Jiggle TV, a popular term used in the 1970s initially conjured up by NBC to insult rival-network ABCs programming. But eventually became a phrase that used to describe offerings such as Wonder Woman, Charlie’s Angels, and this videos point of focus, Three’s Company.
Three’s Company starred Suzanne Somers as Chrissy Snow, Joyce DeWitt as Janet Wood, and John Ritter as Jake Tripper. These three single, attractive 20-somethings lived platonically together in an apartment while keeping up the ruse that Jack was gay to keep their landlords, the Roper, played by Audra Lindley and Norman Fell, from throwing them to the curb.
The show presented a winning combo of sexual innuendo and slapstick humor – and the viewers and critics alike couldn’t seem to get enough of it.
Back in the 70s, sitcoms came in two main varieties. You had raw, politically charged shows like All In the Family or it’s slightly lighter-toned spin-off The Jeffersons. And then you had Three’s Company which resonate with audiences because of it’s sexual undertones, visual gags, and provocative dialogue. This kind of material hadn’t yet touched on that much by previous sitcoms. So it felt fresh and poignant without having to be particularly meaningful.
It remained a hit with viewers and stayed within the Top 10 of the Nielsen ratings because it made people laugh. John Ritter’s physical comedy made viewers feel a sense of liberation through laughter. It was a hilarious farce that involved constant misunderstandings – sexual in nature or otherwise.
The show’s characters often assumed the worse about each other. You had Mr. Roper, for example, who always feared that his tenants were having orgies or were swingers. This kind of humor showed us all how easy it is to jump to conclusions. How funny those dramatic jumps can be so long as they aren’t about something dire.
But even though these kind of situations made for some seriously funny television moments. Not quite as humorous was the drama that occurred behind the scenes of this series. Relationships torn to shreds, and ultimately Three’s Company forced to come to an end due to feuds that took place when the cameras weren’t rolling.
Ritter Dealt With Fame Impeccably
It wasn’t that far into Three’s Company’s eight season run. Before it began to catch on with audiences and turned into a pop culture sensation. For most of the time that it on the air between 1977 and 1984; It ranked in the top 10 in terms of ratings. And this enduring popularity had a huge impact on the show’s leads. Were all basically just getting started in their respective acting careers.
John had previously appeared in The Waltons for four years and had made guest-appearances on several Mary Tyler Moore produced series; such as Newhart, Rhonda, and The Mary Tyler Moore Show. He had also been the star of the show in the short-lived comedy The Barefoot Executive. So he was definitely someone that people were at least somewhat familiar with. But Three’s Company elevated his career to a whole new level.
His father, Tex Ritter, was a big-time Western star, and taking cues from him, he took stardom in stride. He knew what kind of values his father had and had witnessed how he dealt with fame, so he already was familiar with how to handle it.
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Suzanne Somers Desperately Wanted To Be A Star
Prior to appearing on Three’s Company, Somers had appeared in a handful of films. Perhaps her most notable early film credit was playing the gorgeous blond who bewitched Richard Dreyfuss in George Lucas’ coming of age drama American Graffiti.
On TV, Somers had made appearances in shows such as Starsky & Hutch and The Rockford Files. But she was eager to get a taste of real stardom.
She deeply desired to be a celebrity. Previously in her life, she had been quite poor. This gave her the drive to make something out of her life and overcome those humble beginnings. This perspective helped her at first, but it ultimately worked against her when John Ritter became the star of the show.
Suzanne wanted to be the center of attention and thought for sure that she was. But the series designed around Ritter’s acting experience and comedic sensibilities. This created a great deal of tension between the two starts.
Joyce DeWitt Not Interested In Becoming A Star
DeWitt had been acting on stage since her early teens and had appeared previously on TV in an episode of Baretta before casted on Three’s Company as Janet.
As a theater actor, DeWitt unprepared for Hollywood stardom– nor she ready for the publicity she would receive for being on the show. After Three’s Company became a hit, she pulled back from the public eye a bit. The fame that came her way wasn’t very easy for her to process.
The Newsweek Cover Story
In February of 1976, Newsweek ran a cover story about Three’s Company that created quite a bit of trouble for the three stars of the show. Somers had been given her own photoshoots both before and after the shoot that involved the trio of co-stars. John and Joyce both felt very uncomfortable with Somers being featured on the magazine’s cover.
