‘3rd Rock From the Sun’: How the Show Got John Lithgow’s Technical Dialogue Factually Correct

Many science fiction shows, even those that are meant to be sitcoms, gloss over or opt to not include real scientific language and concepts. Writers on TV shows don’t expect that fans of the show will notice or care about fictional scientific dialogue or factually incorrect concepts. Some shows break from that trend, and it leads to impressive dialogue that has the potential to pique viewers’ interest in the scientific world. One of the most notable shows that does this well is the sitcom 3rd Rock From the Sun, which aired from 1996 to 2001.

John Lithgow smiling in front of a theater full of people
John Lithgow | Kevin Winter/Getty Images

What is ‘3rd Rock From the Sun’ about?

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3rd Rock From the Sun has one of the most unique and unlikely premises for a sitcom of all time. The show, created by Bonnie and Terry Turner, follows the story of four extraterrestrials from a far-off galaxy who come to Earth to study human behavior. The extraterrestrials consider Earth to be an insignificant planet, and they pose as a human family in order to study human society from the ground. 

The four extraterrestrials end up in a fictional suburb of Cleveland, Ohio, and at first, they struggle to fit into human society. They start out heavily focused on their research, but as the series goes on, they start to care more about their lives on Earth as they further integrate into Earthly culture. The show’s humor revolves around the oddities of human life from an outsider’s perspective. 

Who are the characters in ‘3rd Rock From the Sun’?

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The four main characters on the show are the extraterrestrials posing as a human family, the Solomons. The patriarch of the “family” and leader of the research expedition, Dick Solomon, is played by John Lithgow. The information officer extraterrestrial, Tommy Solomon, is assigned the body of a teenage boy and has to attend high school. Tommy is played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Sally Solomon is the team’s security officer, and is a highly trained military officer on her home planet.

On Earth, Sally struggles to act like a typical human female, leading to many hilarious scenes that Kristen Johnson, who plays Sally, portrays expertly. Finally, Harry Solomon, played by French Stewart, becomes the communications officer for the research team and serves as a kind of radio beacon that allows the other researchers to communicate with their home planet. The cast is undoubtedly talented, and it’s easy to see their chemistry on screen. 

The show strived to get technical dialogue factually correct

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Because the show involved space travel and scientific studies, some characters had to speak in very technical terms to make the show work. It would have been easy for writers to make up scientific nonsense, but they made the conscious decision to write lines that contained factually correct information wherever possible. This applied most to John Lithgow’s character, Dick Solomon, who works as a physics professor in a fictional college. 

In order to ensure that his physics dialogue was correct, the show consulted with a physicist and math and physics professor at Columbia University, Brian Greene. According to Mental Floss, Greene wrote The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory, and he also contributed some dialogue for Dick Solomon when the character had lines about physics. Third Rock From the Sun has plenty of aspects that make it truly special, and the attention to detail from the show creators is a huge reason why.