The Ropers and Three's Company

The Ropers (1979-1980)
Three's Company (1977-1984)
Type: Spin Off

   This entry is part of my secret shame. Not because I'm ashamed I watched Three's Company and enjoyed it. No, that is part of my very public shame. The secret shame comes from the fact that Three's Company and it's spin-off shows are some of the most obvious and well known cases of spin-offs and should have been on this list from the very first moment I put this site up. The fact is I thought I DID include them. Would've sworn the farm on it. But somehow, through some brain fart (or as the scientists properly call it a methane expulsion of the cerebellum) I left them out entirely. It's like Baskin And Robbins forgetting to include vanilla in the 31 flavors. We're talking the basics man! But I digress and get to the actual point of this page...

   Three's Company was a monster hit sitcom of the late 70's early 80's. Nowadays its sort of cool for some folks to look back on it with a little disdain but when your show features a "Best Of'" clip episode hosted by sitcom queen Lucille Ball, well you know you're not doing too shabby.

   The reason for its success and the reason some people have such disdain for it are one and the same: the show's use of semi-sleazy but very silly comedy. Nearly every episode in some way was a bedroom farce - a smutty comedy of errors - and I don't say that meaning to join the disdain crowd but because it's accurate.

   The show's first episode set up the premise of the show. Janet and Chrissy, two lovely young women, have thrown a going away party for their former roommate. They find one of the party goers who they don't know, Jack Tripper, asleep in their shower. It turns out Jack could use a place to live and seeing as they've just lost a roommateone they could use a new one. While concerned about sharing an apartment with a man, by the end of the episode they decided to give it a shot. Great setup for a semi-naughty show right? But wait, there's more.

   The building's landlord Stanley Roper was none too happy with the idea of a guy living with two girls. Dirty minded Mr. Roper could picture all sorts of inappropriate activity going on with these three and wouldn't allow Jack to move in. To get around this the girls lied to Mr. Roper and told him that Jack was gay. Mr. Roper's long suffering wife Helen, who wished Stanley could picture all sorts of inappropriate activities with her and who was much more open minded, knew that Jack wasn't gay, knew nothing was going on and was fine with everything.

   This setup was then used to set up every misunderstanding imaginable. Jack might be talking to one of the girls about a difficult test he has to take. Then Mr. Roper would happen by and overhear only a piece of the conversation that could be misinterpreted - like he'd just here Jack talking about it (the test) being, "long and hard" and then him saying something like, "I don't want to cheat but I think if I can talk Mr. Roper into lending me a hand I will." So now Mr. Roper gets to run around paranoid and thinking Jack wants to have sex with him. Jack would approach him to talk about cheating on a test and Mr. Roper would take everything he said the wrong way and as being dirty and that would cause more confusion, misunderstandings and, as per the legal requirements of all sitcoms, hilarity would ensue. For the time it was a little racy. By today's standards of humor and raunch the humor is only kinda dirty. A lot of the episodes are still very funny but the "dirty misunderstanding" gag does get old after its been used for the zillionth time.

   Three's Company was such a big hit that ABC tried to use it as the launching pad for a spin-off show called The Ropers. Stanley and Helen sold their building, bought a condo and moved off into a show of their own. They were replaced on Three's Company by new landlord and elderly swinger Mr. Furley, played by comic legend Don Knotts. Mr. Furley wanted to swing very badly and taht's just what he did. Despite this he also wasn't keen on a guy living with two girls and so Jack had to keep pretending to be gay.

   The idea of the new spin-off show, The Ropers, was that the Ropers now lived in a condo in a classier area and their new next door neighbors looked at them as being lower class. Actually Jeffrey P. Brookes III, played by Jeffrey Tambor, did. His wife Anne was actually good friends with Mrs. Roper. The humor was to come out of the friction between the characters - Jeffrey not liking the Ropers, his wife not liking that he didn't like the Ropers, Mrs. Roper still not liking that Mr. Roper didn't want to fool around.

   But the audience didn't see the humor apparently and the show quickly was cancelled. Just one more case of people taking great supporting players, trying to make them great central starring characters and failing. A little of the Ropers (the characters) was great but nobody wanted a full half hour of them. They were like seasoning . A little salt and pepper on your food makes it taste better but you wouldn't want to eat a meal of salt and pepper. The Ropers flopped and now the characters couldn't go back to Three's Company either since Don Knotts had taken their place.

   Interestingly, a lot of times now when a show tries to spin-off a character they set things up to avoid just such a problem. When The Jeffersons spun off the character of Florence into her own show she was replaced not with a big name star but with a character who, should the spin-off fail (which it did) could quickly be dropped so that Florence could return to the original show.

   Two final notes. First, Three's Company was based on the British sitcom Man About The House and its spin-off The Ropers was based on Man About The House's spin-off George And Mildred. Second, for anyone curious about the show The Ropers, the show's episodes have at times been shown as part of Three's Company in syndication.

Other Three's Company Crossover Links
Three's Company and Three's A Crowd

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