‘Three’s Company’: How Norman Fell Introduced Show to ‘Breaking the Fourth Wall’

by Keeli Parkey

“Three’s Company” was a popular sitcom for many reasons. There were numerous misunderstandings and silly situations. There were famous performances by John Ritter, Joyce DeWitt, Suzanne Somers, and others. And, of course, there were Mr. Roper’s knowing smiles directed toward the audience.

These smiles usually occurred after Mr. Roper, who was played by Norman Fell, said something he thought was funny. These comments usually came at the expense of his wife, Mrs. Roper. She was played by Audra Lindley.

By smiling at the “Three’s Company” audience, Fell was doing what is called “breaking the fourth wall.” It is this “wall” that separates the actors from the audience. Also, actors usually pretend they are not aware of that wall and the audience behind it.

According to George Sunga, it was Normal Fell who came up with the idea to break the fourth wall. Sunga was a producer on “Three’s Company.”

He talked about the show during an interview with The Television Academy Foundation in 2008. Sunga was a man who knew comedy. He had also worked on the popular “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.”

‘Three’s Company’ Producer Said Show Was ‘Ideal Situation’ for Norman Fell

“Norman Fell, who always played a cop and even bad guys – I think this was an ideal situation for him,” Sunga said. “To be able to come to a place every week, do a character, get laughs, mug …”

In fact, according to Sunga, it was Fell who came up with the idea that his character Mr. Roper should break the fourth wall.

“You know, (Norman Fell) introduced us to breaking the fourth wall,” the “Three’s Company” producer said. “That isn’t done too often. Where he would look directly into the camera and give a facial expression that could only boost, you know, the reaction.”

Sunga also praised Fell for his idea that Mr. Roper should break the fourth wall on the show.

“That’s how inventive (Fell was),” Sunga also said. “No one said do that. He did it.”

While he also discussing what Fell brought to “Three’s Company” during that 2008 interview, Sunga also talked about the show’s other cast members. For example, he describes Audra Lindley, who acted alongside Norman Fell in many scenes, as “generous.”

“I’m going to say this again for her: Solid, great timing, great interpreter of the line, and generous,” he said.

You can watch George Sunga talk about “Three’s Company” below. The show aired from 1976 until 1984.