One of the shots that the outlet got of her was her wearing a nightgown in front of a blue screen. Newsweek then super-imposed that image over a photo that they had of the three stars together. The end result was a cover that created a great deal of controversy behind the scenes. Joyce, who already uncomfortable about publicity. Further felt conflicted about things because, at that point, she felt as if she had been lied to.
Ritter Then Refused To Work With Somers
Before the fifth season aired, Somers, after taking advice from her husband and manager, Alan Hamel insisted that she receive a pay increase from thirty grand to $150 thousand an episode. The end result Chrissy’s role reduced to a single phone call to her roommates from her parent’s home.
Beyond that, a giant rift formed between her and Ritter that wouldn’t reconciled until not long before his death. Some two decades later.
The contractual issues were just a foreshadowing of things to come. At that point, Ritter refused to work with Somers. Especially after she aired her grievances to the media at the end of 1980.
Matters only got worse when Somers and her husband publicly revealed John’s salary and said things on talk shows such as if her name had been John Somers. None of this would have been happening. This kind of rhetoric only exacerbated an already touchy situation.
At one point, Ritter told Somer’s husband that he would agree to talk to her one-on-one without him or anyone else present; but she refused to take this offer.
After a series of hostile meetings between Alan and Three’s Company producer Mickey Ross, Somers began missing work often. At first she claimed she had a rib injury, but she continued to renege on coming to the set. Her actions put the show and it’s cast and crew in a difficult position.
The final death knell, however, was the way that she handled the media. After she began to think of herself as the star of the show and went about disrespecting her co-stars. Ritter had had enough of her attitude and drew a line in the sand.
He had felt betrayed by Somers and took her behavior personally.
Somers officially fired from the series in 1980, and she wouldn’t talk to Ritter again until 20-plus years later when he finally decided to give her a phone call.
Don Knotts Role Irked Griffith Fans
Knotts joined the Three’s Company cast after Norman Fell and Audra Lindley left after season three to start their short-lived spin-off series The Ropers. His role as landlord Ralph Furley was a significant departure from his role as Barney Fife on The Andy Griffith Show. His flamboyant, flashy wardrobe and disposition made him a fan-favorite with LGBT viewers. And according to his daughter, Karen, many of his Griffith fans didn’t appreciate this new role.
The majority of Barney Fife’s episodes took place before The Andy Griffith Show made the jump to color. And even if the series had been shot in color from the beginning; Fife often seen wearing his brown deputy’s uniform.
To put things simply, Ralph Furley’s colorful, kitschy attire didn’t resonate with many Griffith fans and their perception of Knotts. According to Karen, he had strayed too far from the values that fans had grown up with.
Three’s Company’s End
The comedy series ultimately canceled by ABC after it’s eight season due to freefalling ratings. What’s interesting however was how John Ritter had won an Emmy and a Golden Globe for the last season of the show.
Fans of the series also often point to a few season 8 episodes as being among some of the best of the series’ run. Even though Ritter finally was in his element with his physical comedy; some of the plotlines were repeats of previous episodes. Beyond that, The A-Team had premiered in 1983 on NBC and viewers were tuning into that instead.
DeWitt Felt Betrayed By Ritter
After Three’s Company ended, a spin-off series called Three’s A Crowd launched that starred Ritter reprising his role while he lived in an apartment with the woman he had fallen in love with, Vicky, while having to deal with her father who was perpetually trying to drive a wedge between them.
Mary Cadorette played Vicky Bradford, and Robert Mandan played her father, James. The series debuted the September following Three’s Company’s finale.
The problem, however, was that Joyce DeWitt was oblivious to the new series until casting for Vicky had started taking place. Ritter had advised Three’s Company’s producers not to tell Joyce that they were planning to spin his character off at the end of the show. DeWitt, inevitably felt like this decision was a stab in the back. Perhaps, he could have handled things differently, but that wouldn’t have changed anything or made the differences that the cast had on the set any better.
Three’s Company may have seemed like a fairly lighthearted comedy, but behind the scenes there’s nothing but drama between it’s key cast members.
Do you think the series would have able to stay on the air longer if the trio of stars that made up it’s primary cast able to get along? Or do you think that it likely would have still ended when it did? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.
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