In the great tradition of farce, Three’s Company is the comedy that pushed the envelope by matching two attractive young women and one handsome, but clumsy, willing and able young male chef living under one roof. Jack, Janet, Chrissy, Cindy, and Terri all resided in apartment 201. And their presence made American audiences gladly want to knock on their door each week.
The laughs began when American producer Donald L. Taffner saw the success in adapting and “Americanizing ” British television comedies for the U.S. Acquiring the Changed Format Rights for the Thames Television hit Britcom, Man About The House, Taffner partnered with former TV DuMont television executive Ted Bergmann and they flew to Los Angeles to pitch the networks CBS, NBC, and ABC with the idea. In the fall of 1975, all three networks balked at the risqué premise of two single women living with one single man. Three’s Company was a novel and shocking first-timer for an American sitcom.
While each of the big three networks originally passed on the idea, newly appointed ABC Programming Chief Fred Silverman (a fan of the concept from his days at CBS) surprised everyone and contacted Taffner and Bergmann. Dennis Doty, Bridget Potter, and Tom Werner had been developing the program at ABC when Silverman gave them the green light to produce a pilot. Larry Gelbart, who penned the first four years of MASH and his stepson, Gary Markowitz, who coined the show’s title, “Three’s Company”, were the first writers hired. At this point, no one involved knew that it would take three pilots and one year until the show would go to air. At the time, John Ritter was best known for his role as Rev. Matthew Fordwick on The Waltons. Although his role on the popular drama The Waltons was a completely different character type, Fred Silverman saw something in Ritter and convinced the actor to audition for the role of David Bell (the name was later changed to Jack Tripper) in January 1976. Everyone including Larry Gelbart knew he was right for the part. One down, two more to go.
More than 250 female actresses auditioned for the roles of the roommates. Valerie Curtin won the role of Jenny (the name was later changed to Janet) and Suzanne Zenor was cast as Samantha (which later became the role of Chrissy). Michael Eisner, then an ABC Programming Executive, inspired the casting of Norman Fell and Audra Lindley as the nosy landlords, Mr. and Mrs. Roper. The casting was complete, but unfortunately, ABC executives didn’t feel this first pilot was strong enough to air. Back to the drawing board … ABC enlisted the help of the Emmy-winning writers and producers of All in the Familyand The Jeffersons, Don Nicholl, Michael Ross, and Bernie West.
Michael Eisner stepped in again and suggested that two new actresses be found to play the female roommates. Nicholl, Ross and West knew Joyce DeWitt was perfect for the smart, wise-cracking roommate known as Janet, but they were still short a blonde. Susan Lanier, who was then famous for her role as Bambi on Welcome Back Kotter, was given a shot.
The second pilot was taped, yet producers still felt something was missing. They needed to find another Chrissy. Fred Silverman remembered Suzanne Somers from her guest appearances on The Tonight Show and knew she was just what they wanted. The clock was ticking and a third pilot had to be created that would convince the network the show was good enough to air. Somers read for the part early January 1977 and the producers made their decision — Somers was the Chrissy they had been looking for. The third and final pilot was filmed Friday, January 28, 1977 and soon after the first five episodes followed.
Three’s Company first appeared on television Tuesday, March 15th at 9:30 p.m. and was ranked 28th in the Nielsen ratings on its premiere night. The remaining five episodes of the first season aired Thursday nights at 9:30 p.m.-never falling out of the Nielsen’s Top Ten. The show was a hit with audiences though the critics were not always as kind. Even so, audiences all over the world continue to request the “company” of the very special ensemble cast that we know to be Three’s Company.
In the words of the First Lady of Comedy…. “It didn’t set out to change the world, it just made us laugh and that is why we love it.” Lucille Ball (April 22, 1982)
It’s 1973… movies like Jesus Christ Super Star and The Poseidon Adventure are big screen hits in the US. The Seventies as an era was still in its infancy, and across the Atlantic Ocean in Europe a new comedy was making its debut on English Television.
