The popular American sitcom, “Three’s Company,” aired for eight seasons from 1977 to 1984. It featured actors Joyce DeWitt, Suzanne Somers, and John Ritter as three roommates who live together in Santa Monica, California.
Originally, Norman Fell’s character played the building manager, however, he left the series in 1979. He was replaced by Don Knotts.
Besides being the group’s new building manager on the screen, Knotts also supported Somers during one of her major career decisions.
Suzanne Somers Asked For Pay Raise
In 1980, Somers was at the absolute height of her career playing the beloved Chrissy Snow. Two years before she had won the People’s Choice Award for Favorite Female Performer. In 1979, she was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best TV Actress in Comedy.
It’s no secret how talented, successful, and adored both Somers and her character were.
As a part of an Emmy-winning and publicly admired show, Somers thought it was beyond appropriate to ask ABC for a pay raise. She asked for the raise after four successful seasons with the show.
Her request was, by modern standards, more than fair, she wanted to be paid equally. She wanted equal pay for doing a job that was exactly equal to her male counterparts.
For comparison, Ritter was being paid $150,000 for each show. Meanwhile, Somers was being paid $30,000 an episode. She was being paid a fifth of what her co-star was getting. Despite being in the same number of episodes and having the same screen time, her pay was far below his.
It is an issue that was unfortunately very prominent early on in television. Although, the gender pay gap is still very much a problem today, as well.
ABC Refuses, Fires Suzanne Somers
ABC refused to raise her pay. Not only that, but according to an interview with People, the show’s response was, “Who do you think you are?”
“I probably would have never left network series. I would have kept on going and probably been in every sitcom after that were it not to end the way it ended. But I was ostracized. So I went away,” Sommers said in the interview.
In an effort to teach female actresses a “lesson,” Somers was fired.
Somers moved on from her acting career and instead would eventually launch her own fitness and skincare business. However, the failure to pay equally and recognize female talent has left a stain on the legacy of “Three’s Company.”
During the entire situation, Don Knotts was there for Somers. Partially because he knew what she was going through. Although, not nearly to the extent that women of the time did.
“Don empathized with Somers, who was, in his view, being punished for seeking a raise, a scenario Don himself had experienced a decade earlier with the producers of The Andy Griffith Show,” according to Daniel de Visé in his book.
He wanted a raise after five years of poor pay, but was denied his request as well.
While she was ostracized by other cast members and executives, Knotts refused to exclude her. Knotts always made an effort to go talk to Somers. He even traveled to Las Vegas to help Suzanne Somers try to launch a solo act career.
An Ongoing Issue
Unfortunately, the issue with the pay gap in the entertainment industry did not end with actors like Somers.
An article from Insider helped expose just how extreme the pay gap still is. The 10 highest-paid actresses earn less than 30 cents for every dollar compared to their male counterparts.
In 2018, the highest-paid actress was Scarlett Johansson, who made $198.5 million less than the highest-paid actor, George Clooney. Also, Diane Keaton shared that she didn’t receive any of the back-end pay from the movie “Something’s Gotta Give,” but her co-star (with a smaller role), Jack Nicholson, did.
The last example is Ashton Kutcher, who was paid three times more than Natalie Portman for “No Strings Attached.”