Three’s Company was so popular that ABC tried to spin-off a show called The Ropers. The Ropers were the original landlords in show Three’s is Company, Stanley (Norman Fell) and Helen (Audra Lindley). In the spin off, the Ropers sold the building, bought a condo and a show if their own. The “plot” of The Ropers, was that they now lived in a condo in an upscale area but looked down upon their new next door neighbor Jeffrey P. Brookes III, (Jeffrey Tambor). His wife Anne, however, was actually good friends with Mrs. Roper. The humor was theoretically to come out of the friction between Jeffrey not liking the Ropers, Jeffrey’s wife not liking that he didn’t like the Ropers and of course Mrs. Roper still not liking that Mr. Roper didn’t want to fool around. Oh what a hoot that should have been.
Nevertheless, (thank god) the audience didn’t see the humor and the show quickly was cancelled. The fact that the Ropers was canceled quickly did re-affirm my faith in humanity. But the Ropers represents something that all those in TV can learn from, don’t take great supporting players and try to make them great central starring characters in another show it all too often fails miserably. The real problem facing Norman Fell (who was a known star in his own right) was that the characters could not go back to Three’s Company since Don Knotts (the comedy legend) playing Mr. Furley had taken their place.
Just how did this joke of a show get made especially with someone as well-known as Norman Fell being involved? With Three as Company continued success in its second season, the Three’s Company’s own producers pitched the spin off. Fell, however, was extremely reluctant (and rightfully so) as he was satisfied with his role on a show that was already a proven hit. Fell feared (correctly) that a spin-off would be unsuccessful and thus put him out of a good role and job. To alleviate his fears, Three’s Company producers contractually promised Fell that they would give the new series a year to prove itself. If unsuccessful, then he and Lindley would return to Three’s Company. A reluctant Fell agreed to the new terms.
What Happened? I’ll tell you, they went up against CHIPS—Now who could compete with that? Eric Estrata, Larry Wilcox—not a chance and it showed in an audience drop that put it an immediate fall into the bottom ten. The drop in ratings and the fact that the show wasn’t appealing to the young demographic audience to the show’s cancellation in May 1980. After viewing several of the episodes, I don’t care where they placed it, it stunk on ice.
When the series was canceled, Fell approached Three’s Company producers about returning to the show. The Ropers had been replaced on Three’s Company by legendary Don Knotts, playing the swinging Ralph Furley who had worked well with the theme of Three’s Company that had retained its popularity. Apparently Fell would later state that he always believed the decision to pull the plug on the show had been made early on, but that the network deliberately postponed making the cancellation official until after the one-year mark specifically to be relieved of the obligation to allow Fell and Lindley to return to Three’s Company.
At least the networks might have learned something from this debacle. Now when a show tries to spin-off a character, they set the stage to avoid just such a problem. When The Jefferson’s 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.
To give you an idea of how bad it was, the show was ranked number two on Time magazine’s “Top 10 Worst TV Spin-Offs” and in the July 2002 TV Guide named The Ropers the 49th worst TV series of all time.
Ouch—but well deserved rankings.
This is the one show of the three we looked at that needs to be lost and forgotten.