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Series / The Love Boat

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And guest starring every other actor around.

"Welcome aboard, it's loooooooooove!"

Jeraldine Saunders, a real-life cruise director, wrote about her experiences in a book called The Love Boats. A trilogy of TV Pilot Movies followed, and then it finally became an Aaron Spelling-produced series airing on ABC from 1977 to 1986.

The show was an hour long comedy with some drama in-between, with several intertwining plots about the guests and the crew. As the title implied, people were falling in love all over the place. And, of course, went further than that.

The regular cast included Gavin MacLeod as the ship's Captain Merrill Stubing, Bernie Kopell as the ship's doctor Adam "Doc" Bricker, Fred Grandy as the ship's yeoman purser Burl "Gopher" Smith, Ted Lange as the ship's bartender Isaac Washington and Lauren Tewes as cruise director Julie McCoy.

Now, even if you never watched the show, you've probably heard the theme song, one of the most well-known TV themes ever, and a favorite for fictional lounge acts. This was sung by Jack Jones (and, in later seasons, Dionne Warwick) and written by Paul Williams. Yes, the man who wrote "The Rainbow Connection" also wrote this. Ernie Anderson provided the voiceover.

A revival series, Love Boat: The Next Wave, aired on UPN for two seasons in 1998–99. This one featured an all-new cast, including Robert Urich as the captain, although the second season episode "Reunion" brought many of the original characters back for one more story.

A VERY loose re-imagining of the series, The Real Love Boat, debuted on CBS in 2022. Instead of a scripted anthology, this was a romantic reality show hosted by Rebecca Romijin and Jerry O’Connell. Contestants were paired up on the cruise ship and went through relationship-building exercises, with Ted Lange and Jill Whelan returning to join in on the fun. The show capsized very quickly; it was cancelled after just four episodes aired, with the remaining episodes shipping off to Paramount+.

The Love Boat provides examples of:

