Three’s Company was a smash hit sitcom in the late 1970’s, and it turned its three lead stars – John Ritter, Joyce DeWitt, and Suzanne Somers into overnight sensations. And yet in the middle of shooting the fifth season, the network abruptly fired Suzanne Somers wreaking havoc on the set, and changing the course of her career forever. In this video, we’ll be taking a look at why Somers got fired, how she sacrificed herself in the name of women’s rights, and how she still managed to have a stellar career and life, despite being thrown off of one of the biggest shows of the decade. Stay tuned, as Facts Verse presents: Suzanne Somers Finally Addresses Her Firing from Three’s Company.
Three’s Company started out as a mid-season replacement, and the network wasn’t expecting that much out of it. It starred three unknown actors, and they weren’t sure how its (slightly) risqué premise would even play with nationwide audiences. But they quickly discovered they had a hit on their hands. Not only did the show jump to the top 10 in the Nielsen ratings almost immediately, but it also stayed there for most of the show’s run. And while John (and to a lesser extent, Joyce) certainly gained instant fame and popularity, the one who became the most well known right away was Suzanne. Not only was she a talented comedic actress, but she’s was also a gorgeous blond. So naturally she suddenly found herself on the cover of magazines, and a topic of much heat in industry mags and tabloids. By 1980, the show was in the middle of filming its 5th season, and Somers was potentially the most famous person on TV. And it just so happened that it was time for her to renegotiate her contract.
Salary and Fairness
The network had originally offered her a lowball sum of $3,500 an episode for the first season, since she was an unknown actress who didn’t yet have a ‘quote’, which is the minimum amount that an actor will accept for an upcoming job. Quotes are generally based on the amount an actor has been paid previously, and is used as a bargaining chip going into negotiations. But since Suzanne was new, and wanted the part badly, the network knew it could pay her a tiny amount.
However, over the course of the first few seasons, as the show became a hit, and she became a star, they bumped up her pay tenfold, to $30,000 per episode. While this was a huge sum of money, especially back then, it was still outrageously low, as compared to the male stars on TV. Men were making far more than their female counterparts across most industries, and it was showcased perhaps no better than on TV and in film. What made it particularly frustrating for women like Suzanne was that she was clearly the biggest driver in keeping and expanding TV audiences, which in turn meant she was generating the most ad money for the network. And yet, John Ritter was making five times her salary, even at the bumped up rate of $30,000 an episode.
So, in 1980, when it was time for Suzanne to renegotiate her contract, she figured that she was owed a lot more than she was being currently paid, and that she had the bargaining chips to make that happen. At the time, John and Janet had already renegotiated their contracts, so they were locked in already for more seasons. What Suzanne didn’t know at the time was that Ritter was making $150,000 per episode. She assumed they were all making the same amount. So she came to them with an idea. She said that she would ask for a big pay raise, to $150K per episode, and if she got it, she would split the increase evenly with them. She was also planning to ask for a piece of the back end, so she’d get residuals when the show went into syndication.
Suzanne decided she’d send in her husband, Alan Hamel, to negotiate on her behalf. Hamel was a former TV producer, so he knew the ropes of how these negotiations worked. She told him to play hardball in the negotiations, presuming that at the very least they’d meet her demands halfway. Or perhaps the worst they could do is say no, and keep her at the $30K per episode she was currently getting. What she didn’t see coming was that the network was not only going to say no to her demands, but they were going to fire her on the spot.
Why They Fired Suzanne
The primary reason they fired Suzanne Somers from Three’s Company was… sexism. Back then, it was 100% acceptable for companies to blatantly pay their female employees far less than their male employees. And while today that gap still exists, it was much larger and more openly accepted in those days. The first element – one that Suzanne and Alan Hamel weren’t aware of – had nothing to do with Suzanne or Three’s Company. The network had just completed a contract negotiation with the two stars of Laverne and Shirley – Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams. And they had given into the salary demands of both women. Thus they felt nervous about setting a precedent. They didn’t want their actresses across the board to hear that they were starting to pay women more and start asking for pay raises or equal pay. So, going into the negotiations with Alan Hamel, they were already ready to send a message. There was no room, in their eyes, for Suzanne’s salary to be bumped up.
And perhaps it was because Suzanne’s request was for five times her current salary that the network got unnerved and fired her. Either way, her husband had to come home that day and give her the bad news. Suzanne later looked back on that day, saying, “Never think that you are not replaceable — rule number one.”
The Rest of The Season
Unfortunately for all involved, Suzanne’s contract, and her time on the show, didn’t actually end that day. She was still obligated to finish up her previous contract, which meant she had to shoot the rest of the episodes of season 5. The network, perhaps still annoyed that a woman had dared to ask for more money, decided to be incredibly petty and vindictive. For the rest of the shoot days for season 5 of Three’s Company, Suzanne Somers didn’t set foot on set. And yet, she was in all the episodes. Instead of allowing the show to simply shoot as normal, and finish out the season, they demanded the writers come up with a device so that Suzanne would be onscreen (keeping the ratings up) without interacting with anyone on set. They worried that she would talk about what happened to her on set, and turn others against the network. They also demanded that the art department create a booth where Suzanne would record her parts with a sole camera pointed at her. It had a separate entrance from the rest of the set, so that Suzanne would literally not see anyone from the show when she filmed. She would go in, there would be costumes laid out for her, and she would say her lines into the camera. Then she had to leave without talking to anyone. It was a cruel and demeaning act, and it make Somers feel horrible. And what was perhaps worse, was that the show’s producers and execs painted her in a terrible light to the rest of the cast and crew. They claimed she was being greedy, and that she was trying to ruin the hit show. As a result, Suzanne didn’t talk to any of the people involved in Three’s company for years. Though fortunately she was able to have a reconciliation with John Ritter before his 2003 death, as well as a more recent one with Joyce Dewitt.
Somers’ Career after Three’s Company
Over the years, Somers has talked about the experience, and how it affected her. In the immediate aftermath of leaving the show, her life was somewhat in shambles. She went from being on top the world to not being able to even get an interview. And for a brief time, this made her incredibly depressed, wondering if she had made the biggest mistake of her life. However, she soon had an about face. She realized that the show had given her the gift of visibility. She soon got to work in an effort to utilize her name recognition in positive ways, and to start her career anew. She parlayed it into a residency in Las Vegas, effectively turning her into a star in the world of live performance. She was even named Las Vegas Entertainer of the Year in 1987, sharing the award with Frank Sinatra.
Beyond that, she soon started her business empire. Over the years, she’s had a fitness and beauty line, she’s written best selling books, and she’s hosted talk shows. Essentially she was able to take the fame that the show gave her, and turn it into far more money than she was asking for in her contract negotiation for Three’s Company. She told The Hollywood Reporter that she isn’t regretful about asking for a raise. She pointed out that while it wasn’t fair that she got fired for it, but that life isn’t fair. And that not only has she landed on her feet, but she has thrived. And none of that would have been possible without the fame and name recognition she got from being on Three’s Company!
Now it’s time to hear from you. Did you know that Suzanne Somers was fired from Three’s Company because she wanted to be paid the same as her male costar? Did you know that she wasn’t allowed on set for the second half of season 5, yet had to still come film for each episode? Let us know in the comments section below!