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.
December 9, 2011 at 7:44 pm
They made a spinoff from Three’s Company?!?! Jeffrey Tambor was in said spinoff?!?!
December 9, 2011 at 10:51 pm
Yes they did and the producers did it about a year or two into Three’s Company which is a little unusual. I was a little shocked myself to find out that Jeffry Tambor was in it too. His character stinks especially since I will always think of him as George Bluth from Arrested Development.
The Cynical Chick
August 12, 2013 at 3:46 am
I honestly never liked the Ropers to begin with. I always skip over their parts whenever I watch an episode from the first three seasons. Though, part of the reason this happened was the original version of threes company, “Man about the house” had received it’s own very popular spin-off.
August 13, 2013 at 12:39 pm
You speak the truth, do you know whatever happened to Norman Fell after that? My research indicated that Fell didn’t want to do the spin off because he knew the work would be steadier if he was with three’s company. So I wonder how his prospects were at the time if he was worried about steady work. Got any idea?
The Cynical Chick
August 13, 2013 at 6:17 pm
From what I’ve been able to gather, he spent that last to decades of his life starring in shows that never lasted past the season, tv movies, and one shot guest spots on popular shows. Nothing really note worthy anyway, aside from winning a golden globe for a play as the trainer in a bio pic of some famous boxer.
You research is not only correct, but from what i’ve heard, led to some bitterness later on when something similar happened with the creation of “Three’s a crowd.” Basically, because the original british television show “Man about the House” had a popular spin-off they decided to give the American version. This time however, it was going to be about a major character, Jack, and the original series itself was ending.
This is where the issue comes in. Fans, Actors, and even some writers on the show wanted the new show to follow Jack and Janet finally getting together as a couple. It made sense after all, these were to established main characters who always seemed to have underlying sexual tension. However, the producer had different ideas for the show. For whatever reason, they decided they couldn’t do this with Janet and Jack. (It was stupid I assure you)
In the end, Joyce Dewitt (Janet) was so upset by her mistreatment and her being cast aside that she quit Hollywood all together. She also cut off ties with John Ritter for two decades. The show itself was sort of a huge ratings bomb (though not as bad as the Golden Palace) and two this day isn’t forgotten for good reason.
I swear, an entire blog itself could be dedicated to failed tv show spin-off’s of popular shows. Cough, After MASH, Cough
August 13, 2013 at 6:31 pm
Nice research–Wasn’t there also a feud between Ritter and Susan Summers; that Ritter eventually (like 25 years later) admitted was petty in public and soon there after died? What that just Ritter’s ego or . . . got any ideas–thanks for the info by the way.
On Tue, Aug 13, 2013 at 6:17 PM, J.P.'s I'm Outta Here Movie
The Cynical Chick
August 13, 2013 at 10:16 pm
Yes there was but it wasn’t just John Ritter who had beef with Susan Summers, it was Joyce Dewitt as well. While I think John had a bit of an ego as well but it appeared to me that Susan Summer’s ego (or her husbands) was the real problem. You see, right around the time contract negotiation were being made for season 5 of Three’s Company Summers has risen in popularity. Putting her face on all types of merchandise and basically selling herself as a brand. Because of this, and her husband pushing for it, she asked for an ENORMOUS pay raise. John Ritter’s character was supposed to be the “star” of the show, so of course is pride was hurt. Joyce, felt the same way. So, when she didn’t get the pay she wanted Summers left the show, and cut ties with John, until maybe a year or so before he died. She didn’t make up with Joyce until sometime in 2012 on Summer’s web-series.
Summer’s husband basically ruined her career by convincing her that the show needed her to survive. Of course that wasn’t true (though no one remembers Terri or Cindy so…there’s that) because the show lasted for 4 more seasons. Summers never went on to do anything else notable, again, because her husband was an awful manager.
Also to note, I’ve heard that the reason why every roommate after Chrissy was blonde was because the producer were basically giving a kick to Susan. Their why of saying, “You’re so replaceable to this show that we can get another blonde to take your place and no one will even notice.” Of course that wasn’t entirely true in my eyes at least.
August 17, 2013 at 1:02 am
Damn I was under the impression that it was the other way around that Ritter was being the jerk–but I had no idea Dewitt was involved too. So it was a two on one situation. Did she stick with that horrible manager/husband of hers?
I am going to look into why Norman Fell was so concerned about keeping work and not going into the spin of since he had been around for a while at that point even having a role in Bullet.
The Cynical Chick
September 1, 2013 at 9:55 am
Sadly she did,she is still married to him this very day. I have no idea why since he killed her career. I guess it’s like the Thora Birch situation. He father killed he career, but he is STILL her manager. When she was a kid it made sense but now that’s she’s an adult, she needs to drop him.
Maybe Norman just enjoyed the work on the show? Or maybe he just felt it was a steady paycheck. I mean, he isn’t exactly Hollywood handsome and he was no spring chicken. After the show ended his career never really recovered so it’s appears those fears were right on the money.
September 2, 2013 at 10:15 pm
Yeah he was probably more of a shrewed business man than many give him credit for–but I mean he was in Steve McQueen’s Bullet after all!
April 12, 2014 at 6:12 pm
Reminds me when I moved to my new apartment on January 7 2011
May God have mercy on us all!!!
May 15, 2014 at 7:40 am
that show could’ve been one of the worst ever created, no wonder Norman fell was pissed off when he was forced to leave threes company and make the Ropers because he knew that three’s Company was a hit show at the time and had a lot of life left in it thus providing a steady work I don’t know exactly how long the Ropers went on but it certainly wasn’t very long in the readings were really in the toilet. And I think use the best landlord of the bunch about the series.