  • Actor Allusion: Surprisingly defied as several times, stars would play much different roles than their more famous parts (such as loveable Dick Van Patten as an abusive husband).
    • One episode does have Bernie Koppel as a German police inspector with an accent not unlike Siegfried.
    • One episode had Florence Henderson and Robert Reed in separate storylines. For one brief moment, they meet at a buffet table, nod to each other and then give puzzled looks of "don't I know you?" before shrugging and moving on.
    • One of the TV movies has Peter Graves talking of having once worked for the government but "I suppose the secretary would disavow my actions..."
  • All for Nothing: In one episode the captain is being driven crazy by a pair of seemingly incompetent painters (who are deliberately drawing out the job to get a free cruise) only to change his mind about the color once they finally do it right, after he realizes it's far more common than he'd thought.
  • Amicable Exes:
    • Doc is on generally good terms with his various ex-wives. That includes an annual hookup on the ship with one ex. They briefly considered getting married again but decided "let's not ruin a perfectly good divorce."
    • A common plotline would be two exes meeting on the ship and often rekindling the flame or at least being able to get along well as one sees the other in a new romance.
  • Ball-Balancing Seal: In the episode "Isaac's Teacher/Seal of Approval/The Successor", Donald O'Connor guest stars as a seal trainer. He has a seal named Shirley, who is capable of balancing a ball on its nose.
  • Busman's Holiday: In "Marooned/The Search/Isaac's Holiday" had Isaac planning a ski trip for his vacation. There's no snow on the mountain, so he takes a cruise on the Pacific Princess instead.
  • The Captain: Merrill Stubing, formerly of the U.S. Navy, commands the Pacific Princess in most of the episodes, and the Island Princess in the ones where the more exotic locales are visited.
  • The Casanova: Doc picks up a different woman practically every cruise. Subverted when a fellow (married) doctor has to stay behind due to a colleague being sick and his wife sails without him. The man tells Adam to be sure she has a good time and *she* pursues *him*. Not wanting to betray his friend, he passes the duty off to Captain Stubing, who ends up hiding from her as well after she tries to seduce him, too.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: In the cruise line inspector episode, the man who shows up now and then speaking Russian is in fact trying to find the cruise inspector, who never made it onboard.
  • Christmas Episode:
    • Season 1's "Lonely at the Top/Silent Night/Divorce Me, Please" has Stubing dressing up as Santa for a group of orphan boys on a cruise.
    • In Season 4's "That's My Dad/The Captain's Bird/Captive Audience," Stubing buys a parrot for Vicky, and Gopher and Isaac try to teach it to say something other than "Captain Stubing is a jerk." Meanwhile, a singer played by Jack Jones sings "Winter Wonderland."
    • There were several others, most notably the Season 10 movie "The Christmas Cruise".
  • The Cobbler's Children Have No Shoes: Dear Beverly an advice columnist takes a whole episode and a lot of hints to realize that her own marriage is in danger of failing.
  • Collective Identity: One episode has twin sisters pretending to be one woman to share a ticket and get a cruise at half price. The only difference between them appearance-wise was that one was Blind Without 'Em and always had a pair of glasses on hand. They're never found out, despite both falling for Doc (who is confused by some of the contradictory behavior, but never really dwells on it).
  • Contrived Coincidence: A first-season episode has a bank manager impulsively stealing some money and using the boat for a getaway. On board, he quickly falls in love with a fellow passenger and admits what he did. She then reveals she happens to be a cop. He lampshades how unlikely this is and wonders if she was following him, but she insists she was on vacation and never expected this. She admits she's in love with him even as she has to arrest him. When they discover the bank is closed for a holiday, they're briefly tempted to just return the money and move on, but he decides instead to confess to the robbery rather than get her in trouble with a cover-up.
  • Cool Boat: Nearly all the action took place aboard the Pacific Princess.
    • The Next Wave was set on another boat, the Sun Princess, while The Real Love Boat was filmed aboard the Regal Princess.
  • Crossover:
    • A couple with Fantasy Island, another Aaron Spelling show which immediately followed The Love Boat on ABC Saturday nights.
    • Yet another Spelling show, Charlie's Angels, had an episode where the title characters pursue art thieves on a Pacific Princess cruise and encounter Capt. Stubing and his crew.
    • There was one with Get Smart, where Max was afraid of the Doc since he looked a lot like Siegfried (being played by the same actor and all).
    • Years after the show ended, some of the cast members appeared in character in a two-part episode of Martin.
  • Cryptid Episode: One storyline involved a group of anthropologists on board the boat who were searching for a Malayan Bigfoot "Missing Link", although it eventually turned out to be a complicated con involving an actor in a bad wig and stage make-up.
  • Diegetic Soundtrack Usage: "April's Return" has the titular immigrant sing the theme song in the lounge.
  • Disguised in Drag: Happened at least twice.
