For nearly 10 years, TV viewers got to experience a journey aboard a cruise ship nearly every Saturday night as The Love Boat brought the misadventures and romantic escapades of the luxury liner life right into their living rooms. With a roster of memorable characters like Captain Stubing (Gavin MacLeod), "Doc" Bricker (Bernie Kopell), Burl "Gopher" Smith (Fred Grandy), Julie McCoy (Lauren Tewes), and the finger-gun flailing Isaac (Ted Lange), the series was an immediate hit, lasting from 1977 until the spring of 1986. Here are 10 facts you need to know about TV's The Love Boat.
1. THE LOVE BOAT FOLLOWS THE LOVE, AMERICAN STYLE ANTHOLOGY FORMULA.
The Love Boat was unique for television at the time in that it was centered around multiple vignettes every week, chronicling the comedic (and romantic) misadventures of an ever-changing group of passengers and the stalwart crew of the ship.
The separate storylines would all have different writers and weave in and out throughout the episode. It wasn’t a typical sitcom, nor was it sketch comedy; it was a style that executive producer Aaron Spelling directly modeled after ABC’s earlier comic hit Love, American Style.
Aimed at an older audience—with an eye on comic hijinks dripping with sexual tension—The Love Boat found an audience instantly, debuting at number 14 on the Nielsen charts and staying strong until the finale.
2. THE SHOW WAS BASED ON A TELL-ALL BOOK BY A REAL CRUISE DIRECTOR.
There’s more reality to The Love Boat than most people would assume. The show was actually based on a book titled Love Boats by Jeraldine Saunders, the first female to become cruise director for Princess Cruises. The 1974 book is a tell-all, revealing anecdotes from Saunders’s decade-long career (at that point) as a cruise director and the various run-ins she had with colorful passengers, crew members, and exotic destinations.
3. IT WAS TURNED INTO THREE TV MOVIES FIRST.
Before The Love Boat became a weekly television show, ABC tested the waters with three made-for-TV movies acting as pilots: The Love Boat (1976), The Love Boat II (1977), and The New Love Boat (1977). The Love Boat II saw the eventual TV cast appear in early versions of their famous roles, including Bernie Kopell, Ted Lange, and Fred Grandy. And The New Love Boat was basically a pilot for what the finalized series was going to be.
After three TV movies and an overhaul of the cast, The Love Boat was ready to officially set sail on September 24, 1977.
4. ROBERT REED AND FLORENCE HENDERSON GUEST STARRED (BUT NOT AS MIKE AND CAROL BRADY).
The Love Boat was a destination for countless celebrity guest stars over the years. Each week, stars from both the big and small screens would make appearances, including Betty White, Joan Collins, Alan Thicke, Gene Kelly, Hulk Hogan, Jeffery Tambor, and Janet Leigh.
The Iron Woman of Love Boat guest stars was none other than Florence Henderson, who boarded the Pacific Princess a staggering nine times, playing various characters. During one of her guest-stints, the boat was also boarded by Robert Reed, who obviously played Mr. Brady on The Brady Bunch. Though the two were in separate vignettes and weren’t playing their former married selves, the show did acknowledge their sitcom past as Henderson briefly sees Reed’s character and the two share a knowing glance.
5. CHARLIE’S ANGELS WERE ONCE ONBOARD FOR A CROSSOVER.
In addition to The Love Boat, Spelling had another project on ABC, Charlie’s Angels, which preceded Love Boat by one year in 1976. So it was only natural to meld the two series—which have as little in common as humanly possible—for a 1979 crossover.
In the two-part episode “Love Boat Angels,” the Angels board the Pacific Princess in order to retrieve stolen pieces of art on a voyage to the Virgin Islands. Though the episode was about the Angels doing their Angel-y thing, The Love Boat favorites like Captain Stubing, Isaac, "Doc" Bricker, and Julie McCoy all made appearances.
6. ONLY THREE ACTORS APPEARED IN EVERY EPISODE OF THE SHOW.
During The Love Boat’s nine years on the air, plenty of the ship’s crew came and went, but three actors were onboard for the series’ entire 250-episode run: Gavin MacLeod, Bernie Kopell, and Ted Lange. Fred Grandy came close, starring in 246 episodes across the entire length of the show. Lange, Kopell, and MacLeod also starred in the 1990 TV movie The Love Boat: A Valentine Voyage and made appearances on Love Boat: The Next Wave.
7. THE SHOW WAS FILMED ON REAL BOATS WITH ACTUAL PASSENGERS.
To shoot The Love Boat you need a boat, right? To make the boat come alive, the production shot on two real cruise ships: The Pacific Princess and Island Princess. Real cruises were booked and actual passengers played extras during certain scenes that required a more authentic look. For the actual people on vacation, filming was just an added bonus, as extras would get a raffle ticket at the end of each day they filmed. The cruises known to double as shooting locales would always sell out.
Filming aboard an actual ship wasn’t the norm, though. Like any sitcom, The Love Boat was mostly shot on soundstages that could create the look of a cabin, dining area, or a ship’s hallways.
8. DIONNE WARWICK SANG THE THEME FOR THE FINAL SEASON.
The Love Boat’s iconic theme was written by Paul Williams—who had written for The Carpenters, David Bowie, and The Muppets—and Charles Fox, the man behind the music for the Wide World of Sports and the first theme for ABC’s Monday Night Football. And for the show’s first eight seasons, The Love Boat theme was performed by Jack Jones until season nine when hit singer Dionne Warwick took over.
9. THE REAL LOVE BOAT BECAME A NOTORIOUS VESSEL FOR DRUG SMUGGLERS.
The life of an out-of-work Hollywood icon can be rough, and after The Love Boat went off the air, the Pacific Princess found itself mixed up in the seedy world of narcotics. In 1998, BBC reported that the liner had become “a major tool for smugglers bent on trafficking drugs around the Mediterranean,” and more than 50 pounds of heroin were found aboard in November of that year.
The ship was impounded in Greece during a cruise, stranding the 600 passengers there as the whole ordeal got sorted out.
10. THE PACIFIC PRINCESS WAS BROUGHT TO A SCRAP YARD IN 2013.
When The Love Boat ended, the Pacific Princess—eventually renamed the MS Princess—was still in operation as a functioning luxury liner. In addition to its previously known drug issues, the ship’s final years were spent in a state of constant repairs and unpaid debt. After going through numerous owners and financial maladies, the MS Princess was eventually sent to a Turkish scrap yard in 2013.
Before it went to scrap, the ship was already decommissioned, and getting it back into proper shape would have been senseless from a financial standpoint, according to Ersin Ceviker of the Ship Recyclers' Association of Turkey. During its trip to the Aliaga port in Turkey, the ship began taking on water and required additional tugboats to bring it to its final destination.