‘Three’s Company’ Producer Explained Why Show’s First Two Pilots Failed

As a show, “Three’s Company” got off to a rocky start.

In fact, two early pilots of “Three’s Company” fell flat, producer George Sunga told the Television Academy Foundation in 2008. He explained that two pilots failed because of they just didn’t work, and the show that ultimately became “Three’s Company” did work because the writing was different and the casting was different.

“There were two pilots ahead of us that just didn’t work,” Sunga began. “The casting wasn’t right, and the writing maybe wasn’t the way it should be. Now mind you, these are big-time writers that tried to make the conversion…”

As for the acting, he said, “I don’t want to talk about the people who were replaced. All good actresses. It’s just that the [Chrissy Snow] character wasn’t as well-defined.”

‘Three’s Company’ Faced Resistance

The premise of the show was also difficult to sell to the network. A man, Jack Tripper (John Ritter), lives with two women, Chrissy Snow (Suzanne Somers) and Janet Wood (Joyce DeWitt), telling the landlord that he’s gay in order to share the same apartment with the women. At the time, it was a risqué proposition.

“There was some great resistance to the fact that we’d have a guy living with two girls,” Sunga explained. “But once they understood the premise, that he is living with them because he’s supposed to be gay, and they have to pay the rent, and he’s convinced the landlord that he is. So that’s why the landlord says it’s okay to do that.”

“In actuality, once they read the scripts and saw, it was pretty innocuous,” Sunga added. “You know, it was all innuendo, nothing really ever happened, but it was just fun stuff.”  

Show Changed After Somers Asked for More Money

The original trio – Ritter, Somers and DeWitt – lasted for three years. But in 1980, Somers decided to ask for a raise.

At the time, Somers was already making $30,000 for every episode. Still, she wanted $150,000 an episode (which was about what Ritter was making) “and a piece of the back end,” according to Biography.com.

Unfortunately for Somers, ABC had recently paid more than it wanted to for “Laverne & Shirley” stars Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams. And network executives needed to make an example of someone lest the demands for more money get out of hand.

Before the contract negotiations, Somers had told her husband, former producer Alan Hamel, that no way would ABC get rid of Chrissy. The show was popular, and Somers had appeared on countless magazine covers promoting it. So Hamel went in and relayed Somers’s demands.

And then he went home to Somers… to tell her she was off the show.

After that, Somers’s popularity plummeted. She became a pariah in Hollywood. And it took the better part of a decade for her to reinvent herself. But reinvent herself she did, becoming an entrepreneur, author and talk show host.

Meanwhile, “Three’s Company” lasted four more years, but it was never quite the same. The show has since gone down in television history as a classic, although most people remember it for its original trio of actors.

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