  • Doesn't Know Their Own Child: In "Aunt Hilly," Vicki's titular rich aunt insists that she loves her son and sent him to boarding school for his own good, not to get rid of him. But when asked when he was born, she can't come up with anything more specific than "April or May," which she only remembers because his birth interrupted a social function.
  • Dude, Where's My Respect?: Dwyer the teacher from Julie's school whose present during a reunion aboard the ship feels this way, but only because he keeps overhearing conversations about him which start off unflattering, and then walking off right before someone compliments everything he's done for them.
  • Fake Guest Star:
    • The first few episodes featuring Ace had Ted McGinley listed with the opening guest stars, indicating the character was only going to be around for a short time. It wasn't until the 8th season premiere that McGinley was put in the cast credits.
    • The final episodes of Season 9 had Michael Winslow likewise in the guest star opening although his assistant cruise director character was intended to become a regular for season 10. That never happened with ABC canceling the series and Winslow not appearing in the later TV movies.
  • Fanservice: The poolside scenes in pretty much every episode, allowing Hollywood's most beautiful to dress down into swimsuits.
  • Forgotten First Meeting: In the pilot, Julie doesn't know who Stubing is, but another episode says that she was an instructor in a cruise director course she took.
  • Framed Face Opening: Utilized for the guest passengers on each episode, from season 2 onward. The standard credit sequence had the port window motif over the Princess backdrop while the final season (1985/86) used a wave motif over a panoramic montage of sights from around the world.
  • Genre Anthology: This show and Fantasy Island were hybrids of the anthology and ongoing series format. Most episodes would have two stories about characters who had never appeared before and would never appear again (though they would occasionally interact with the regular cast), and one story that the series regulars could participate in directly.
  • Glamorous Single Mother: A few, all the way back to the second episode, where the main character of one plot line (who's trying to get her exterminator boyfriend to propose) shares a cabin with a partier played by Suzanne Somers who provides her some relationship advice. When the exterminator's girlfriend says that she wants children, her roommate offers to let her borrow hers. The way she says it may feel like a joke at first, but at the end of the episode we find out that she does have two kids waiting for her at the pier who were staying with their grandmother.
  • Halloween Episode: "Ship of Ghouls," featuring an illusionist who can induce hallucinations in other people and a costume party that all the characters attend.
  • Happy Holidays Dress: In "The Christmas Cruise", a child (played by Judith Barsi) is dressed as an angel.
  • Her Code Name Was "Mary Sue": In one episode Isaac tries his hand at writing, but can't decide on the genre (his opening paragraphs, as read by other crew members, are all examples of Stylistic Suck). He finally turns to a book about the staff of a cruise ship, blatantly describing the Love Boat crew; Gopher's name is changed to "Muskrat," etc. His fellow crew members are not amused.
  • Horrible Honeymoon: One young couple on their honeymoon suffers mishap after mishap, including the bride falling asleep while sunbathing and getting a severe sunburn and the groom throwing his back out just from bending over to pick up something and ending up in a wheelchair for almost the rest of the cruise.
  • Hospital Hottie: Dawn Delaney, a friend of Dr. Bricker's, fills this role in "The Nubile Nurse".
  • Inappropriately Close Comrades: Many episodes show some member of the main cast having a romance of the week with a passenger, including the captain. In real life, this would be strictly forbidden by most cruise lines' policies.
  • In Love with the Mark: A variation in the third episode, when a widowed private detective falls in love with the woman he’s following for her unfaithful husband.
  • Insatiable Newlyweds: A series Running Gag, starting from the pilot.
  • Insecure Love Interest: Ahead of his own wedding to Emily, Stubing is a bundle of nerves and actively avoiding her. The anxiety of the big change has gotten him nervous about how she'd react to parts of his past that he's not proud of, such as how he never married Vicki's mother, is a recovering alcoholic, and snores. While reassuring him, Emily says Vicki told her about the first one and that she figured out the others herself.
  • Inspirational Insult: The second variation was in play during an episode of the show. Jimmy Osmond played a novice actor shooting a scene, who just couldn't get it right. The director wasn't satisfied with his believability. He wasn't conveying enough anger and hurt. After repeated tries, the director called a break, during which the captain's daughter Vicki ripped into him about how he might as well give it up. He was a horrible failure of an actor, and he wasn't ever going to succeed. On the next take, he nailed it. Vicki had insulted him deliberately to make him angry and produce that result.
  • Intimate Lotion Application: In "The Identical Problem", two twin sisters get into the boat pretending they're one person so they can only pay for one ticket. One of them flirts with Doc while she's sunbathing on the deck by asking him to rub lotion on her legs and back. He gladly accepts, but first goes to the bar to get them both drinks, but by the time he's back, the twins have switched, so when he suddenly starts rubbing lotion on her back, she thinks he's being a creep and slaps him, leaving him confused.
