Based on the British sitcom Man About the House, Three’s Company starred physical comedy champion John Ritter in his breakout role as Jack Tripper, a culinary student who crashes a party and wakes up in Janet Wood (Joyce DeWitt) and Chrissy Snow’s (Suzanne Somers) bathtub. Janet and Chrissy and Jack end up becoming roommates, with Jack posing as a gay man in order to keep the coed living situation going. Here are some facts about the classic ABC sitcom that will impress your friends over at the Regal Beagle.
1. TWO OTHER PILOTS WERE MADE BEFORE THEY GOT IT RIGHT.
On the first attempt, M*A*S*H writer/producer Larry Gelbart wrote a Three’s Company pilot script resembling Man About the House. John Ritter’s character was named David Bell and was an aspiring filmmaker. The two female roommates were actresses named Jenny (played by Valerie Curtin) and Samantha (Susanne Zenor). A second unaired pilot was requested by ABC programming head Fred Silverman, written by All in the Family and The Jeffersons writer/producers Don Nicholl, Michael Ross, and Bernard West, and featured Joyce DeWitt and Suze Lanier-Bramlett as Chrissy. The third pilot filmed was the charm deemed worthy for broadcast; it premiered on March 15, 1977.
2. BILLY CRYSTAL AUDITIONED TO PLAY JACK TRIPPER.
Barry Van Dyke (Ritter hero Dick Van Dyke’s son) and Michael Lembeck (later a director of sitcoms including Friends) also attempted to win the role. Crystal found employment on another ABC comedy a short time later, as Jodie Dallas in Soap (1977-1981).
3. LONI ANDERSON AUDITIONED FOR CHRISSY.
Anderson (later Jennifer Marlowe on WKRP in Cincinnati) didn’t get the part. Ritter, who claimed she had a great audition, theorized that Anderson wasn’t selected because no one would believe she couldn’t live in her own apartment.
4. SUZANNE SOMERS WAS DISCOVERED BY ACCIDENT.
Desperately searching for the right Chrissy the day before production began, Silverman put in all of the audition tapes they had received and fast-forwarded through them. When he spotted Somers, he stopped the tape and liked what he saw. After never getting a clear answer on why she was passed on in the first place, Somers was summoned to the studio. “We got her in that day and she was on the set tomorrow and she was terrific in that part,” the ABC programming chief remembered. “And that was an accident because she never should have gotten the part.”
5. THE THEME SONG WAS COMPOSED BY THE SAME MAN WHO WROTE THE THEME SONGS FOR SESAME STREET AND THE ELECTRIC COMPANY.
Joe Raposo wrote it, but the producers of Three’s Company flirted with the idea of having the stars of the show sing the theme. Despite their protests, Ritter, DeWitt, and Somers attempted it. “They didn’t even come close,” associate producer Mimi Seawell said. Ray Charles (not that one) and Julia Rinker provided the vocals instead.
6. THE BRUNETTE JACK LOOKS AT BEFORE FALLING IN THE OPENING CREDITS IS SUZANNE SOMERS IN A WIG.
“That brunette is Suzanne with a wig. You can tell by her little Suzanne buns,” Ritter said. The bike Jack rode belonged to production associate Carol Summers.
7. NORMAN FELL BASED STANLEY ROPER ON A REAL GUY.
Norman Fell (who also played a landlord in The Graduate) based the character of landlord Stanley Roper on a man he knew back in his hometown of Philadelphia. “I was thinking of a guy I really know in Philadelphia,” Fell said. “The clothes are all wrong … He was innocent and a guy who just can’t do things right, whether it’s being with a woman or fixing something. And yet he thought he was the cat’s meow. He thought he was attractive, he liked his clothes. He thought people were looking at him because of how well-preserved he looked. He thought he was all things he’s not.”
8. FELL WAS PROMISED HE COULD RETURN TO THREE’S COMPANY IF THE ROPERS DIDN’T LAST FOR MORE THAN ONE YEAR.
Fell wasn’t interested in leaving the very popular Three’s Company, but Audra Lindley (Mrs. Roper) was game for a spin-off towards the end of the third season. To appease Fell, ABC promised him that if The Ropers was cancelled after one year, Fell and Lindley could return to Three’s Company. After The Ropers drew the second highest ratings for a series debut in television history at the time in March of 1979, it moved to Saturdays for the second season and viewership dropped enough for it to get cancelled. Fell wanted to return to Three’s Company, but producers noted that The Ropers had technically lasted for one and a half years. Besides, the Ropers had already been replaced by Don Knotts as Ralph Furley.
