‘Three’s Company’: Why Did the Series Come to an End?

Viewers could argue all day about which era of television has been the best, but there are definitely series in entertainment history that seem to have an enduring quality. Many classic sitcoms would never be allowed to air today — the times they have a-changed.

Still, they have a nostalgic quality and often continue to live on through syndicated reruns or even as revivals — with the necessary updates to make them acceptable to modern audiences. Three’s Company is among the classic sitcoms that have helped pave the way for contemporary shows in the genre. The series had a relatively long run and a star-studded cast, so what brought it to its end? 

‘Three’s Company’ has an outdated premise 

Joyce DeWitt, John Ritter, and Suzanne Somers in 'Three's Company'
Joyce DeWitt, John Ritter, and Suzanne Somers in ‘Three’s Company’ | Walt Disney Television via Getty Images

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The premise of Three’s Company, which premiered in 1976, was that three friends with no romantic connections wanted to save money by rooming together in pricey Santa Monica. Jack, Janet, and Chrissy found an apartment to share, but the idea of a man and two women living together was scandalous to their landlords. In order to keep things working smoothly, Jack (John Ritter) pretended to be gay. 

In some ways, the series’ storyline was rather progressive. After all, it was much less common in 1976 America for a gay man to be open about his sexual orientation, but the idea that a landlord would not allow roommates of the opposite sex to live together was a rather regressive concept. Furthermore, many of the show’s laughs revolved around innuendo and mistaken assumptions that would likely not go over as well with modern audiences. 

Still, the chemistry between the characters helped launch this show into a long and successful run. 

John Ritter dominated ‘Three’s Company’

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Without a doubt, the three roommates were the central focus of Three’s Company, but it was Ritter’s portrayal of Jack that really stole the show. Ritter had a real talent for physical comedy that became a staple of the show’s appeal. The show also ruffled some feathers with its clever innuendo that definitely pushed the envelope for on-air sexual content for the time. Ritter’s character was at the center of many of these jokes. 

Ritter’s clear starring role was also a source of some tension. Suzanne Somers — who played Chrissy — discovered that there was a serious pay gap between her and her male costar. Somers was receiving $30,000 per episode. Meanwhile, Ritter was getting $150,000.

When Somers’ contract was up at the end of the sixth year, she asked for a raise. The network didn’t just turn her down — they fired her

What caused the end of ‘Three’s Company’? 

You might think that losing one-third of a trio would bring the show to a halt, but the series actually carried on without Somers quite well. Actor Jenilee Harrison came on as a sort of replacement, portraying Chrissy’s cousin, Cindy. 

What, then, caused the series to be canceled after its eighth season? Well, it was a combination of factors, but it definitely wasn’t fan or critic reception. As Chris Mann — researcher and author of a book about the show — explained to Closer Weekly, “the last season of the show, John Ritter won an Emmy and a Golden Globe, and the show received the People’s Choice Award. A lot of fans feel that there are a handful of episodes in Season 8 that are among the series’ best.”

Instead, Mann points to a problem with running out of fresh material: “Things were still jelling so well, especially with the physical comedy, but I think what you had happening was a repeat of some storylines.”

Finally, the series did not exist in a vacuum, and what was going on elsewhere in TV land had an impact. Mann explains: “On top of that, The A-Team premiered in ’83 on NBC and they were knocking off everything. They were the show that knocked off the Fonz [Happy Days], and it knocked off The Jeffersons. Three’s Company had also lost its lead-in with Laverne and Shirley in ’83. So the sitcom itself was dying out.”