Thursday, August 15, 2013


Come and knock on our door..... 
We've been waiting for you...... 
Where the kisses are hers and hers and his, 
Three's company too. 

Come and dance on on our floor...... 
Take a step that is new..... 
We've a loveable space that needs your face, 
Three's company too. 

You'll see that life is a frolic and laughter is calling for you...... 
Down at our rendez-vous, 
Three's company, too!!!!!! 

What's one of the most popular, yet groundbreaking TV shows of all time that laid the groundwork for modern comedy from "Friends," to "Modern Family?  Well, that show was a little show about a guy named Jack Tripper, an aspiring chef that moved into a small apartment with two attractive ladies yet, maintained a strictly platonic relationship with them.

"Three's Company" like a lot of successful American comedies of the the time, were "Americanized" versions of successful British comedies.  "Sanford and Son" in the US was originally "Steptoe and Son" in England.  "All in the Family" was originally "Till Death do us Part."  Three's Company was developed from the show "Man about the house."

Back in the 70's it seemed that there was an actual development process with prospective shows going through several iterations before finally airing; and then even changing substantially more later on.  This contrasts starkly with today's development process, which is more of the "One and you're done" process where if something isn't a hit, or doesn't seem like it might be a hit, it is gone, baby gone - and quick.

Three's Company was unique though, in that it went through three pilots.  The first iteration was put together by "M.A.S.H.'s" Larry Gelbart and famed broadway writer, Peter Stone, and had two different women, in two different roles.  The second pilot was written by Don Nicholl, Michael Ross and Bernie Wes, the trio that adapted "Till Death do us part" in "All in the Family" for American audiences.  The third pilot wasn't really a pilot as much as a search to find the perfect actress to play the naive blonde role of "Chrissy," which Suzanne Sommers lucked into getting, as she wasn't the first choice of the producers to star in the role.

 Despite the immense amount of development put into show, Three's Company was not expected to make it beyond its first six episodes.  But, the show's constant comedy of errors, endearing characters, hijinks and escapades, made it a breakout it.  Within three years the show went from zero to number one.

Just a year after the show debuted in 1977 it was pulling down a TWENTY ONE rating with over 15 million viewers.  Contrast that with "Modern Family," the highest rated comedy today only pulls down less than half those numbers.  Granted, it's a different time with many more means of competition, but still quite an amazing feat for such a small show with a very small cast of characters.

The show broke new ground in that it walked through the door that "All in the Family" had created.  Although a different tone than "All in the Family," Three's Company addressed sexuality directly and had a vibe of sexuality that was presented through clever innuendo and situations.

In the first episode "After crashing a wedding reception and finding himself passed out in the bathtub, cooking school student Jack Tripper meets Janet Wood, a florist, and Chrissy Snow, a secretary, in need of a new roommate. Having only been able to afford living at the YMCA, Jack quickly accepts the offer to move in.

However, due to overbearing landlord Stanley Roper's intolerance for co-ed living situations, even in a multi-bedroom apartment, Jack is allowed to move in only after Janet tells Mr. Roper that Jack is gay.  Although Mrs. Roper figures out Jack's true sexuality in the second episode, she does not tell her husband, who tolerates but mocks him. "

This first episode was parodied on John Ritter's "8 Simple Rules'" "Three's Company" episode with Ritter in the Roper character and Katey Segal as his long suffering wife.

This had been the first time ever on American television where a man had lived with two other women.  Even though it was established that Jack's relationship with the two women was strictly going to be platonic (and innocent to a certain extent), the show greatly played off of the sexual tension of Jack living with two attractive women.

But what made was the show work in its daywas the simplicity of it all.  Like many of the sitcoms of the past, it was essentially a stage play.  However, the biggest part of "Three's" success was the near perfect cast.  Ritter's "Jack" character reflected his own personality.  Sommers' "Chrissy" was a virtual imprint of herself, and Dewitt's Janet Wood was not far from Dewitt's own life and personality.  So, the main cast was playing a version of themselves.  Sexual innuendo not seen before on TV and the use of farce (comedy of errors as to meaning and identity) kept audiences tuning in.

