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What line did a Three’s Company star refuse to say no matter what?

URBAN LEGEND TV: Joyce DeWitt was so outraged by a line of dialogue her character was supposed to say in an episode of company of three that she said she wouldn’t even deliver it if the producers put a gun to her head during the show.

Launched as a mid-season replacement in the spring of 1977 (so 45 years ago this month), company of three was a remake of a British sitcom called man about home, about a young man who becomes roommates with two young single women in Santa Monica, California. The grumpy old landlord only allows this arrangement because the roommates lie and say the young man is gay. The show became a big hit, although it never quite became the #1 show on television (it was #1 sitcom for a few years, however, finishing the season behind either dallas Where 60 minutes in the rankings of those years).

The show made stars of its protagonists John Ritter, Suzanne Somers, and Joyce DeWitt (as Jack Tripper, Chrissy Snow, and Janet Wood, respectively) and saw career resurgences for veteran character actors Norman Fell and Audra Lindley ( The Ropers, owners of the (husband, Stanley, was the owner and wife, Helen, was a friend of the housemates and was in on the secret that Jack wasn’t actually gay).

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Much like the show it was based on, company of three was a raunchy farce that pushed the boundaries in terms of what you could get away with network TV in the late 1970s. Much of it was based on silly misunderstandings (e.g. Jack and Chrissy are in the bedroom trying to put a fitted sheet on his bed and someone overhears them talking about how they “have to get it” and “I don’t. I don’t think it’ll be okay” and “you’re gonna have to try harder” and obviously misinterpret that they’re talking about sex. That’s, like, 70% of all company of three plots right there.

The star of the show was clearly John Ritter, but right next to him was Suzanne Somers, as the sexy but innocent (and, as the show went on, dumber and dumber) Chrissy Snow. Here’s the tricky thing, though, the network and studio clearly saw the show as a John Ritter vehicle. He was paid the most from the cast and Joyce DeWitt later recalled (in Chris Mann’s iconic book on the show, Come knock at our door: A Hers and Hers and his guide to “Three’s Company”, one of the most in-depth books on a successful series. Mann got quotes that I still can’t believe) telling Somers, “I told him there’s no way to get points on the show unless we stick together because they loved only John. They’d replace either of us in a heartbeat. But they couldn’t lose us both. And I sincerely believed, and still do, that Suzanne and my contribution to the success of the series deserved to have points in the series.

While Somers’ argument with the show would later become the most famous in the show’s history, it was DeWitt who initially had a major problem. The cast had all received raises in Season 3, but as the network negotiated with Fell and Lindley to get their own spinoff series, The Ropers, the network started playing hardball and in an attempt to show Fell and Lindley that the entire cast wasn’t getting a raise, executives revoked DeWitt’s raise. This, of course, came as a total shock to DeWitt and she cried out “sick” (she would later say she WAS sick, sick in her soul from what they were trying to do to her). She eventually went straight to ABC Entertainment chief Tony Thomopoulos to plead her case to him in terms of simple integrity, that a raise had been agreed upon and it would be wrong to go back on it for a bargaining ploy and Thomopoulos agreed. with her and she got her raise back. She actually had time to shoot the show that week, but since the producers had already adapted the episode (I wrote about how the end result, which brought Jack’s girlfriend into DeWitt’s place in the show, made no sense, but worked in a pinch), she skipped it.

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That was at the end of season 3. At the start of season 5, Somers was now calling in sick and trying to get a huge raise and pay equity with Ritter, which would never happen and everything was pretty tense. Somers did not show up for the taping of the second episode. She then showed up for the third episode, the last Somers would do as a full cast member (they made a deal where she would appear in bits where she would call when her parents visited and she would be filmed separately from the rest of the cast). In the episode, people mistakenly believe that Chrissy is a prostitute like a friend of hers. At the end of the episode, the friend was to say that Chrissy was “invaluable” and Janet was to say “and she’s gonna stay that way.” DeWitt hated the line as she felt it was far too judgmental of her character, especially since at the start of the episode Janet was totally okay with the prostitute friend. Ritter chimed in and said he would say the line. The producer, however, kept it as Janet’s line. At the final dress rehearsal, he asked DeWitt what her problem was with the line, which, of course, angered her as she had been complaining about the line all week. She recalled, “I leaned back in my chair and took a deep breath. And instead of answering that silly question. I said, ‘Mickey, I’ll tell you what’s wrong with this line. You can go out with a gun during the 5:30 p.m. show and hold it over my head and I still won’t say this line to you. Is that clear enough? That’s why it took. Ritter has reminded that he understood her problem, because the line really didn’t match Janet, which is why it was fine to say it.

DeWitt also cited this incident as why she was shocked that Somers didn’t understand that the network was so chauvinistic that they were never going to give in to her demands, and sure enough, Somers ended up leaving the show.

The legend is…


Thanks to Chris Mann for the information!

Be sure to check out my TV Legends Revealed archive for more urban legends from the world of TV.

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