ABC caused something of a dust-up in March of 1977 when it aired a new comedy called Threes Company. Penned and produced by Don Nicholl, Michael Ross, and Bernie West (Emmy award-winning writers for All in the Family and producers of The Jeffersons), the series was loosely based on the British sitcom Man About the House.
In the series opener, viewers meet roommates Janet Wood (Joyce Dewitt) and Christmas Chrissy Snow (Suzanne Somers) as they discover Jack Tripper (John Ritter) asleep in their bathtub after a going-away party for a former roommate. They soon discover the party crasher isn't some kind of pervert, but an aspiring chef in need of a home. They offer him Eleanors old room, but theres one catch: their landlords.
Uptight Mr. Roper (Norman Fell) and his nosey wife Helen (Audra Lindley) may not take to the idea of the trio living together in the Santa Monica apartment, so they convince Jack to pretend hes gay, which would be easy enough if he wasnt an avid skirt chaser and didnt enjoy hanging out at local hot spot The Regal Beagle with his best buddy Larry Dallas (Richard Kline).
When it first aired, the notion of a man sharing an apartment with two women who werent relatives was novel; having the man also pretend to be openly gay made it racy and groundbreaking. This was titillating stuff for 1977, but Shakespeare and Moliére would have been right at home with the subject matter and characters because at its core Threes Company is pure farce (think Measure for Measure or Tartuffe)--a fact that was often overlooked by the media who fixated on Jacks feigned homosexuality and Chrissys ebullient jiggle factor. This comedy of errors was fueled by subterfuge, mistaken identity, and pratfalls. And the main characters are classic comedy archetypes: the loveable buffoon (Jack), the dim-witted sex kitten (Chrissy), the plucky straight woman (Janet), and the unwitting dupe (Roper/Furley).
In form and execution, the show followed in the footsteps of legendary sitcom I Love Lucy (Lucille Ball was rumored to be an ardent fan). Each episode began with a mix-up or miscommunication and ended with the problem solved and the roommates sharing in a group-hug moment reaffirming their friendship. What ensued in between were a host of hilarious set-ups that relied heavily on comic asides and broad physical comedy for laughs. This was 1930s burlesque decked out in a goofy, 1970s leisure suit.
In time the show became a victim of its own popularity, and significant cast changes occurred as a result. sVeteran actor Don Knotts became the trio's new landlord, Ralph Furley (a hapless ladies' man who wants to "cure" Jack) when Norman Fell and Audra Lindley left in 1979 to star in a short-lived spin-off, The Ropers.
During the 1980-81 season, three became a crowd when a contractual dispute erupted between Somers and the show's producers. Chrissy was written off and Jenilee Harrison was signed on as Cindy Snow (1980-1982), Chrissys sweet, accident-prone cousin. In 1981, Priscilla Barnes permanently rounded out the trio when she joined the cast as Terri Alden, a sexy, yet savvy, nurse. In time, Three's Company literally became Three's a Crowd, when the producers decided to spin-off a show featuring Jack (he moves in with his girlfriend and focuses on running Jack's Bistro).