Times Staff Writer

Historical footnote: “The Love Boat” sets sail on its final cruise tonight (barring future reunions, of course, which, come to think of it, seem inevitable--like revisitations of seasickness).

You thought “The Love Boat” had already left? Wishful thinking! While it’s true that ABC did bid it bon voyage as a weekly series last year, the network also ordered three two-hour installments as specials for this season. The third one airs tonight (9-11 p.m., Channels 7, 3, 10 and 42).

Alas, the production team didn’t treat it as a final episode, so there is nothing special about the show--no sailing into the sunset, no tearful farewells among the relentlessly dull Capt. Stubing and the numskull crew of the Pacific Princess.


Instead, there are the usual assortment of banal love stories, strung together this time out by a silly murder mystery, and of limp jokes: “Ace,” one crew member says to another, “if you were a book, I’d throw you away.”

For all of its insufferable inanity, however, “The Love Boat” was a major success for most of its 9 1/2-year run. In its first season, it knocked off CBS’ long-running “Carol Burnett Show” and thereafter served as the durable anchor for ABC’s strong Saturday-night lineup. Incongrously, it also served as a political launching pad: Fred Grandy, who played the bumbling ship’s purser Gopher, was elected to the House of Representatives last fall from his home state of Iowa.

“The Love Boat” was also distinctive for its success in attracting major stars for guest appearances. Tonight’s show may be an indication, however, of why it was time to throw in the towel: It features a multitude of cameo appearances by the likes of Charlene Tilton, Ruth Buzzi, Bert Convy, Arte Johnson, Vic Tayback, Tina Louise and, appearing as a performer at the ship’s amateur night (surely an inside joke), Charo.

Regrettably, the producers chose not to include two cameos that would have brought “The Love Boat” to a fitting end: the iceberg from “Titanic” followed by the shark from “Jaws.”