Spinoff Stories -- Three’s Company (Article I)

The "Spinoff Stories" article series examines shows that spawned new programs, backdoor pilots, continuations, and reboots.

Photo Credit: Quote Catalog 

It may not be in the same league as I Love Lucy, Friends, or Seinfeld in terms of popularity and impact, but Three’s Company is still well-remembered for its risqué subject matter and tumultuous behind-the-scenes drama. While the show's innuendo-laced brand of humor seems like child's play when compared to the content shown and discussed on programs in the 21st century, the series sparked controversy and pushed boundaries back in the late 70's for the raunchy sexual overtones prevalent in much of the dialogue. Regardless of what critics or purists thought of the comedy series, viewers tuned in to watch in droves. The John Ritter vehicle was the 2nd highest-rated show on television in its third and fourth season, remaining in the top 10 for all of them sans the first and final. With massive commercial success came an opportunity for the network to milk the brand in order to maximize profits. ABC ended up producing two follow-up comedies in an attempt to duplicate the original's success. It would be an understatement to say things didn't work out the way the alphabet network hoped.


The Original Hit Machine -- Three's Company (1977-1984)

Based on the British sitcom Man About the House, Three's Company followed aspiring chef Jack Tripper (John Ritter) taking the place of Janet and Chrissy's (Joyce DeWitt & Suzanne Somers) old roommate Eleanor and moving in with the two. Although Tripper found himself with a new woman almost every week, he was forced to pretend to be gay in order for their landlords Mr. & Mrs. Roper (Norman Fell and Audra Lindley) to allow him to live with the girls. Along the way, Jack's sleazy friend & neighbor Larry (Richard Kline) also found himself falling in and out of relationships while simultaneously attempting to woo Chrissy and/or Janet. Just like the once controversial jokes, the premise of the series through the lens of the 2020s is hardly as scandalous as it once was. With that said, the comedic content of the series aged like fine wine despite the shock value of the premise aging like milk. The slapstick humor and rapid-fire double entendres still remain incredibly amusing thanks to the irresistible chemistry of the main cast and brilliant physical acting by comedy mastermind John Ritter. The characters remained the same for the first half of its eight-season run but the show went through many cast changes starting with the fourth. Angry about not getting paid as much as co-star John Ritter, Suzanne Somers departed the show and the role of the ditzy blonde was taken up by Cindy (Jenilee Harrison) in season five and then again by the more level-headed Terri (Priscilla Barnes) in seasons six through eight. Additionally, the Ropers left the series after the first three seasons. Don Knotts of Andy Griffith Show fame took over as the self-centered landlord Ralph Furley in the fourth season and remained a resident until the program came to a close. In spite of the core ensemble being redesigned thanks to departures and new additions, Three's Company remained one of the top programs on television for the majority of its run.


The First Spinoff -- The Ropers (1979-1980)

Three's Company was at the height of its popularity during its third season. Because of this, it made perfect sense that ABC would strike while the iron was still hot and create a spinoff series. Fell and Lindley departed the show at the tail-end of the program's third year to helm a sitcom of their own. The Ropers focused on the elderly couple attempting to fit in as they found themselves in a new community after selling their apartment building. Richard Kline's Larry made an appearance in the first season finale while Jack, Chrissy, and Janet guest-starred in the season two premiere. Aside from those two installments, the former landlords and the show's supporting cast roster (Made up of Jeffrey Tambor, Patricia McCormack, and Evan Cohen) were expected to do the heavy lifting in the comedy department. Like the mothership, the spinoff was also an adaption of a British series (George and Mildred). Initially, the follow-up show did remarkably well. In fact, the six-episode first season was the 6th highest-rated sitcom of the 1978-79 television season. Unfortunately, a move to a less desirable Saturday slot caused the comedy's ratings to take a nosedive. It bowed out with a mere 28 episodes under its belt. Since it was cheaper to pay just one person for the role of the landlord (Don Knotts), the fictional couple was also evicted from the main show. Whether it was because of a lack of familiar faces or the timeslot shift, the series simply did not deliver. 


The Second Spinoff -- Three's a Crowd (1984-1985)

Four years after The Ropers was kicked off the airwaves, Three's a Crowd arrived in a much different climate than its unsuccessful predecessor. By 1984, Three's Company, the series that had never fallen below the top 10 since its second year, plummeted to 33rd in the Nielsen ratings for its eight and final season. With the plot of the spinoff already established in the final episodes of the former, Three's a Crowd entered the sitcom arena as an extension of the fading juggernaut. Once again following the footsteps of a British counterpart (Robin's Nest), the second spinoff of the ABC sitcom centered on Jack Tripper living with his girlfriend Vicky while butting heads with her disapproving father. Despite the series featuring the titular character, ratings were middling at best. It ended up doing a bit worse than the already lackluster last season of the original, settling for the 38th spot during the 1984-85 television season. The series met its maker after just one season of twenty-two episodes, six less than The Ropers. Whether intentional or not, the title of the series foreshadowed its fate. Audiences no longer had an appetite for the shenanigans of Jack Tripper and company.


