It’s hard to believe in today’s anything-goes TV environment, but a sitcom about a guy who pretends to be gay so he can share an apartment with two single women caused a nationwide controversy in 1977. “What we are concerned about is gratuitous, excessive and perverted sexuality being depicted on the screen,” said a spokesman for the National Religious Broadcasters.
But the stars of Three’s Company jiggled and giggled all the way to the top of the ratings. “We were so young and enthusiastic and excited about it that it sort of made us laugh,” said John Ritter, who played the lovably goofy Jack Tripper. “As sexy as it was, it was fairly moral. Those three roommates were very loyal, compassionate and most of the time considerate good friends.”
The warm dynamic among John, Suzanne Somers (as ditzy Chrissy Snow) and Joyce DeWitt (as levelheaded Janet Wood) made their show the most-watched midseason replacement in TV history. “Close to half the people in America who were watching TV were watching Three’s Company,” Suzanne marvels to Closer. “It will never be like that again.”
Off camera, everyone didn’t always get along so swimmingly. Suzanne held out for a higher salary in 1980, and after a number of awkward episodes in which the actress was filmed separately from her castmates, she was fired by ABC. “Her management, better known as her husband, Alan Hamel, played the wrong hand in negotiations,” Richard Kline, who co-starred as womanizing neighbor Larry, explains. “That was unfortunate.”
Replacement roommates played by Jenilee Harrison and Priscilla Barnes were brought in for the show’s final seasons, but the magic was gone. “Suzanne was an integral part of the chemistry,” Richard says. “We could barely get across the finish line toward the end.” John reprised his role in a spinoff, Three’s a Crowd, but it was canceled after a single season in 1985.
His co-stars remember John — who tragically died of an aortic dissection at the age of 54 in 2003 — with a deeply heartfelt fondness. “John was a great friend, an extraordinarily talented actor and amazingly good at comedy,” Joyce says. “I miss the presence, I miss his smile, I miss the gift that he was.” Adds Richard, “From the minute John and I met, we hit it off. We hung out and hit the club scene along the Sunset Strip. His death was and is a huge loss to me.”
Some cast members have kept in touch over the years. “I did a guest spot on Step by Step with Suzanne, and we had a great reunion,” says Richard. “And I see Joyce and Priscilla when we do Comic Con and autograph shows, and they’re great!”
Four decades later, fans still love the stars of Three’s Company. “People hug me and start crying when they meet me,” Joyce says. “It happens all the time!”