The show's sexuality can now be viewed as innocent in comparison to what currently airs today.  That innocence was invaded by frequently by Richard Kline's "Larry Dallas" character who was a hypersexed playboy and used car salesman who constantly got Jack into trouble with the ladies  The Larry Dallas character would go onto be the imprint Seth Macfarlane used for "Family Guy's" "Glen Quagmire."

The show was so popular that it survived several paradigm shifts in the cast.  The producers thought that it would be a good idea to spin off the landlord characters of the Ropers into their own show at the conclusion of the third season of Three's Company.

Norman Fell who played Stanley Roper thought the idea of giving the Ropers their own sitcom was a bad idea because there was not much to springboard off of, aside from the jokes about Mr. Roper's flaccid sex life with Mrs. Roper.  Fell was proven right and the show only lasted one season, with the show's claim to fame being the debut of Jeffery Tambor who would go on to make regular appearances on Three's Company.

From there the show saw the addtion of comedy legend Don Knotts who played the bumbling "ladies man" landlord Mr. Furley who constantly snuck around and spied on everyone, while at the same time always seemingly misunderstanding the situation, thus screwing things up for Jack and his roommates.  Then there was a departure of a key cast mate, when Suzanne Sommers decided to leave the show over a dispute over money after season five.  

 Apparently, Sommers demanded "$30,000 to $150,000 per episode, plus 10% of the show's profits, which when it was not met, Somers went on a strike of sorts. Executives believed that a complete loss of Somers could damage the program's popularity so a compromise was reached. Somers, who was still under contract, continued to appear in the series, but only in the one-minute tag scene of a handful of episodes. Somers' scenes were taped on separate days from the show's regular taping; she did not appear on set with any of the show's other cast members. 

According to the story, her character had returned to her hometown of Fresno to care for her ailing mother, and was only seen when she telephoned her former roommates, and they recounted that week's adventures to her. This arrangement continued for one season. Somers' contract was not renewed and Chrissy's place in the apartment was taken by her clumsy cousin Cindy Snow (Jenilee Harrison)."

From there, Chrissy was replaced by Pricilla Barnes' "Terri Alden" character who was the antithesis of the dumb blonde character portrayed by Sommers.  After Company ran it's course and was cancelled after season 8, there was one last hurrah for Jack Tripper in the "Three's a crowd" spinoff that lasted only one season.

Three's Company's  influence was far reaching, even being referenced in "The Simpsons" several times, with the Superintendent Chalmer's character being a version of Jack Tripper's short-tempered chef boss, Frank Angelino.  In Three's Company, Jack's boss constantly berated Tripper always exclaiming, "TRIPPPPERRR!" loudly before admonishing him.  The Simpsons played on this with Superintendent Chalmers trademark "SKINNNNERRR!"

Three's Company went into syndication in 1982 and then ran for several years on TBS before finally being picked up for Nick at Nite. It still makes money to this day.

Unfortunately, John Ritter, passed away while at the head of another hit sitcom, "8 rules for dating my teenage daughter," and in 2012 Joyce Dewitt and Suzanne Somers finally appeared to reconcile their long standing 30 year feud.

Of the shows of that era, few still hold up today.  Three's Company perfectly represents that exact moment of time when the rules of television were finally being loosened, but the show didn't push the envelope, it simply nudged the envelope.  That's one of the reasons why it's comedy holds up so well even today.  It didn't set out to offend, or cause controversy just to stir up controversy, or trouble. It was a simple show with a small cast that obviously was having a lot of fun at the time, and that's why people enjoyed it, and continue to enjoy it.

1 comment:

  1. Great post, really informative! I still watch reruns of it when I get the chance. As a kid when it was in syndication, I watched it Monday through Friday at 5PM. My mom didn't particularly like that I watched it, but I thought it was hilarious and it kept me out of trouble. Thanks to the post that brings back memories!