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Three's Company

Three's Company is an ABC network sitcom developed by Don Nicholl, Michael Ross & Bernie West based on the British sitcom series, "Man About the House."

The series aired from March 15, 1977 to September 18, 1984, lasting for eight seasons & 172 episodes.

It spawned two spin-off series: "The Ropers" and "Three's a Crowd."

Plot

The series revolved around the lives & misadventures of three single roommates living together in one apartment in Santa Monica, California.

Cast

  • John Ritter as Jack Tripper
  • Joyce DeWitt as Janet Wood
  • Suzanne Somers as Chrissy Snow (seasons 1–5)
  • Jenilee Harrison as Cindy Snow (seasons 5–6)
  • Priscilla Barnes as Terri Alden (seasons 6–8)
  • Richard Kline as Larry Dallas (seasons 1–3, recurring; seasons 4–8)
  • Norman Fell as Stanley Roper (seasons 1–3; season 5, guest star)
  • Audra Lindley as Helen Roper (seasons 1–3; season 5, guest star)
  • Don Knotts as Ralph Furley (seasons 4–8)
  • Ann Wedgeworth as Lana Shields (season 4)

Production

Development

"Three's Company" went through a lengthy development process. Two different sets of writers attempted to Americanize the British comedy series, "Man About the House."

Three pilot episodes were shot for the show and it was recast several times at the instruction of ABC's Fred Silverman.

The show was first penned by famed Broadway writer Peter Stone who set the series in New York. Stone envisioned the Jack Tripper character as a successful, yet underpaid, chef in a fancy French restaurant while the characters who were to become Janet and Chrissy were to be a secretary for a CEO, and a high style fashion model respectively.

However, Silverman felt that the treatment would not play to middle America and thus passed on the script. Then, he enlisted the services of famed television writer Larry Gelbart, best known for his Emmy-award-winning work on the CBS series, "M*A*S*H."

Gelbart initially wanted nothing to do with the show, feeling that its relatively simple premise made it substandard in comparison to "M*A*S*H," but nonetheless as a favor to Silverman, he developed a pilot episode with his son in law who named the series, "Three's Company".

Gelbart's adaptation closely followed the British series. He envisioned John Ritter as "David Bell", an aspiring film maker looking for a place to live who just happened to be a great cook.

Ritter's better halves were portrayed by Valerie Curtin who played "Jenny" an employee of the DMV, and Susanne Zenor as an aspiring actress named "Samantha".

Gelbart reset the Ropers' apartment building (which he called the Hacienda Palms) from New York to North Hollywood, California.

The plot of the pilot looked much like that of the first episode of the actual show. Liked by Silverman, a pilot was ordered by ABC which taped in early 1976. This format of the show just barely made it on to the fall 1976 ABC lineup, but it was ousted by what ABC felt were more promising series.

Of all the new sitcoms that premiered on ABC for the 1976–77 television season, only "Three's Company" and the summer premiere of "What's Happening!!" went on to a second season.

While ABC was in negotiations to re-shoot the pilot, CBS became interested in the show, and made a firm commitment to TTC productions (producers Don Taffner and Ted Bergmann's New York based company) to air the show as a mid season replacement in February of 1977 with the Gelbart cast. However, at the last minute, ABC decided that they wanted the show and made a firm commitment to air the show at midseason with a new cast.

The show's second pilot was penned by writers Don Nicholl, Michael Ross, and Bernie West, better known as NRW, who had gained fame in adapting another British series, "Till Death Us Do Part" into "All in the Family."

The second pilot followed the British series even more closely, with the filmmaker character David Bell becoming cooking student Jack Tripp like his English counterpart, chef Robin Tripp, and one of the women being renamed Chrissy (a character name also featured in the British version; however, the US character bore more resemblance to the other British female character, Jo).

Jack's female roommates were portrayed by Joyce DeWitt as florist Janet Wood, and Susan Lanier as secretary Chrissy Snow. Actress Denise Galik had originally been given the role of Chrissy, but she was dismissed a couple of days before the pilot taped.

The setting of the show was also moved from North Hollywood to the beachside in Santa Monica. NRW went on to conceive the show as an all out farce, building the show's plot line heavily on the many misunderstandings encountered by each of the characters.

This pilot was actually a remake of the British series episode, "And Mother Makes Four" (which was the second episode of the show). The new concept was well liked, with the exception of Lanier's portrayal of Chrissy.

