Three's Company pilot with different actors

The rather dreadful 1970s sitcom Three's Company adapted the UK sitcom Man About the House for American TV; it ran for eight seasons and was heavily syndicated through my whole childhood, and as with many people of my age, it lurks in my subconscious.

It turns out there was an unaired pilot that used some of the same cast, but a different writing team and a somewhat smarter brand of comedy, and it's surfaced on YouTube. Here's Wikipedia's description of that pilot:

The show was first penned by famed Broadway writer Peter Stone who set the series in New York. Stone envisioned the Jack Tripper character as a successful, yet underpaid, chef in a fancy French restaurant while the characters who were to become Janet and Chrissy were to be a secretary for a CEO, and a high style fashion model respectively. Silverman felt that the treatment would not play to middle America and thus passed on the script. Silverman then enlisted the services of famed television writer Larry Gelbart, best known for his Emmy-award winning work on CBS's M*A*S*H. Gelbart initially wanted nothing to do with the show, feeling that its relatively simple premise made it substandard in comparison to M*A*S*H. Nonetheless as a favor to Silverman, Gelbart went ahead and developed a pilot episode with his son in law who named the series Three's Company. Gelbart's adaptation closely followed the British series. He envisioned Ritter as "David Bell", an aspiring film maker looking for a place to live who just happened to be a great cook. Ritter's better halves were portrayed by Valerie Curtin who played "Jenny" an employee of the DMV, and Suzanne Zenor as an aspiring actress named "Samantha". Gelbart reset the Ropers' apartment building, which he called the Hacienda Palms, from New York to North Hollywood, California. This plot of this pilot looked much like that of the first episode of the actual show. Liked by Silverman, a pilot was ordered by ABC which taped in early 1976. This format of the show just barely made it on to the fall 1976 ABC lineup but was ousted by what ABC felt were more promising series. Of all the new sitcoms that premiered on ABC for the 1976–1977 television season, only Three's Company and the summer premiere of What's Happening!! went on to a second season. While ABC was in negotiations to re-shoot the pilot, CBS became interested in the show, and made a firm commitment to TTC productions (producers Don Taffner and Ted Bergman's New York based company) to air the show as a mid season replacement in February 1977 with the Gelbart cast. However, at the last minute ABC decided that they wanted the show and made a firm commitment to air the show at midseason with a new cast.

Three's Company - Rare First UNAIRED Pilot (Part 1)

Three's Company - Rare Second UNAIRED Pilot (Part 2)

(via Super Punch)


    1. It all depends on your perspective, I suppose.  But I agree – I LOVE that show regardless of what it’s place is in the critical history of TV.  It was corny.  Sure.  But it was comfort food and I loved it as a kid.  I probably wouldn’t watch it now but I’d never think of it as “dreadful”.  YMMV blah blah.

    1. Some really excellent physical comedy. It is, of course, a slave to it’s time period though, so enlightened views about sexuality or relationships aren’t gonna be found here. Still, it’s  a step in the right direction to normalizing homosexuality.

  1. I went through three stages with Three’s Company. My familly watched it in its orginal run and I enjoyed it as a kid.

    I later watched it in syndication and realized it wasn’t all that good and relied on the same setups over and over and over again.

    I watched it again in syndication when I was older and realized John Ritter was a comedy GENIUS and enjoyed the show all over again.

    1. The remaining stages of Three’s Company are bargaining (“Please, TVLand, show more than just a couple of episodes at 3am”) and finally acceptance (“Oh, hey, Golden Girls…”)

  2. At least one thing was consistent in both versions: Mrs. Roper had all the best lines. Of course in the version that aired that’s damning with faint praise.

        1. s’alright. As a kid, it took me a while to realize Chuck Berry wasn’t the host of the gong show.

  3. This is like Neil Simon’s Three’s Company.

    I don’t know how the network didn’t immediately scrap the young people living together angle and just went straight with a Ropers show. 

