During the 1970s and '80s, shows produced by Aaron Spelling dominated the television landscape. At one point during the 1984 season, Spelling had seven series running on the ABC network, which generated more than one-third of the network's revenues. Some critics dubbed ABC "Aaron's Broadcasting Company." One of those series, The Love Boat, became a solid top 15 hit in the Nielsen ratings when it debuted on September 24, 1977.
The Love Boat, an anthology series about the adventures of the passengers and crew aboard a luxury liner on a cruise from California to Mexico was based on a 1976 and 1977 television movies of the same name, which in turn was based on a novel by Jeraldine Saunders titled The Love Boats. Her book was taken from her experiences serving as a hostess aboard a cruise ship.
When The Love Boat appeared as a series in the fall of 1977, the cast was very different from that of the two pilot films. Gavin MacLeod, fresh from seven seasons as Murray Slaughter on The Mary Tyler Moore Show plays the ship's Captain, Merrill Stubing, Fred Grandy plays the ship's goofball Yeoman-Purser, Burl 'Gopher' Smith, Ted Lange plays the suave bartender Isaac Washington, Bernie Kopel is the skirt-chasing Dr. Adam Bricker, and perky Lauren Tewes is the cruise director. While each member of the crew had a job, that was secondary to helping the passengers find love.
The Love Boat: Season One, Volume One consists of the first 12 episodes of the series' 30-episode first season. The Love Boat is an anthology series which means that each episode is divided into three stories all going on aboard ship simultaneously. Each storyline was written by a different set of writers; one storyline focused on a member of the crew, another focused on how a crew member interacted with a passenger — maybe they struck up a friendship or a romance with someone — and the third storyline usually focused on a specific passenger or group of passengers.
The series premiere, "The Captain and the Lady/One If By Land/Centerfold," best illustrates the style of a typical episode. Captain Stubing and his ex-wife (Bonnie Franklin) have to face the realities of a badly resolved divorce when they find themselves trapped on the same cruise. The future wife of a powerful congressman (Meredith Baxter Birney) worries that the photo she took for an adult magazine as a young law student will jeopardize her fiancé's political career. With Julie's help she hides all the copies of the magazine that are available on the ship, until she finds the courage to tell her fiancé about the photos. Ginny O'Brien (Brenda Sykes) is followed by her commitment phobic boyfriend (Jimmie Walker) through all the ports where the cruise stops. Ginny thinks marriage is the only answer until she gets some advice from her cabin mate, Lorraine Hoffman (Suzanne Somers).
Earlier shows such as Love, American Style used famous guest stars to attract an audience, but Aaron Spelling turned it into an art form. Setting a show on a cruise line meant that the producers could have a whole new set of stars take a cruise every week. It has often been said that The Love Boat was where out of work has-beens went to get work. While some of that might be true, Spelling and company actually did a great job of mixing current stars of the time with those of older generations. One week's guest stars on The Love Boat: Season One, Volume One set include Maureen McCormick (The Brady Bunch), Patty Duke (Astin), Ruth Gordon, Phil Foster, Robert Hegyes (Welcome Back, Kotter), and Tab Hunter. Another week, the guest list includes Florence Henderson, Donna Mills, Shecky Green, and Dick Sargent (Bewitched). That is a pretty eclectic guest list. It is no mistake that the inside cover of the DVD set lists each episode title and a list of the guest stars instead of a summary of the plot.