  • The Jinx: The eponymous title of one such story, where a married couple boards the ship and a different crew member invariably suffers some kind of injury while interacting with them. Stubing chastises this belief, saying they're blaming their own carelessness on a rather sweet and harmless couple. Then he accidentally falls off a dock after being distracted by the couple.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: A smarmy author advocating open marriage despite how much he can see it hurts his wife's feelings is the first cheater in the show whose marriage does break up (all the previous ones made amends) and on top of that the other woman jilts him to.
  • Laugh Track: Was used in the audio. According to IMDB, it was one of the very last sitcoms to use one.
  • Marry Them All: In "Sally's Paradise," a woman impulsively accepts proposals from three different men, all of whom end up on the same cruise ship. When they find out about her, they agree that she'll pick one, and the other two will stay out of her life. She likes having three men pay attention to her so much that she tells each of them that he's the one, and the episode ends with her still engaged to all three, plus a fourth guy she just met.
  • The Movie: Besides the three Pilot Movies, there were a number of special two-hour movie episodes throughout the show's run, including three which aired in 1986/87 in lieu of a tenth season.
  • The Noodle Incident: On leave, the gang complains over having to see Isaac's aunt in a horrible play. When Gopher calls it the worst experience ever on shore leave, Doc states he had a worse one with his second wife, but "as per our divorce agreement, I'm legally forbidden from talking about it."
  • Not Blood Siblings: One episode has a woman looking for her biological mother find out it’s the mom of the passenger whose been helping her, and who she has a crush on. Fortunately, it turns out she’s just his stepmother.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Robert Tanner the jewel thief played by Jim Nabors does a very good job of acting like a clueless hick.
  • Off to Boarding School: In "Return of the Ninny," a woman plans to have her fiancé's kids sent to boarding school and the nanny fired so she won't have to deal with them. Her plans fall apart when the father hears the nanny discussing the future with the kids, causing him to call off the engagement.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business:
    • A recurring bit would be a passenger being an old friend of a crewmember, who's soon able to tell something is off about their behavior.
    • When the usually fun, happy-go-lucky Gopher is short-tempered and snapping at people, his friends know something is wrong.
    • Doc knows Stubing has undergone a serious heartbreak when he finds the captain, a recovering alcoholic of ten years, tempted by a bottle of scotch.
  • Open Relationship Failure: In the "The 'Now' Marriage" segment of Season 2, Episode 15, Dr. Todd Gardiner has written a best-selling book by that title which encourages married people to engage in open relationships. Upon boarding, he tells the crew he and his wife Eleanor intend to pursue other partners during the cruise. He meets a swinging single lady and spends all his time dancing, dining, and sleeping with her. Meanwhile, Eleanor remains unattached and becomes more and more miserable by the day. When she finally opens up and reveals her true feelings of jealousy and neglect, the two reconcile and decide to remain monogamous after all.
  • Orphaned Punchline: In "Mind My Wife," Doc tells a joke that ends with, "And the planet says, 'If I could do that, I'd be a star!'"
  • Pictorial Letter Substitution: The original logo for The Love Boat had the second "O" replaced by a ring buoy (made more obvious by the stencil font used for the rest of the letters).
  • Pie in the Face:
    • In "America's Sweetheart," Vicki acts as a double on a TV show. Her job is to do anything that's too messy or unpleasant for the bratty teen star, which includes having a pie thrown in her face.
    • Stubbing and Ace are covered in pies when a frat party gets out of hand.
  • Popcultural Osmosis: The theme song.
  • Potty Dance: Isaac does this when forced to share a cabin (and a bathroom) with the other male crew.
  • Prenup Blowup: In one episode, this was part of a subplot: a man getting over a very economically taxing divorce tries to court several women on the boat who immediately shun him when he asks for them to sign a pre-nup (while dating). Eventually he decides not to do it for the woman he ends up falling in love with... who at the end of the episode asks him to sign one, having also been through a similar divorce.
  • Put on a Bus: Julie McCoy, after Lauren Tewes' cocaine addiction made her unable to do her job. The Bus Came Back, however. She made a guest appearance (as a passenger) in a season 9 episode, then returned as cruise director for the three season 10 movies.
  • Rearrange the Song: The theme song was sung by Jack Jones in Seasons 1-8, and by Dionne Warwick in Season 9.
  • Reunion Show: Love Boat: A Valentine Voyage, a two-hour movie with most of the original cast, aired on CBS in 1990.
  • Revival: Love Boat: The Next Wave, which ran on UPN in 1998/99 and involved an entirely different ship and crew (although several members of the original show's cast did appear in one episode, where they got together for the wedding of the now-grown Vicki Stubing).
