‘3rd Rock From the Sun’: John Lithgow’s Son Appeared in Almost 50 Episodes

For science fiction fans in the mid-to-late 1990s, few TV shows scratched their itch like 3rd Rock From the Sun.

The alien-based sitcom helped take an already established John Lithgow and propel him and the rest of the cast to another level. However, he wasn’t the only person in his family to benefit. As he’s done for his career, however, Lithgow also used the opportunity to prop his co-stars up and give the spotlight to people like his real-life son, Ian. 

What Was ‘3rd Rock From the Sun’?

According to IMDb, 3rd Rock From the Sun was an out-of-this-world sitcom about what happened when a family of aliens is sent to earth on a discovery exhibition. Although the Solomon family looks normal, their alien sentiments and out-of-this-world intelligence made them proverbial fish-out-of-water. For five years, they entertained the masses. 

While 3rd Rock was a hilarious, successful sitcom, its most notable feature may have been its cast. John Lithgow was already a successful film and television star when he got the lead role as the Solomon family patriarch, Dick. Still, the series showed the classically-trained actor’s range as a comedic foil. Furthermore, the series featured a young Joseph Gordon-Levitt, then a child star known for Angels in the Outfield. 

With French Stewart and Kristen Johnston balancing out the family, the show was a cult hit. Coming at a time when network television developed a little bit of edge, its blend of family values with scatological humor made it a hit among fans who were starved for a fresh take on the type of sci-fi comedy that dominated the previous decade.

However, while the show was a breeding ground for many stars, Lithgow’s impact went above and beyond. 

The Lithgow effect

John Lithgow
John Lithgow | Jason Mendez/WireImage

Lithgow was the star of 3rd Rock. While not an A-List sell by any means, he had already established himself as a versatile actor with seemingly boundless range.

This wore off on the rest of the cast. When Gordon Levitt made his way to the A-List, himself, he maintained a working relationship with his former television father that allowed him to stretch himself in future roles. He spoke about this with The Hollywood Reporter

“When it was my turn to be the lead of a movie like Brick, I absolutely think that I was taking a page from the way that John approached being the lead of 3rd Rock from the Sun,” the 500 Days of Summer star told the publication. ” I tried to set that pace for, like, “Okay, I’m the one. I’m the actor kind of leading this, and here’s how I’m going to approach it. I’m going to bring 110 percent to this little movie, and I’m going to support every other actor just like John supported me.” 

Lithgow impacted everyone around him onset, but it didn’t start and end with his fictional family. The renowned actor kept it close to home when recruiting other talents for the series. One of the series’ memorable side characters had more than a working relationship with Lithgow. John’s son, Ian, played Leon throughout the series’ run. 

‘3rd Rock From the Sun’: Keeping it in the family

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While not nearly the household name his father was, Ian Lithgow followed him to Hollywood success. According to IMDB, he made his first on-screen appearance as an uncredited extra in his father’s movie, Footloose. Years later, John’s connection to T3d Rock helped secure his son the role of Leon. According to its Fandom page, Leon was a lovable student in Dr. Solomon’s class who appeared in nearly fifty episodes. 

Given the role in his early twenties, it remains Ian’s most prominent television role to date. To this day, Ian’s father hooks him up with roles in several of his projects, the most recent being Perry Mason. However, Ian has forged a decent resume himself, as well. He had several guest roles on series like Girls and The Blacklist. 

John remains as popular as ever. 3rd Rock might not be the quintessential nineties sitcom that Seinfeld or Fresh Prince was, but it helped kick-off and boost the careers of several people involved.

To this day, twenty years after it left the air, it holds a special place in the hearts of fans across the world. Most of this can be attributed to John Lithgow, who not only served as the backbone of the series but helped get his family involved, as well.