Future

In April 2016, the film company New Line reportedly had a Three's Company movie in the works. It's not clear if this will ever see the light of day but it would certainly be a challenge to find an actor as talented and suited for the role of Jack Tripper as the late John Ritter. Aside from this announcement, little else has come up regarding the future of this sitcom staple. 

Tie-Ins

As stated earlier, the core four cast members (Jack, Janet, Chrissy, and Larry) all appeared on The Ropers. On Three's a Crowd, only Larry Dallas (Richard Kline) made a guest appearance. That cameo came during the back-half of the comedy's run in an episode entitled 'Deeds of Trust'. No one else from the original series came to visit.


Why These Spinoffs Failed

Like a lot of sequel programs that abandon the majority of the original show's cast, these two spinoffs simply failed to replicate the same magical feeling that Ritter, DeWitt, Kline, and the others created when they were all on screen together. The grumpy Mr. Roper may have played well off of the energetic and youthful trio of Jack, Chrissy, and Janet, but the dysfunctional relationship between Mr. and Mrs. Roper could not keep The Ropers afloat. It would be the equivalence of giving I Love Lucy's Fred and Ethel Mertz their own show. Both couples worked well in supporting roles alongside their livelier counterparts but their loveless marriage routine is not captivating enough to be the main focus of a series. Three's a Crowd had a similar problem when it came to its group of characters. Even though the show featured the same protagonist, the other cast members could not compare. Vicky's dad or E.Z. Taylor (Jack's surfer assistant chef) could not hold a candle to iconic personalities like Mr. Furley, Janet, or Larry. Had Jack gotten together with Janet, a character that had been on the show since the pilot, instead of Vicky (a character aimlessly introduced in the last couple episodes of Three's Company), there may have been a chance for Three's a Crowd to connect with viewers. Seeing two characters that had matured together through the years settle down and start a life together would have been a far more alluring premise then Jack being with a woman audiences had not grown a connection towards. Even then, the hype for Three's Company had essentially died down by the mid-80's. The final season of the original was the lowest rated of them all. All things considered, the franchise had simply run its course. 



What did you think of this article? Were you a fan of the original or any of the spinoffs? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Planet Z Season 2 Episode 1: The Rig


NUMB HUMOR STUDIOS PRESENTS:
PLANET Z
Season 2 Episode 1
"The Rig"
Written by
William Fry & Michael Ledesma


EXT. ATLANTIC OCEAN - DAY
Open on the open ocean. The roar of the helicopter blades grows louder. A blackhawk flies over the ocean.
INT. BLACKHAWK - DAY
In the passenger's seat are our character Frank, Ava. Hendricks, and Dion. The last surviving members of the group. Piloting the helicopter is RJ. He is young. A rookie, yet comfortable behind the wheel.
RJ
We received a distress call from the supply ship that one of it's crew members got infected. We were sent out to pick you up on the coast but saw your boat. I'm RJ by the way.
HENDRICKS
How much farther to the Rig?
RJ
We're getting close. It's position changes every day. You know, being in the ocean and all.
FRANK
It's safe right?
RJ
Of course it is. Even though the zombies try to get to it.
AVA
Excuse me?
RJ
They may be dead, but those undead fuckers can swim. They're harmless when they're in the water. Makes for good target practice.
The Rig appears. It is surrounded by a small group of battleships and aircraft carriers.
RJ
We lost a few ships to pirates.

3.
FRANK
Pirates?
RJ
Yeah. They're ruthless.
The Blackhawk lands on the Rig and powers down. The group exits the helicopter. A soldier named HARPER approaches them.
RJ
This is as far as I’m authorized to go. Harper here will show you the rest of the way.
HARPER
Richards is waiting for you.
HENDRICKS
Who?
RJ
She runs the place. Logistics and everything. Provides the surviving world leaders with how we're going to end all of this.
Harper gestures towards a stairway.
HARPER
This way.
INT. THE RIG - DAY
They walk down the staircase and make their way through the maze that is the Rig. Soldiers and scientists pass by them.
HARPER
So which one of you is the astronaut.
FRANK
That would be me.
HARPER
Honestly, I'm very impressed. When we heard about you, no one could believe it. We just assumed everyone died.
Frank doesn't reply. They reach a metal door and enter into a command center. There are a group of screens connected together displaying different locations around the world.
In the center is a large table where people are looking at computer screens. One of them is a middle aged woman. This is RICHARDS.

