It’s standard practice in television to shoot a pilot episode of a proposed show in order for a network to get it greenlit and picked up, as they say in the biz. Sometimes the pilot needs to be fine-tuned and recast, so a second one is filmed. But in the case of Three’s Company, it took three different pilots before ABC finally added it to their schedule.
This is the very first pilot, and fans of the sitcom can have a field day playing “spot the differences.” John Ritter’s character is named David Bell (instead of Jack Tripper) and he’s an aspiring filmmaker who learned his mad cooking skills from a two-week stint at the Pup & Knish. The two women roommates were named Jenny and Samantha and were played by Valerie Curtin (Jane’s cousin) and Suzanne Zenor. Samantha was blonde and squeaky-voiced, but lacked the endearing naiveté of the character that eventually became Chrissy. Mr. Roper (named George here) was still a dud in the boudoir, but his wife seemed to be pretty nonchalant about her husband’s lack of libido.
Watch for yourself:
ABC liked the script, and network honcho Fred Silverman in particular was enthusiastic about Three’s Company; the British version, Man about the House, had been a big hit in the U.K. and he was looking for some “racier” programming to shake up the prime time line-up. He enlisted the help of Don Nicholl, Michael Ross, and Bernie West, who’d had great success in adapting All in the Family from the BBC’s Till Death do Us Part, and their first suggestion was to re-cast the roles of the female roommates. They hired Joyce DeWitt to play the wise-cracking dark-haired roommate (now named Janet), and shot a second pilot with Susan Lanier as Chrissy. Close, but still not quite right, ABC said. You need a different Chrissy. Auditions were held and Suzanne Somers was chosen personally by Fred Silverman just days before the series went into production.