appearance pushed the installment to a rank of #82 on TV Guide's 100 television episodes of all time.

The Love Boat theme song, it's exciting and new

Beginning with some brass flourishes and a chugging disco guitar riff, The Love Boat's theme song is one of the most memorable in TV history. It lets viewers know exactly what they're in for, describing how the show is about people finding, discovering, or rekindling "love, life's sweetest reward" on board a cruise ship, as well as how that ship "soon will be making another run."

It should come as no surprise that Love Boat producers hired a couple of songwriting giants to compose the song – Charles Fox, who helped write Roberta Flack's "Killing Me Softly with His Song," and Paul Williams, the Oscar-winning tunesmith behind Barbra Streisand's "Evergreen (Love Theme from A Star is Born)" and "Rainbow Connection" from The Muppet Movie. "We honestly didn't think [the show] was going to last six weeks," Williams said of The Love Boat to Songfacts. "We thought, 'Who's going to watch a series about a cruise ship?'"

In a parallel to the show's penchant for casting older actors who might've been past their prime, Jack Jones, a '60s-era crooner in the vein of Dean Martin or Frank Sinatra, sang the Love Boat theme. A full-length version of the song was released as a single in 1980, and it made the top 40 of Billboard's adult contemporary chart. Nevertheless, in the final season of The Love Boat, Jones' recording was tossed in favor of an updated, synth-pop version by Dionne Warwick.

A cruise line still relies on its Love Boat connection

The Love Boat aired its last regular installment in February 1987, but the show had such a positive impact on cruising as a vacation option and on its corporate partner in Princess Cruises that its presence looms large over present-day voyages. Princess contracted with The Love Boat's production company to shoot on three of its cruise ships over the show's long run — the Sun Princess, the Pacific Princess, and the Island Princess. In the years after the show left the air, cast member Gavin MacLeod — Captain Stubing himself — signed on to be a company spokesperson. And in 1997, all six members of the original cast staged their first full reunion to christen a Princess ship, the Dawn Princess.

In 2013, Princess executive Vice President Rai Caluori announced (via USA Today) that its massive, 3,560-passenger Royal Princess vessel would be outfitted with a special horn that would play the first two bars of The Love Boat's familiar theme song when the ship left certain ports. That was an expansion of something that had already been happening on other Princess boats for years. Numerous cruise directors would play the song when shipping out, but it was never an official company policy for a ship until the Royal Princess made it so. Moreover, the company's passenger safety announcements take the form of a parody video of the Love Boat opening credits sequence.

The Love Boat and its strange laugh track

The laugh track has been a part of the television sitcom for decades, and it's still used today on shows shot in a studio, with a live audience present for taping. At one time, canned laughter (aka fake laughter) was inserted into most every TV show that was at least somewhat comedic, such as Eight is Enough or The Love Boat, both late '70s TV shows and among the few hour-long shows to ever employ a laugh track. 

And yeah, it's more than a little odd to hear the laughter of a crowd on an episode of The Love Boat, primarily because it doesn't seem to be coming from anywhere. The series was shot mostly on a real cruise ship, not in a studio with an audience. Be that as it may, producers used a specially developed laugh track that was brand new in the late '70s, one less braying and invasive than the usual sitcom laughter.

But that's for viewers who watched the show in its original version made for American audiences. When reruns of The Love Boat aired in France, they were presented without the laugh track. As a result, over in France, The Love Boat plays as more of romance-adventure, like contemporary series Hart to Hart, as opposed to a sitcom. 

The Love Boat had a hard time rebooting

Accounting for some test TV movies, nine seasons of weekly episodes, and a few more telefilms, The Love Boat shipped out from TV in 1987. However, it wasn't long before the most romantic ocean liner in the world was setting a course for adventure once more. In the spring of 1998, scarcely more than a decade after the demise of the original series, Love Boat: The Next Wave debuted on UPN. Not quite a reboot or a remake, the show's characters were all new, including Captain Jim Kennedy III (portrayed by TV stalwart Robert Urich), purser Will Sanders (Phil Morris), and security chief Camille Hunter (Joan Severance). Love Boat: The Next Wave failed to capture the attentions of audiences the way its predecessor did, and after two short seasons as one of the least-watched shows on network TV, UPN canceled the show.

In 2019, a few years into the television fad of bringing back old shows (Roseanne, Twin Peaks, The X-Files), discussions commenced about a new Love Boat featuring at least some members of the old cast. "We've talked about a reboot," Jill Whelan (who played Vicky Stubing on the original series) told Fox News. "We're thinking about how we would fit into something like that."