4.
HARPER
Director.
Richards turns to face the group.
RICHARDS
Thank you Harper.
Richards walks over to the group. She stands in front of Frank and extends her hand out. Frank takes it and shakes it.
RICHARDS
It’s good to finally meet you Mr. Heston. We have much to talk about.
FRANK
Yes, we do.
Richards stands back to face the entire group.
RICHARDS
Welcome to the Rig. My name is Eliza Richards. I run all operations here.
HENDRICKS
Sergeant Hendricks. U.S. Camp 3.
RICHARDS
Good to meet you sergeant. Where’s Callahan?
HENDRICKS
He didn’t make it.
RICHARDS
I’m sorry to hear that. We’ve lost too many good soldiers. We have much to discuss but for now, let’s get you settled in. We have quarters prepared for you. Harper will show you the way.
HARPER
This way.
The group follows Harper. They walk down hallways. They pass by a room where a strange humming is coming from. Frank stops and peeks through the door window.
Sitting in the middle of the room is a man wearing a straight jacket. Harper appears next to Frank.

5.
HARPER
That's Doctor Gable, aka “Doctor Crazy”.
FRANK
Why?
HARPER
Cause he went mad trying to look for a cure for the virus. Tried destroying the Rig.
Frank looks back at Doctor Gable. Frank and Harper continue down the hall.
INT. FRANK’S ROOM - DAY
Frank is in his bunk. Across from his room, Dion is sitting on his bunk reading a playboy magazine.
DION
I’m glad the folks here saved the essentials.
Hendricks enters the room.
HENDRICKS
(To Frank)
Richards want us to brief her.
FRANK
About damn time.
Frank stands up and exits the room with Hendricks.
INT. THE RIG - DAY
Frank and Hendricks walk down the halls of the Rig.
FRANK
How’s Ava?
HENDRICKS
Fine. She’s keeping herself busy in the sickbay.
FRANK
At least she has something to distract her.

6.
Frank and Hendricks enter the command center. Richards is looking over reports. She notices Frank and Hendricks enter.
RICHARDS
Ah gentlemen, let’s get started shall we?
They sit at a large table and are joined by other military personnel. As time passes, Frank recounts his experience on the ISS and Hendricks recounts the events at the camp.
RICHARDS
Mr. Heston, what exactly was the message that Mission Control sent you?
FRANK
To not come down. To stay where we were.
RICHARDS
And you had no idea what was happening on Earth?
FRANK
Correct. We had lost communication with Earth.
RICHARDS
So why did you return home?
PAUSE.
FRANK
Our Captain thought it was best. We were running low on supplies and our mental health was beginning to deteriorate.
RICHARDS
I see. Tell me, what happened to the remaining crew?
FRANK
As far as I know, they’re dead.
RICHARDS
Frank, this is going to come as a shock to you, but you were not the only survivor of the ISS.
FRANK
What?

7.
A door opens and Ulysses enters.
ULYSSES
Good to see you friend.
Frank stands up and hugs Ulysses.
RICHARDS
(To Ulysses)
I wanted to wait until he arrived back to tell you. We’ll have to finish his debriefing another time, I believe you two have some catching up to do.
Frank and Ulysses exit the command center.
RICHARDS
As for you Sergeant. Recount the events beginning from the finding of Frank Heston to now.
EXT. THE RIG - DAY
Frank and Ulysses walk along the deck of the Rig.
FRANK
How? How are you alive?
ULYSSES
I almost wasn’t. When the wave hit us, The capsule began to sink and I dragged along with it. I broke free. The others couldn’t get out. I drifted on a piece of wreckage for who knows how long. Finally, a patrol ship found me, brought me here. I’ve become a great asset to the team and Richards seems to have great faith in me.
FRANK
Your wife?
ULYSSES
She didn’t make it. Or the baby.
FRANK
Ulysses I’m sorry.
ULYSSES
I honor them by surviving.

8.
FRANK
Yeah.
ULYSSES
So what about you?
FRANK
One of the camps found me. Stayed there for a bit but then we were overrun by other survivors.
ULYSSES
It’s safe here. No zombies. Although every once in a while one of those fuckers actually swims this way. Makes for good target practice.
FRANK
So I’ve heard.
ULYSSES
Yeah, the only thing we have to worry about are the pirates.
FRANK
Our pilot mentioned that, didn't go into much detail of it.
ULYSSES
Survivors who have taken to the seas. Plunder anything they can get their hands on. They’ve never come here though. I think they know how armed we are.
FRANK
It doesn't matter how armed you are, what matters is the element of surprise.
ULYSSES
Right you are Frank. Right you are.
FRANK
Hey can I ask you something.
ULYSSES
Of course.
FRANK
Doctor Gable. What exactly happened?

