August 10, 2021

"Fantasy Island" Reboot Premiers on Fox Broadcast TV Tues, Aug 10, 2021

When it comes to TV from the mid-1970's to the mid-1980's, for those who weren't yet old enough to be out tearing up the disco floors a la "Saturday Night Fever",  Saturday nights usually meant spending the evening at home watching ABC television from 9:00 PM to 11:00 PM. ABC aired two of Aaron Spelling and former Screen Gems' top TV execs Leonard Goldberg's big TV hits: "The Love Boat" which ran from 9:00 PM to 10:00 PM, followed by another hit known as "Fantasy Island". My recollections of those days are fond; an older cousin introduced me to the shows as a way of living out their own fantasies — sort of.

Both shows were also known as big work opportunities for many out-of-work actors, or those who simply wanted extra paid work. Both shows were similar in that they each ran for an hour time-slot, which is quite rare for non-movies or live sporting events. However, they both were quite popular. That's partially because there were only 3 broadcast TV networks plus PBS television and perhaps some independent stations which showed old re-runs from the fifties and sixties. Cable as we now know it did not exist, and streaming or on-demand content was an even more far-fetched idea.

The original "Fantasy Island" ran for seven seasons from 1978 to 1984 which is pretty impressive. As noted, the show was co-produced by the late Aaron Spelling. These days, the old show doesn't air very much on the re-run circuit (a few networks still run the show, but often very late at night, so its possible to set your DVR's) because the show originally fit into an hour time slot and the shows are simply too long to squeeze into a rerun circuit. Still, the basic premise was that wealthy and/or well-connected island guests could visit the island and have one fantasy they'd always dreamed about fulfilled. But the guests' fantasies seldom turned out quite the way the guests envisioned. Usually, the fantasies taught some kind of lesson.

To be sure, the original "Fantasy Island" was revered for its cast, most notably the late Ricardo Montalbán and the late Hervé Villechaize (perhaps better known for his starring role as a villain in the 1974 James Bond film "The Man with the Golden Gun" which starred the late Roger Moore as James Bond). The actors were also known for their distinctive accents which lent some mystery to their presence on screen. Mr. Montalbán had a Spanish accent, whereas Villechaize had a distinctive French accent (even though his ethnicity was Filipino, he was raised in France, hence his French accent).

Ricardo Montalbán and Hervé Villechaize

While both series have been released on DVD, unless one borrows the discs from their public library, that's an option which is rather costly for someone merely seeking a walk down memory lane. But for those people, today, free streaming is indeed a viable option.

Of the ABC Saturday night line-up during the late seventies to mid-eighties, today, viewers have the option to watch an entire subchannel dedicated to "The Love Boat" on the free ad-supported streaming network/app known as Pluto TV https://pluto.tv/en/live-tv/the-love-boat which is owned by Viacom CBS. There, dozens of episodes of that long-running show run back-to-back all day, every day. Episodes are also available for viewing on-demand.

But reruns of "Fantasy Island" are not available on Pluto TV. The reason is because the ownership rights were not Viacom's (which owns Pluto TV). However, streaming viewers can now watch reruns of "Fantasy Island" on the rival commercial-sponsored free streaming network (which competes with Viacom's Pluto TV) known as Tubi TV https://tubitv.com/series/300006868/fantasy-island-1977-series which means if you wish to watch the two shows back-to-back as you did back in the late seventies, simply switch from Pluto TV to Tubi TV on your Roku device. Selected episodes from the first, second and third seasons of the original version of "Fantasy Island" are also available free at Hulu. 

Readers may recall that I previously blogged about "The Love Boat" — or at least the outcome of the boat itself — (see HERE) and that isn't the subject of today's post. 

But "Fantasy Island" (which I previously covered HERE) to address that after years, the series had finally made it to DVD, hence the content had therefore been digitized) warrants mention because the old show is now being rebooted and will air on Fox broadcast television.  The first episode of the rebooted "Fantasy Island" will air tonight (Tuesday, August 10, 2021) on Fox broadcast TV at 10:00 PM.

Fantasy Island 2021 Reboot

Of relevant note is that in 2018, Fox sold its entire entertainment division (which included broadcast television) to Walt Disney Corp. Disney was not at all interested in buying Fox's bogus cable "news" division. Part of the reason is those channels no longer earn money from advertising generally, but instead relies on revenues from cable carrier fees. With the acquisition of Fox Entertainment, Disney solidified itself as a true media giant (it already owns ABC), competing with the likes of Viacom CBS and NBC Universal. That effectively left Rupert Murdoch and his kids cash-rich (reportedly more than $52 billion) but are now media poor. Few Americans even care what the fossilized old Australian immigrant got from the deal. But the change in ownership brought newfound creativity and thinking to programming decisions for Fox.

Still, if I had to speculate on which of the ABC Saturday night line-up from the mid-seventies to mid-eighties would get a reboot, I didn't envision it would be  Fantasy Island". Part of the reason is because the original "Fantasy Island" was a little far-fetched. 

The original "Fantasy Island" was a fantasy drama television series which was created by Gene Levitt. As noted, it aired on ABC from 1977 to 1984. The series starred Ricardo Montalbán as the mysterious Mr. Roarke and Hervé Villechaize as his assistant, Tattoo. Guests were granted so-called "fantasies" on the island ... for a price. In other words, the guests all received whatever their lifelong fantasies were, but the fantasies that the guests envisioned seldom turned out quite the way they had expected.