    1. I have vague memories of the Ropers spin-off that ran for a grand total of seven (if I remember correctly) episodes. As much as I liked the Ropers the spinoff didn’t work too well because instead of a curmudgeonly Mr. Roper he became looser. The curmudgeon was the younger Jeffrey Tambor.

      Its failure, I think, was that Mr. Roper was an established character and his newfound freedom could never go beyond teaching Tambor’s son to play craps and getting drunk. He couldn’t become a nudist and a painter or something equally interesting that would have been funnier.

      1. Yes, it wasn’t good. But just based on this pilot…

        HOWEVER…The Ropers theme song is a favorite. It’s a true earworm. And the opening credits are great. They must’ve spent 6 bucks on it.

  4. If there is one consistent and reliable thing in life, it is that American remakes of British shows are never any good. 

        1. yes Steptoe&Son was originally on the radio

          Oh yeah and Archie Bunker was never as nasty as the english guy he played Alf Garnett

  5. “Dreadful,” hardly….

    Corny, yes….

    However my fondest memory of the show was that it was one of the few things in life that made my grandfather laugh…

  6. For the longest time this portion of Three’s Company was the funniest thing I had ever seen in my life.

    Back in the days when you couldn’t see whatever you wanted whenever you wanted the whole family would get excited when this episode was shown in repeats.

    1.  Still the funniest thing ever!

      And, yeah, you’ve great taste — I used to be very excited when that ep. would come around in syndication. There’s also a great bit in that episode w/Larry helping Jack cope w/flying. Oh, and Barry Williams plays Janet’s love interest in this one too.

  7. thanks for the links to the lost pilots…  very cool to watch!  love the nod to “what’s happening,” as well…

    i don’t know about using “dreadful,” to describe three’s company…  yeah, sure, it’s easy to look back at it now and judge the show, but at the time, it was very funny and somewhat progressive…  yeah, yeah, every premise involved misinformation or some confusion between the roommates and/or the ropers, but if i remember correctly, other than the show “soap,” at the time, there were no other prime time shows that would even address a “gay,” character, even if ritter was only pretending. 

    call it dreadful, but norman fell’s one-liners with accompanying camera stare down, audra lindley’s timing and delivery, ritter’s fantastic physical comedy and even dewitt and somers made the show a classic.  not necessarily advanced comedy, but anyone who watched it at the time came away with a few laughs…  where it lost it’s steam is when somers left and was replaced by endless blond clone bimbos and when the ropers split.

    hey c’mon, ralph furley?  don knotts rocked the leisure suit with accompanying scarf like no one else…  :)

    1. The really bizarre thing was that  in the original English pilot everyone thought he was a girl because his name was Robin Tripp, not Jack – they left a lot of the same jokes in the American version but played them as gay – in NZ both English and US shows were playing on TV at the same time ….

    2.  Don’t forget Furley’s bad wigs! Don Knotts had a hell of a time explaining to people that those awful toupes were for the character, NOT for him.

    1. Thanks!  I liked this a lot more than I thought I would.  That same account also posted the second unaired pilot.

  8. Pretty funny stuff, I haven’t seen this since…the 70s, I’m guessing…so I don’t remember. Was the real series this well written/delivered?

    “That was quite a deal last night with the one who was pregnant”
    “She had a boy”
    “I figure she must have”

    1. I never watched the broadcast version, but…

      “I don’t want to buy, I want to rent. Oh, am I bi? No…” 

      This would have been on at the same time as The Brady Bunch. I’m guessing they changed it quite a lot.

      1.  The bi joke did not make into the final pilot. The “She had a boy” line did. There are a lot of lines like that in the first several ep’s. Also, Mrs. Roper changed completely from the first pilot to the 2nd to the 3rd. In this one she’s conservative like “George”; in the next one, Lindley plays the character a little more broadly, she’s far more open but flirts with Jack. In the ACTUAL aired pilot (and subsequent series), she’s played even MORE broadly and while she flirts w/Jack, it’s harmless and playful, not creepy as it is in the 2nd pilot.