Despite the doubts about Lanier's portrayal as Chrissy, Silverman put the show on the network lineup, to air in March 1977, yet ordered a search for a new Chrissy.

In an interview with The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation, Silverman said that Suzanne Somers barely made it as a member of the cast.

He recalls:

"I was very involved in the casting of Suzanne Somers. We did three pilots and the Chrissy character still wasn't right. We got to the day before we're starting the production of the series and we didn't have a Chrissy. I was so desperate, I took all the audition tapes and just kind of fast forwarded them. All of a sudden, they went by Suzanne Somers who I hadn't seen, but I recognized her from her appearance on The Tonight Show, I said 'back that up' and she was great. She's been passed on! And I said 'I don't understand. This girl could play that part, why was she been passed on?' and I couldn't get a straight answer. Anyway, we got her in that day and she was on the set tomorrow and she was terrific in that part. And that was an accident because she never should have gotten the part."

With Suzanne Somers set in the role the third pilot hastily went into production in January of 1977. NRW had initially thought about recasting Ritter at the last minute before the pilot taped.

Although he was liked by test audiences, the producers felt that Ritter's foolish and clumsy portrayal of Jack made his character seem somewhat effeminate; Barry Van Dyke and future television director Michael Lembeck (who had originally auditioned for the now renamed Jack Tripper) were initially considered to take the role.

Nonetheless, Silverman championed for Ritter to stay on the show. The third pilot was accepted by ABC, and was followed by five additional episodes for the show's spring tryout.

Tapings

The show was recorded at two locations: the first, seventh, and eighth seasons were taped at Metromedia Square and ABC Television Center, while the second through sixth season were taped in Studio 31 at CBS Television City.

The cast would get the script on Monday, rehearse from Tuesday to Thursday, and shoot on Friday. Each episode was shot twice in a row using two different audiences. A Multicamera setup of three cameras was used.

The taping was done in sequence and there were rarely any retakes because the producers were strict. Priscilla Barnes once said, "Our bosses were very, very controlling. If my hair was too blonde, I'd get called up in the office."

Changes to the cast

"Three's Company" had many cast changes over its run.

The first of these changes took place in the spring of 1979 with the relocation of the Ropers to their own television series, "The Ropers" which revolved around Helen and Stanley, and their neighbors in a townhouse community after Stanley had sold the apartment building.

Two changes took place in the fall of 1979, at the beginning of the fourth season. The first was the addition of Lana, an older woman who chased Jack around and enjoyed pursuing him, but he didn't appreciate her advances.

Since Ann Wedgeworth did not appreciate her diminishing role in the series, Lana was dropped from the show without any explanation before the season was half over.

The other new addition to the show that fall was the new building manager, Ralph Furley, whose brother Bart bought the building from the Ropers. Mr. Furley pursued Lana unsuccessfully, as she unsuccessfully pursued Jack. Unlike Lana, Mr. Furley appeared until the end of the series.

The fifth season marked the beginning of contract re-negotiations which sparked friction on the set.

When Suzanne Somers' demands for a heavily increased salary (from $30,000 to $150,000 per episode, plus 10% of the show's profits, on par with fellow cast member John Ritter’s salary) were 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. Her 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 Somers, an off-hiatus contract with CBS as well as tension between her and producer Michael Ross led to her being fired, and her dismissal was on the personal level as she states that Ted Harbert confirms this.

According to the story within the show, 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.

Another replacement, Terri Alden, a clever, sometimes sassy nurse, joined the cast in the sixth season. In the script, Cindy was to move to college to fulfill her dream of becoming a veterinarian, and would continue to visit throughout the sixth season.

The show ended with the departure of all cast members except Ritter, who moved on to the spin-off, "Three's a Crowd."

Reception

"Three's Company" premiered in the spring in the middle of the 1976-77 season. Usually in the 1960s and 1970s, mid-season television programs were cancelled after their original six-episode run in the spring.

Network observers did not believe that "Three's Company" would go anywhere after its first six episodes, but they were proven wrong when it raked in record ratings, breaking barriers at the time as the highest-rated midseason show ever broadcast on network television.

ABC gladly renewed the show for a formal television season, giving it a permanent primetime spot during the 1977-1978 television season. The ratings continued to climb throughout the years.

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