There had been discussions of rebooting the old show over the years, but few materialized. In 1998, there was one ill-fated attempt to use "Fantasy Island" as the basis for a horror movie, but it bombed because it wasn't a good concept.

"Fantasy Island" Reboot Is Unique: Women Are Behind It

However, a "Fantasy Island" series reboot was greenlit on December 2020, slated for a 2021 release on Fox broadcast television. The series will be a co-production between Sony Pictures Television and Fox Entertainment. In April 2021, it was announced that Kiara Barnes and John Gabriel Rodriguez had joined the main cast of the series. That same month, it was also announced that Roselyn Sánchez had joined the cast of the series as Elena Roarke, who plays the granddaughter of the late Mr. Roarke, and as already noted, the rebooted "Fantasy Island" series is scheduled to premiere on August 10, 2021 — which is tonight!

The series, which is not necessarily anticipated to be a permanent addition, rather it serves as a fill-in during a period in which new TV content is largely absent from the airwaves other than the horrible and tired "reality" shows such as "Big Brother". The "Fantasy Island" reboot might be a compelling addition with a creative, intelligent reboot attempt. 

More than 37 years after Ricardo Montalbán finished his run as Mr. Roarke, the debonair concierge of an enigmatic, wish-fulfilling beach resort in the Pacific Ocean, "Fantasy Island" is returning once more to network television. But this time, the latest iteration arrives on Fox with women on both sides of the camera.

The "Fantasy Island" reboot was created by Elizabeth Craft and Sarah Fain, and the new "Fantasy Island" premieres on Tuesday. It centers on Elena Roarke played by Roselyn Sánchez, who is a grandniece of Montalbán's Mr. Roarke who has left her life in New York behind to become the sophisticated steward of the island, where she sates her guests' greatest desires but teaches them that what they want isn't necessarily what they need.

The show reportedly "delves into the 'what if' questions, both big and small, that keep us awake at night," per its official logline. "Each episode will tell emotional, provocative stories about people who walk in with a desire, but end up reborn to themselves through the magical realism of Fantasy Island."

Roselyn Sánchez told the New York Times (see https://www.nytimes.com/2021/08/09/arts/television/fantasy-island-returns-roselyn-sanchez.html for the article) "We did watch 'Fantasy Island' as kids and we have such strong memories of sitting in our respective houses and watching Mr. Roarke and his sidekick, Tattoo [played by Hervé Villechaize]," said Sarah Fain, who serves as a showrunner along with Craft. "But we loved the show so much that it very quickly felt like a really incredible opportunity."

In Sánchez, Elizabeth Craft said the creators had found someone who they believe has the perfect combination of "humor, warmth, compassion and natural authority." For the Puerto Rican actress, the show, which was shot on the island, offered a chance to reunite with relatives and many of the same crew members she had worked with at the start of her career.

The production also gave Puerto Rico a much-needed financial boost. "It's really important to the island, to them and to me," said Ms. Sánchez, who opted to postpone her directorial feature debut in favor of shooting the 10-episode first season of "Fantasy Island" in her homeland.

In a phone interview from Puerto Rico, Sánchez talked with the New York Times about the pressure that comes with stepping into the shoes — and iconic white suit — of Ricardo Montalbán, and Latino representation in Hollywood. But she said that the premise of the show is pretty much the same as the original. 

"It's about wish fulfillment; it's about growing as a human being; it's about making dreams come true. Guests come to the island — they have a desire, they have a dream, whatever it is — then the island helps them navigate through a journey that has magic and can fulfill them.

But the fact that the lead role is a female, that's a testament to how the showrunners wanted to do something that is a little more current. Directors, a lot of heads of departments, showrunners — they're all female, behind the camera and in front of the camera. They took some creative liberties that are going to elevate the material, especially the fact that you have minorities in charge as leads. It's keeping up with the current times."

The New York Times asked Ms. Sánchez: "In promotional videos you mentioned that you were a fan of the original. What are your most vivid memories of watching the show as a girl in Puerto Rico?"

Her response was: "We had [the original "Fantasy Island"] in Spanish here. I was born in 1973, and the show was in the '70s, so I was very young. But that moment of the Tattoo character ringing the bell and saying, "El avión, el avión" ["The plane, the plane"] is very vivid.

You have to understand that Ricardo Montalbán, for Latinos, he was like royalty. Just the fact that he was a leading man carrying his own show, and he did it so well, and it was so successful. Having the opportunity to portray pretty much that character and continue the Roarke legacy, it’s a dream, and I do recognize it's a  responsibility. But it's one that I'm embracing with all my heart, and I hope people enjoy me as much as they enjoy him."

Fox has a website for the series (for the time-being, anyway) at https://www.fox.com/fantasy-island/. Over the past few weeks, Roselyn Sánchez been on the promotional circuit for the reboot of "Fantasy Island". However, Fox television has produced a short commercial, followed by a half-hour deep dive into the reboot. You can watch those below, or on YouTube by visiting https://youtube.com/playlist?list=PLfSNYYNU6TvEPe5VuJ23fimwDy92WSJCz 

 

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