‘Three’s Company’: Magazine Shoot Sparked Major Tension Before Show’s Drastic Changes

by Suzanne Halliburton
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Three’s Company was one of the most popular television shows in the 1970s. But a cover shoot for a major news magazine threatened to topple the show.

However, it did shake up the show’s chemistry.

First, let’s set the table for Three’s Company. The show, which ran from 1977-84, was all about three roommates. However, there was a twist to the standard roommate theme.

In the pilot, Jack Tripper, played by John Ritter, crashes a party. He passes out in a bathtub. The next morning, he finds out that Chrissy (Suzanne Somers) and Janet (Joyce DeWitt) need a roommate. He’s studying to be a chef and is short on cash, so he thinks it’s a great offer.

But there’s a catch. Landlord Stanley Roper doesn’t believe men and women should live with each other, unless they’re married. But Janet tells Mr. Roper that Jack is gay.

The show was based on a sitcom from London. Writers from “All In The Family” told the story of the three roommates.

Three’s Company Was Huge Hit

Millions of fans started singing the “Come And Knock On Our Door” theme song and tuning in every week. The show, which premiered in spring, 1977, enjoyed the highest ratings ever of any mid-season replacement show.

The premise was simple. It was all one sexually-charged joke after another. Mrs. Roper quickly figured out Jack was straight. So she flirts with him, too. It’s all in good fun.

The breakout star was Suzanne Somers. She played a sexy, but naive secretary. Somers might not have been as popular as Farrah Fawcett, the face of the 70s, but she was anointed as one of the major sex symbols of the decade.

Incidents From 1980 Nearly Blew Up Show

Then came a cover shoot for Newsweek, a serious weekly magazine read by millions. Joyce DeWitt, who played Janet, the florist, had a problem with how the magazine was portraying them.

Chris Mann, who wrote the 1998 book “Come and Knock on Our Door: A Hers and Hers and His Guide to Three’s Company” talked about the photoshoot with Closer Weekly. He said:

“Joyce wanted to be known as an actor and not a celebrity. And a lot of that feeling grew out of a Newsweek cover story.

“Suzanne had her own photoshoot before or after the shoot of the trio, which John and Joyce were very uncomfortable with, having Suzanne being featured. She had other shots of her in front of the pink or blue screen in a nightie. Apparently, one of those shots was super-imposed over the image that Newsweek had of the three of them, and that created a lot of tension behind the scenes. It also further conflicted Joyce about doing publicity, because she felt lied to.”

At the same time, Somers also demanded more money. Her ask was $150,000 an episode, up from $30,000, and 10 percent ownership of the show’s profits. ABC denied that request. So Somers was a no show for filming of two of the first four episodes. ABC reduced her screen time to about a minute a show, then fired her at the end of the season.

Somers went on to star with Patrick Duffy in the show “Step By Step.” But she also became known as the fit spokesperson for “thigh master,” an exercise routine for legs. And she promoted natural health remedies.

Show Reshuffled Cast Several Times

Three’s Company replaced Chrissy with her cousin Cindy, played by Jenilee Harrison. And Harrison oozed sex appeal. She was a former cheerleader for the Los Angeles Rams. Then when Harrison left, Priscilla Barnes joined the cast as a nurse from the East Coast.

The show also survived when the Ropers left for their own spinoff. Don Knotts, aka Deputy Barney Fife from the Andy Griffith show, played new landlord Ralph Furley.

It all worked for eight seasons, no matter the cast.

Love classic TV? Check out this story about “The Partridge Family.”

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