‘3rd Rock From the Sun’ Convinced John Lithgow to Break a Career Rule He Set For Himself

3rd Rock from the Sun was one of the most popular sitcoms of the ’90s. It made stars out of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Kristen Johnston, and French Stewart. John Lithgow was another beloved star of the NBC show. But did you know the actor didn’t initially want to appear on TV?

‘3rd Rock From the Sun’s success

John Lithgow and Joseph Gordon-Levitt attend Vulture Festival 2021
3rd Rock From the Sun stars John Lithgow and Joseph Gordon-Levitt in 2021 | Tommaso Boddi/Getty Images for Vulture

The sitcom followed a group of four extraterrestrials who have come to Earth. They pose as a family to study Earth and its inhabitants. The characters have jobs, attend school, and have relationships with Earthlings, learning lessons about humanity along the way. 

The main cast included Lithgow, Gordon-Levitt, Johnston, and Stewart as the alien “family.” Saturday Night Live alum Jane Curtin played one of Lithgow’s character’s colleagues at the university where he taught. 

3rd Rock from the Sun ran from 1996 to 2001 on NBC. The show was very popular and won several awards, including eight Emmys, two SAG Awards, and two Golden Globes. Lithgow himself won three Emmys for his work on the show. However, before he could achieve that, the now-76-year-old had to break one of his career rules.

John Lithgow was persuaded to break one of his career rules for ‘3rd Rock From the Sun’

In a recent interview with GQ, Lithgow talked about some of his most famous roles, including 3rd Rock from the Sun

“You know, I have very few rules in my career,” the actor started. “But the last one I hadn’t broken was ‘Never do an episodic TV.’ And my agent called, and said ‘Your friends Bonnie and Terry are in town and they want to have breakfast with you,’ and I said ‘Oh, great.’”

“Bonnie and Terry” are Bonnie and Terry Turner,” a husband-and-wife team of writers and producers. The couple wrote for SNL and worked on the scripts for Coneheads, Wayne’s World, Tommy Boy, and The Brady Bunch Movie

3rd Rock from the Sun isn’t the only sitcom the pair created. The Turners are also the masterminds behind the hugely popular That ’70s Show

“So, I went off to have breakfast with Bonnie and Terry at the Four Seasons,” Lithgow continued. “It fell to Terry to pitch this series to me and the first sentence he spoke was ‘It’s about this group of four aliens.’ And about five minutes later, he’d persuaded me to do this.”

The actor went on, “It was such a fantastic premise for a nutball character actor, and they had written it with me in mind, and if I hadn’t done it, they wouldn’t have done it.”

What has John Lithgow done since ‘3rd Rock From the Sun?’

The show made Lithgow into a household name. After it ended, he went on to star in movies like Shrek, Dreamgirls, This Is 40, Pitch Perfect 3, and Pet Semetary. Lithgow has also returned to the small screen, appearing in Dexter, 30 Rock, How I Met Your Mother, and The Crown

Even though Lithgow had to break one of his career rules for 3rd Rock from the Sun, it seems like it all paid off in the end! 

RELATED: ‘3rd Rock From the Sun’: The Episode That Cost Over $10 Million