9.
ULYSSES
He went crazy before I got here but from what I heard, he thought that there was no hope for a cure. He placed explosives around the Rig and nearly blew everyone to Kingdom Come. Shame, according to his file, he had quite a brilliant mind. They were really banking on him to find a cure. Him and Doctor Brooke.
FRANK
Doctor Brooke?
ULYSSES
She was one of the scientists working on the cure. She’s not here though. She’s in South America. We had an army camp there.
FRANK
Had?
ULYSSES
We lost contact with them.
Hendricks walks up to Frank and Ulysses.
FRANK
How was it?
HENDRICKS
Not as bad as I thought it’d be. Still, I hate having a bunch of suits questioning my decisions.
FRANKS
Hendricks this is Ulysses. Ulysses this is Hendricks. He saved my life.
HENDRICKS
And almost took it a couple times.
The three chuckle.
HENDRICKS
Richards wanted me to say that we’re invited to dinner.
LATER
It is night. The ocean is calm. The Rig is a bright spot on an otherwise black ocean.

10.
Miles away, the pirate VICTOR stares at the Rig through binoculars. His first mate HIRAM stands next to him.
HIRAM
If we pull this off, we’ll be set for life. We’ll rule. The strongest safe haven on the planet.
VICTOR
It’s not going to be easy. Ready the ships.
INT. THE RIG - NIGHT
Frank, Hendricks, Ava, Ulysses, and Richards sit at an elegant dining table. All are dressed nicely. The dining table is filled with food and drink such as seafood, steak, and wine.
RICHARDS
I’m sure you all haven’t had a proper meal in a long time.
HENDRICKS
No ma’am.
RICHARDS
How did you find our sickbay to be Dr. Farroway?
AVA
It’s nice to have a sterile place for once.
RICHARDS
We modified and built the Rig to act as a sort of mini city. In fact, I’m talking to the world leaders about possibly expanding.
ULYSSES
Who knows, perhaps we could build an actual city on the ocean.
FRANK
How close are we to a cure?
RICHARDS
Beg pardon?
FRANK
A cure. How close are we to having one?

11.
RICHARDS
I’m glad you asked Mr. Heston. Sadly, the answer is not good. After the incident with Doctor Gable, we haven't been able to proceed. Gable was the expert on the virus.
FRANK
That’s too bad.
RICHARDS
A tragedy.
FRANK
How did the virus get out?
RICHARDS
I am afraid that is a question that I don’t have an answer for.
FRANK
You people don’t have a theory?
RICHARDS
We have plenty of theories, all of which have lead to dead ends.
FRANK
That just means you haven’t looked into all the possibilities. If you we’re to set up a team, to research-
ULYSSES
Frank.
FRANK
Sorry. It’s just, we finally have someone who can answer questions about the apocalypse.
RICHARDS
I only have a few answers. I’m sorry Mr. Heston. We are doing what we can here.
EXT. THE RIG - NIGHT
RJ and Dion patrol the decks.

12.
DION
I survived a bunch of teen crazies and zombies. How come I don’t get invited to a feast.
RJ
Don’t worry about it. From what I’ve heard, they’re boring. Nothing to talk about, but the apocalypse. Beer?
DION
Fuck yes.
RJ hands Dion a can of beer. The two drink.
A group of about seven heavily armed boats make their way towards the Rig at high speeds. Each filled with well-armed pirates and heavy artillery.
DION
So, you got a girl?
RJ
I had a boyfriend, we knew each other for some time.
DION
Had?
RJ
He was sent to Hong Kong. He and his team never came back.
DION
Sorry.
RJ
Thanks. What about you?
DION
No one. But sooner or later some fine gal is going to need saving and when that time comes, you can bet that Dion will be there. Guns blazing.
RJ chuckles.
There is a loud BANG and Dion falls to the ground. RJ ducks to the floor.
RJ
Dion!

13.
DION
I’m fine! It just grazed me in the shoulder.
Dion and RJ peek over the rail and see the approaching pirates. The pirates begin firing their guns and artillery from a distance but they only hit metal. RJ and Dion take cover.
DION
Who the fuck are those guys?
RJ
Pirates.
DION
Oh that’s just great.
RJ
Here.
RJ hands Dion his sidearm. RJ pulls the slide on his rifle. Dion cocks the pistol.
RJ
Welcome to the Rig.
END.