This show would later make a lasting impression on the United States defining and celebrating new lifestyle changes in the seventies and eighties between men and women.
The UK comedy that inspired Three’s Company, Man About The House, was written by Johnnie Mortimer and Brian Cooke. This highly successful half-hour situation comedy produced by Thames Television aired from 1973 -1976. The series has Robin Tripp, played by Richard O’Sullivan, living with two female roommates. The characters include The Ropers as their landlords and a swinger friend Larry Simmons. After 39 episodes, the producers decided the story line had run its course and the show was able to finish it’s run with high ratings.
After the end of Man About the House there came two spin-offs, George and Mildred and Robin’s Nest. The former followed George and Mildred Roper, the bickering landlords, after they sell the apartment building and move into an exclusively British neighborhood. The other UK spin-off, Robin’s Nest, saw Robin Tripp open his own restaurant. He moves in with his new girlfriend Vicky, much to her parents’ dismay. These spin-offs were highly successful in the UK with the spin-offs series producing more episodes than the original series.
All three of these comedies would be developed into the ABC sitcoms recognizable as Three’s Company, The Ropers, and Three’s A Crowd.
The Ropers was the first spin-off for the super comedy hit, Three’s Company. The story has the oddly matched couple, the landlords to Jack and company, selling their apartment building and moving across town into a posh townhouse development. Their neighbors in this upscale community never quite adjust to Stanley and Helen’s outrageous antics, especially Jeffrey P. Brooks III, who lives next door with his proper family.
Released in mid-season, this spin-off began in the spring of 1979 as an instant rating success, airing directly after Three’s Company. It received a 55 percent audience share in its ABC Network debut and stayed in the top ten all the rest of that season. In its second season, the show moved time slots to air Saturday night at 8 p.m. The time-slot change would turn out to be a difficult move for the show, and only twenty-six episodes would be produced.
The Ropers stars Norman Fell as Stanley Roper, Audra Lindley as Helen Roper, Jeffrey Tambor as Jeffrey P. Brookes III, Patricia McCormack as Anne Brooks, and Evan Cohen as young David Brooks.
After eight seasons, Three’s Company was transformed into Three’s A Crowd. The new show, the second spin-off, has Jack Tripper opening a bistro and moving in with his girlfriend, Vicky Bradford. The romance between Jack and Vicky has to compete with Vicky’s father constantly meddling.
Three’s A Crowd presented another television first with its main characters living together unmarried. The cast included John Ritter, who as an actor was excited to see his Three’s Company character grow up and take on new responsibilities, owning a restaurant and living with a long term love interest. Mary Cadorette, born in East Hartford, Connecticut, plays the lovable Vicky. She was chosen from over five hundred other actresses that auditioned for the role. It was the instant chemistry between John Ritter and Mary that clinched her the role.
Robert Mandan, a veteran star of theater, film and television is Vicky’s meddling father, James Bradford. A few years prior to getting this role Robert worked with John Ritter in a CBS television movie, In Love with an Older Woman. Unfortunately, for Jack Tripper fans, the show lasted only one season producing twenty-two episodes.
Internationally endearing…one of the highest rated shows ever in the United States continues to delight television audiences around the world. Three’s Company and its spin-offs have gone on to worldwide recognition. All three programs are aired in no less than forty countries across every continent (excluding Antarctica). The antics of Jack Tripper and friends have provided laughs in many languages. The U.S. version is translated into languages such as Spanish, German and even French. A partial list of countries that have aired the series include Canada, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Lebanon, Indonesia, Thailand, Syria, the Philippines and the United Kingdom. The list continues…
Not only has the American version been aired in countries around the world, but the popularity is so overwhelming that countries are producing their own versions, using the original scripts. They tape their version of Three’s Company utilizing their countries’ national actors giving the series a local flavor with their own humor and euphemisms. Currently Sweden, Norway, and Portugal can say they have produced their own versions. In Sweden, for example, viewers tune into En Tyra For Tre. Audiences everywhere continue to respond in great numbers as reflected in the high ratings. Viewers from around the world tune-in to Three’s Company.