‘The Love Boat’ is back, but it’s ‘real’ this time

Have a good trip!

Forty-five years since she first sailed, promising both adventure and romance, excitement and comedy – not to mention a very sticky earworm of a theme song, “It’s a Smile open on a friendly shore” – “The Love Boat” drifts once more. A nine-season TV phenom at the time (plus five specials later), it was a lido bridge for an entire generation and has now been adapted into a reality TV series called – what else? – “The real boat of love.”

Same ocean view. Just updated for the Tinder era.

The revival, premiering in early October on CBS (also Global in Canada) – co-hosted by real-life married Rebecca Romijn and Jerry O’Connell – promises a resurrection, sure, but is also just the latest in a series of small screen fare-swapping on well-toasted nostalgia.

And what nostalgia it was. The original show, produced by Aaron Spelling during the Jimmy Carter administration and moving into the Reagan era, centered on ship captain Merrill Stubing (Gavin MacLeod) and his lovable group of onboard crew, but actually was inspired by a memoir written by former cruise director Jeraldine Saunders (did you know?). It’s even more of an artifact now for the following reason: it provided a very accurate celebrity index, given that everyone from Olivia de Havilland to Ginger Rogers to Mickey Rooney rode “The Love Boat” on one ep or another during its broadcast.

“I was able to fulfill my own dreams by hiring some of the great old Hollywood legends as guest stars,” Spelling said in her memoir, “A Prime-Time Life,” regarding the practice of featuring so many faded icons as than vacationers.

In his own way, Spelling winked at the audience and the legends made a meta call for their own stardom — kind of a full-fledged reality show in those days, if you think about it. I mean, even the man who swore “Everyone will be famous for 15 minutes” in the future – Andy Warhol himself! – appeared once on a episode of “The Love Boat” (clips of which pop up regularly on Instagram these days).

“Poor Little Rich Girl” turned jeans impresario Gloria Vanderbilt made an appearance on the show. The same goes for latter-day icons such as Dolly Parton and Janet Jackson. Same: Tom Hanks (this was his television debut).

Besides being a funhouse mirror of the stars, the show is also perhaps most influential for helping to create the modern cruise industry; “the best product placement”, as it has been described. The numbers speak for themselves. In 1970, only about 500,000 went on cruises. By 1997, that number had risen to about five million. What happened in the meantime is sometimes called the Love Boat effect because, as Michael L. Grace, a screenwriter on the original show, summed it up, “You had 50 million people watching and they all wanted to go on a cruise.”

The extent to which a new version of “The Love Boat” even a real one, installed aboard the Regal Princess – can have large-scale cultural relevance today is, of course, a nebulous idea at best. We are far from the television homogeneity of the three main American networks, after all. Plus, we live in a relentless age of reboots, revivals, and remakes, where regurgitation is the motif and deja vu the wallpaper. Everything from “Saved by the Bell” to “Twin Peaks” to “Magnum PI” to “Quantum Leap” has returned in recent years.

It is a bottomless pit, irrefutably. Think: the aughts-era “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,” which metabolized into a more mystical version on Netflix, dubbed simply “Queer Eye.” Or “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air”, which was recently the subject of a modern narrative. Or the monster hit “Cobra Kai”, which essentially amounts to a small-screen extension of the “Karate Kid” universe.

“Queer as Folk” has now seen three separate iterations. Likewise, “Beverly Hills, 90210”, which began as the generation-defining supernova teen soap circa 1990; then, a revival with new kids, which debuted in 2008, and even later, a weird-o, short-lived, bunny version, in which the original actors played themselves as stranded stars of a show called… well… “Beverly Hills, 90210.”

Heck, Hulu even just launched a new sitcom called “Reboot” about an imaginary reboot of a behind-the-scenes sitcom.

Certain offshoots have certainly been more successful than others. The 2011 version of ABC’s “Charlie’s Angels” is barely remembered – based on the seismic ’70s show that later spawned a hit movie franchise. Indeed, it was canceled after the fourth episode. An updated “Murphy Brown” failed. Conversely, a reimagining of “One Day at a Time” has captured both viewers and critics alike – in part because the legendary Norman Lear, who created the classic sitcom, was also behind the new version in streaming and that it offered a new point of view. : move the action from the Midwest and focus on a multi-generational Cuban-American clan in Los Angeles

Docu-soaps have been around long enough to be rebooted, of course – the pop culture bomb that was “Jersey Shore” returned a decade later as “Jersey Shore: Family Vacation” (see: adult !) – but I’m racking my brains thinking about a great scripted series that was later rebooted as reality TV fare. Could “The Real Love Boat” be the first tele-Frankenstein of this variety? Maybe.

The creators of the new show point out that they focus on “love” in the title. “You have the ship and you have the Mediterranean, and everything is so beautiful; everything is so intoxicating. I mean, strangers become lovers because of this environment around them,” executive producer Jay Bienstock recently explained in an interview.

To that end, “The Real Love Boat” will have its own cast of characters — real bartenders, cruise directors, a captain — who all see pairing as part of the gig. There will of course also be special guest cameos, with CBS already showing footage of actor Ted Lange, who played bartender Isaac in the original show, and Jill Whelan, who played Vicki, the captain’s daughter.

Ted Lange, who played Isaac on the original "The ship of love" series, is one of the original cast members who makes an appearance in the new reality series.

And for those wondering: yes, the theme song “The Love Boat” is back. In a camptastic gesture, hosts Romijn and O’Connell are the ones singing it.

Shinan Govani is a Toronto-based freelance columnist covering culture and society. Follow him on Twitter: @shinangovani


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