9. JEFFREY TAMBOR PLAYED THREE DIFFERENT CHARACTERS.
After he starred as snobby neighbor Jeffrey P. Brookes III in The Ropers, Tambor found employment again and again and again in late-season episodes of Three’s Company. He was a rich man, Winston Cromwell III, who was after Chrissy in “Father of the Bride”; in “Two Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” he played Dr. Tom Miller, a psychiatrist who Jack and Janet confuse for a mental patient; he was also dentist Dr. Phillip Greene, a crazy dentist who was recently dumped by Terri.
10. WHEN JOHN LARROQUETTE GUEST STARRED AS A COP, HE CHANGED THE SCRIPT SO THAT THE AUDIENCE WOULD SEE HIS FACE.
In the third season episode “Jack Moves Out” (spoiler: it doesn’t last), Larroquette figured that because he was supposed to keep his cop cap on, nobody would get to see his visage. He rationalized it for The A.V. Club as such: “So I had to figure out a way to get my hat off. And this is all completely selfish and premeditated. So inside my hat, I’ve written the Miranda rights. So I take my hat off and tell him, ‘You have the right to remain silent.’ So my hat is off for the remainder of the scene, which allows you to see my face and my confidence, as it were. Had I not thought of that, it would have just been this hated cop figure for 30 seconds or whatever, and no one would have really known who he was.” The producers clearly didn’t mind the change; they left the scene intact.
11. SOMERS LEFT THE SHOW BECAUSE SHE WANTED TO BE PAID AS MUCH AS RITTER.
Somers asked for an increase from $30,000 to $150,000 per episode, Ritter’s salary at the time, as well as 10 percent of the show’s profits. ABC was offering a $5000 pay raise. For the fourth season, after Ritter and DeWitt stopped speaking to Somers when she feigned a broken rib injury and the contract negotiations became a distraction, Somers was effectively written off the show. Chrissy was stuck in Fresno caring for her sick mother, calling back home to fill the last minute of episodes. (Jenilee Harrison played Chrissy’s cousin, Cindy, that year.) After her contract expired at the end of that season, Somers was not asked to return.
12. HEATHER LOCKLEAR WAS LAUGHED AT DURING HER AUDITION TO REPLACE SOMERS.
Sweating in her peach silk blouse on her way to her audition, Locklear resorted to putting Kleenex under her arms. Despite performing a funny scene, nobody laughed at her audition. After hearing laughter as soon as she closed the door, the actress noticed the Kleenex had come out of her blouse. “So I guess they thought I stuffed my bra,” Locklear recalled.
13. PRISCILLA BARNES WAS CONSIDERED “TOO BLOND” SOMETIMES.
Barnes portrayed nurse Terri Alden, a replacement for Cindy (who was a replacement for Chrissy) for the final three seasons of the show. “Our bosses were very, very controlling,” Barnes told CNN in 2002. “If my hair was too blond, I’d get called up in the office.”
14. RITTER’S ONE-YEAR-OLD SON, JASON, WAS THE KID WHO RAN UP TO JANET AT THE ZOO.
The younger Ritter (later Dipper Pines in Gravity Falls and Mark Cyr on Parenthood) didn’t remember the incident that was immortalized in the opening credits for seasons six through eight. “But the story is they were shooting a bunch of things at the zoo and I got away from my mom,” Jason told The Huffington Post. “I just walked into the shot and it made Joyce DeWitt laugh so they kept it in the opening credits.”
15. SOMEONE SAW MORE OF JACK TRIPPER THAN SHE WANTED.
In March 2001, a viewer claimed that a certain part of John Ritter’s anatomy was briefly visible in the episode titled “The Charming Stranger.” The complaint was taken seriously enough that Nickelodeon edited the short scene out soon thereafter. In response to the controversy, Ritter infamously said, “I’ve requested that [Nickelodeon] air both versions, edited and unedited, because sometimes you feel like a nut, and sometimes you don’t.”
16. THERE WAS ANOTHER SPIN-OFF, CALLED THREE’S A CROWD.
After the events of the 1984 series finale to Three’s Company, Jack moved in with his new girlfriend, Vicky (Mary Cadorette). The person who made his new digs a “crowd” on the show was Vicky’s father, who was also Jack’s new landlord (Robert Mandan). The show lasted for one season.