        Oh, and Mr. Roper NEVER actually utters the word “fairy” in regard to Jack in the aired pilot OR in the series. He does a “Tinkerbell” motion w/his hand, but they removed the word from his dialogue.

    2.  Yes, it was. The show got broader and sillier over the first few seasons, although the whole “it was just a big misunderstanding” thing started very early on. It was never meant to be Shakespeare, but the writing remains very clever. Their use of innuendo and their (the writers) ability to say something w/out really saying it quite impressive.

  9. I remember enjoying this show as a teen. The writing in this pilot is a bit better than the “real” series, but it’s quite similar.

    I didn’t know that the original writer also did MASH. Both shows have a guy in a dress. Hmmm…

  10. Am I the only one who wishes that the TV studios would put all the pilots for all the shows that never got picked up on Youtube? Probably. I also know that they would never do it. Though there used to be a few forgotten one season wonders on Hulu. Not sure if they’re still on there or not.

    1. In case you can’t tell from the “Likes”…you’re not. I’m sure that among the pilots that were never picked up there are numerous gems that will make us either wish they’d been series or glad the networks never ruined them.

      I’m not sure of the exact date, but some time in the late 1980’s I happened to catch a one-time special in which condensed versions of four TV show pilots written by college students were presented. They were interspersed with David Leisure (who was doing the “Joe Isuzu” commercials at the time) pitching really wacky ideas, such as a family of chefs famous for their food. The secret ingredient is human flesh, but they’re on an island, so they have to kill each other to keep up the supply.

      Actually considering that was probably the germinal idea for “Survivor” it doesn’t seem that wacky after all.

    2. OMG no.  You would kill yourself if you had to watch the ones not good enough to make it.  As an audience tester, I’ve seen far too many, some even with big name stars.
      If you really want the punishment, go hang out by the studios in NY or LA.  They always need fresh eyes.  You might even get a lunch voucher!

  11. I really like the Sam character better than Chrissy as it became. 

    But the real take-away here – you could rent a room in an L.A. apartment for $55 a month. You can’t get one night for that now!

  12. Speaking of TV shows, HBO’s Boardwalk Empire just released its new season 4 intro with a different song:

  13. I find it interesting how the flipped the facial features of the two girls for the final show:  the sad-eyed, kind of horse-faced smart brunette Sam to the sad-eyed, kind of horse-faced dopey blonde Chrissy and the pinched-faced dopey blonde Chrissy into the pinched-faced smarter brunette Janet.

    Also interesting how they basically dumbed down everyone, except maybe Mrs. Roper, for the final show.  Typifying the 70’s for everyone: young, dumb and full of cum!

  14. not really a need to describe three’s company as dreadful for the purpose of the post. especially since it is factually dreadless.

  15. Of the finalized cast, the Chrissy character wasn’t too terribly dumb for the first few episodes – maybe even season 1. She seemed savvy enough to know when Jack was putting her down or making a pass (I heard this is what they called it, “making a pass”, which is apparently different from “making it”. I believe you make “a pass” in order to make “it”). So yeah, Chrissy was breifly smart(er).

  16. Susanne Zenor. If anyone has ever watched “Baby” seeing her here is a treat. Honestly for a second there when he was in the bathtub I was predicting a cattle prod to come into play.

  17. I find it interesting that the second “pilot” is actually a first try at the 2nd episode. They changed the actors, the characters, the set design (albeit, only slightly), and the personality & relationship of the Ropers (from the original pilot I mean) but continued the story. Really odd.

    In the FINAL version of this, the 2nd episode, everything is basically the same, save for some improved timing and gags and a different actress for the mother (who I don’t like as much). And, obvs, Chrissy was changed…but you all knew that.

  18. This was a great show with such great talent in Jack Ritter.  You say “dreadful” sitcom??????  Wake up and smell the coffee.  It did great for years, and was an absolute change of pace to the everyday rigors of life as an entertaining situation comedy.  Well made show.

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