  • Road Trip Plot: The job of the regular cast was to facilitate these for the guest stars.
  • Rule of Pool: Practically every episode has at least one person falling or being shoved into the pool.
  • Security Blanket: "Aquaphobiac" has a man who's so scared of water, he wears a life vest everywhere. In the end, he overcomes his fears and tosses the vest into the ocean. To the crew's surprise, the vest sinks.
  • Sexy Discretion Shot: Often a story ended with a guest's room closing the door with a happy couple inside...
  • Sheep in Sheep's Clothing: The eventual winner in the beauty pageant held aboard the ship in season 2. She seems nice at first but then engages in cultural appropriation during a talent show and entices the emcee into a compromising position, but it turns out she only did the later action so he'd let her friend and competitor who was unfairly disqualified back into the contest.
  • Small Parent, Huge Child: "The Little People" concerns a dwarf couple, played by Billy Barty and Patty Maloney, whose adult son is of normal stature.
  • Soap Within a Show: In "Marooned/The Search/Isaac's Holiday," the star of All My Loves takes a cruise. Julie is thrilled to see him, saying, "You're the man who murdered his wife! Ooh, I hate your guts!" Later, an old lady hits him with an umbrella because "I just know you're plotting to kill Dr. Jarrat!"
  • Special Guest: This was part of the show's premise. Every episode included a new set of passengers, and a new set of celebrities playing those people. A comprehensive montage of their credits in the opening takes up to over 45 minutes. It probably would be easier to count living people in early 1980s Hollywood who did not appear in the show.
  • Stalker with a Test Tube: In "The Perfect Match," a woman who feels ready for motherhood but not marriage searches an insurance companies computers for the perfect man, stalks him to learn about all his interests, and follows him aboard to conceive the perfect baby.
  • The Starscream: One episode has Julie assigned an assistant/trainee who's blatantly trying to discredit her and steal her job. The others have something to say about that and discredit her, tricking her into coming onto a married director of the cruise line. The woman learns humility when Julie steps in to tell Stubing she’d been tricked before he can throw the book at her, and Stubing says that, trickery or not, her behavior was inappropriate and the idea of her replacing Julie is absurd.
  • Suddenly Shouting: Stubing can play on this a few times when the crew's antics upset him.
    • Played dramatically when Stubing finds Vicki, on her 18th birthday, getting drunk. He tells her to put the bottle down before finally erupting "put it down NOW!" to shock her. Given Stubing is a recovering alcoholic, his reaction is understandable.
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Judy McCoy, for her sister Julie McCoy.
  • Thanksgiving Episode:
    • In "Tony's Family," the titular engineer's vacation gets cancelled at the last minute, so the crew helps him smuggle his large family onto the ship for a Thanksgiving cruise.
    • A Season 6 episode had a Thanksgiving cruise and all the drama to go along with it. "Too Many Dads" puts a child in-between his birth father and stepfather. "Love Will Find a Way" has a man disapproving of his daughter's paraplegic fiancé. "The Best of Friends" sees various crew members feuding for trivial reasons, much to Stubing's continued irritation. The guests sorting out their issues during the big dinner prompt the crew to take stock of their own behavior and apologize.
  • The Teetotaler: Captain Stubing.
  • That Russian Squat Dance: "Alaska Wedding Cruise" has the boat stopping in Sitka, where a group of Russian folk dancers do the dance.
  • Thematic Theme Tune:
    "Love, exciting and new
    Come aboard, we're expecting you!"
  • Third Line, Some Waiting: Every episode featured three interwoven plot lines (or four, in a few of the two-part episodes). Usually they were independent of each other, but on occasion they would intersect.
  • Title Drop: In the third pilot movie (the first with Capt. Stubing), Doc makes the mistake of calling the Pacific Princess a Love Boat. He is told in no uncertain terms by Stubing to not use that phrase in his presence again.
  • Too Good for This Sinful Earth: Phil Silvers' character in the pilot, although not as sinful of an earth as in a lot of versions.
  • Transatlantic Equivalent: The Real Love Boat had an Australian version that debuted on October 5, 2022, the exact same day as the American one. That one aired on Network 10, and was hosted by The Voice Australia co-host Darren McMullen. Paolo Arrigo portrayed the ship captain on both versions. While it was also met with poor ratings, Network 10 stuck with it throughout and aired all the episodes.
  • Umbrella Drink: Featured in almost every episode. Exaggerated in "Gopher's Bride," when Doc and Gopher both order fancy drinks for a woman they're competing over; the surface of Gopher's drink is completely covered in fruit and umbrellas, while Doc's contains a small pineapple with two sparklers stuck in it.
  • Understanding Boyfriend: Brad, the centerfolds politician fiancé from the second episode.
  • Valentine's Day Episode: "A Valentine Voyage," the last original episode (actually a special) from 1990.
  • Visions of Another Self: A Season 9 episode, "Forties Fantasy", has Gopher imagining the ship serving as a troop carrier during World War II.
  • Woobie of the Week: Some of the guest roles included a character with a sad story, but likely to get a happy ending.