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.


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. 


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.

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