3rd Rock From the Sun was something of an anomaly—a broad sitcom known for its bawdy humor and physical comedy that also featured award-winning acting and was the subject of critical acclaim. It ran from 1996 to 2001 on NBC and starred John Lithgow, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, French Stewart, and Kristen Johnston as four aliens from a galaxy on the Cepheus-Draco border posing as humans living in the fictional town of Rutherford, Ohio, and working alongside unsuspecting humans including Dr. Mary Albright (Jane Curtin). On the 15th anniversary of the series' finale, here are 16 far out facts about the show.
1. THE PILOT WAS SHOT FOR ABC.
But ABC didn’t put it on the 1995-'96 fall schedule. NBC took a look at it, and liked enough of what they saw. Still, some NBC executives weren’t sure if it was “an NBC show,” so the pilot was re-shot.
2. EARLY REVIEWS SAID IT WAS FULL OF CHEAP SEX JOKES.
"Once it gets past a fixation on breast jokes, its talented cast and clever writing could make it a diverting, screwball sitcom,” said the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “When goofy, 3rd Rock rolls. When dirty, it's stone-cold bad,” said Matt Roush of USA Today. Those serve as good representative examples of the general critical reaction to the first few episodes.
3. MOST OF THE EPISODE TITLES HAVE THE WORD "DICK" IN THEM.
Of 3rd Rock from the Sun’s 139 installments, 108 episodes have the main character Dick Solomon's first name in the title, the first instance being the second episode “Post Nasal Dick,” and the final pun being “Dick Soup for the Soul.”
4. FRENCH STEWART CAME UP WITH THE DISTINCTIVE HARRY SQUINT.
He brought it with him to his initial audition, and it became a signature for his character Harry.
5. STEWART PHYSICALLY SUFFERED FOR HIS ART.
The actor claimed he woke up with bruises and huge rug burns on his body on days following tapings, and that his chiropractic bills were “insane.”
6. KRISTEN JOHNSTON SUFFERED FROM DEPRESSION THROUGHOUT THE SHOW'S RUN.
“You can’t tell anybody, 'I’m so bummed you gave me an Emmy.' You can’t be sad when you’re being celebrated. So it was a big conflict and there’s no shrink that can understand it,” Johnson explained to Entertainment Weekly. Johnston also battled with drugs and alcohol in multiple stages of her life and was diagnosed with lupus myelitis, a rare form of the disease that affects the spinal cord, in 2013. She’s currently in remission, and wrote in her memoir 2012 Guts that she had been clean and sober for five years.
7. JANE CURTIN WORKED ON IT BECAUSE OF CONEHEADS.
3rd Rock creators Terry and Bonnie Turner had written the 1993 movie version of Coneheads with Dan Aykroyd and Tom Davis. Curtin trusted the two because of her relationship with them.
8. JOHN LITHGOW’S SON WAS IN 48 EPISODES.
Ian Lithgow portrayed Leon, a dumb student in Harry Solomon’s physics class. David DeLuise, son of Dom DeLuise, played Bug Pollone in 46 episodes.
9. IT HAD A CLEVER TWILIGHT ZONE CONNECTION.
Lithgow and William Shatner, who played the aliens’ leader the Big Giant Head, both played the man that sees a gremlin on the wing of an airplane in “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.” Shatner did it first in the classic 1963 TV episode, with Lithgow taking his turn in a remake for 1983's Twilight Zone: The Movie. In 3rd Rock’s “Dick’s Big Giant Headache,” the Big Giant Head recounted that he had seen something on the wing of the plane during his flight. Dick’s response was that the same thing happened to him.
10. THERE WAS AN INADVERTENT BREAKING BAD CONNECTION.
Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul, and Bob Odenkirk were guest stars on separate episodes that all happened to originally air in 1999: Cranston played a Neil Diamond impersonator in “Paranoid Dick,” Aaron Paul was the nameless, shouty student who announced that Tommy and Alissa were prom king and queen in “Dick’s Big Giant Headache: Part 2,” and Odenkirk played Gary the insurance agent in “The Fifth Solomon.”
The two-part season two finale, “A Nightmare on Dick Street,” was shot on a budget of $1.5 million and $10 million was spent on the promotional campaign for Barq’s root beer and Little Caesars Pizza to help distribute the necessary eyewear to watch it.
12. A PHYSICIST AND COLUMBIA MATH AND PHYSICS PROFESSOR WROTE SOME OF DICK SOLOMON’S DIALOGUE.
Brian Greene, author of The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory, helped with the “physics-speak” for Lithgow’s character.
13. PHIL HARTMAN WAS EDITED OUT OF AN EPISODE DUE TO HIS PASSING.
Eight days after the airing of the season three finale, Phil Hartman was tragically murdered. When the episode re-aired a week before the following season’s premiere, Hartman’s scenes were re-shot with a different actor as a different character, so the resolution to the cliffhanger involving Hartman's character wouldn’t seem awkwardly re-cast or possibly considered disrespectful.
14. JOSEPH GORDON-LEVITT LEFT THE SERIES EARLY TO GO TO COLLEGE.
Gordon-Levitt only appeared in a little over half of the show’s episodes in the sixth and final season (including the series finale) so he could concentrate on his Columbia University studies. The former child star told Details how he was “scared and depressed” for a time, fearing that he wouldn’t be able to find acting work ever again.
15. IT AIRED DURING 13 DIFFERENT TIMESLOTS THROUGHOUT ITS SIX-SEASON RUN, TO THE ANNOYANCE OF LITHGOW.
The star once referred to 3rd Rock from the Sun with “more than a trace of irritation” as “the wandering Jew” of network television. When the show was canceled, he told The New York Times that even Seinfeld could not have stayed on the air if they had to deal with the same scheduling changes.
16. AN ALTERNATE ENDING TO THE SERIES FINALE RAN IN SYNDICATION.
Spoiler: On NBC, “The Thing That Wouldn’t Die” ended with the four aliens beaming back to their home planet, leaving Dick’s beloved Mary behind. In the alternate ending that was filmed in case the show got a reprieve from its cancellation, Dick returns to take Mary with him. The scene is a special feature on DVD.